Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

28
New Jazz Fusions

JAZZ FANS LIKE TO SAY that jazz history compressed into a century developments that took European classical music 400 years. The last 25 years held to that breakneck pace—although it often didn't seem that way, especially to detractors and warring factions.

After the economic collapse of the popular big bands 50 years ago, jazz lost most of its mass commercial appeal. But until the mid-1960s rock explosion, it managed to draw audiences of collegians and beatniks and debutantes, the disaffected for whom jazz opened an exit from the gray conformities of American mass culture to a largely African American devised art form that began as folk art from a marginal subculture.

Bebop insisted that jazz was art, not entertainment; in its wake, jazz idioms diverged, annexed, multiplied: hard bop, Third Stream, modal jazz, soul jazz, free jazz. Soul jazz found broad audiences in the 1960s, but first the era's folk revival, then the British Invasion siphoned off younger listeners. No surprise, then, that by 1970 jazz-rock fusion dominated jazz.

The story of fusion was more interesting and complex—and raised more serious creative issues—than it seemed to at the time. In hindsight, jazz and rock were as inevitable a pairing as jazz and Tin Pan Alley; Bill Graham's putting Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead on the same bills only acknowledged what the musicians were doing. After 30 years of dodging the issue or leaving it in the flaccid hands of radio noodlers like Kenny G, more serious jazz artists are revisiting how to meld jazz and rock. Some, like John Lurie and Steven Bernstein, are old enough to have lived through rock's heyday two and more decades ago. Some are young enough, like Vijay Iyer or Ethan Iverson or Brad Mehldau, that 1960s rock is their Tin Pan Alley, the standards of an older generation.

Evolution, according to the late Stephen Jay Gould, can be described best as punctuated equilibrium: it proceeds in fits and starts almost behind the scenes. That applies equally well to cultural history.

Though jazz record sales and venues shrank after the 1960s, jazz festi-

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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