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Miles Davis, ca. 1969

The Schomburg Collection

FUSION

“Music is always revolving around what the rhythm section is doing.”

       —Miles Davis

There was a musical explosion during the 1960s, an amazing innovative force with long vibrant tentacles that shook the world of rock, R&B, funk and jazz. It was a movement that reflected the riotous times of America; everything was changing—equal rights for African-Americans and a free spirited music for all those willing to listen.

            

For the jazz world it was Miles Davis, sometimes known as the Black Prince, who caused the most commotion with his new sound, which the critics called fusion. Like its predecessor, bebop, it caused a heated controversial debate that can still be heard in some of today’s jazz circles. Miles alienated many of his jazz fans and critics despite his immeasurable success during his birth of the cool and hard bop journeys.  

            

However, Miles, the confident non-conformist, continued his electric explorations and in the process captured an entire younger generation of fans. The word fusion in itself is quite confusing when it comes to music. It sounds discombobulated and totally unorganized, but one of Webster’s descriptions defines it as the release of huge quantities of energy. Now, this is a realistic definition that correctly describes the genius of Miles’ electric period from 1967-1991.      

            

Billy “Spaceman” Patterson, a former guitarist who played with Miles notes, “Music is always evolving around what the rhythm section is doing, in the 60s the rhythm section changed to synthesizers, electric keyboards and wah wah pads. The technology changed the music. Electricity brought about a new freedom, it was something that had not been explored before.” 

            

In 1969, Miles recorded two albums that totally broadened his audience, In A Silent Way and the double album Bitches Brew. Miles’ concept of fusion was based on jazz harmonies over funky rhythms that rocked. Miles explored this concept in the big band format with modern technology.   

            

During this same period Eddie Harris electrified his saxophone and was a big hit playing Harlem’s Club Barron and Count Basie’s. Cannonball Adderley with his quartet featuring Joe Zawinul and Yes were also playing on a fusion lineage but Adderley was an alumnus of Miles’ earlier band. “Although Jimi Hendrix was a rock musician, he had a jazz vocabulary and used it in his electronic creativity,” states Patterson. “Hendrix is the father of fusion.”  

            

Like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Miles was one of those great leaders who inspired his sidemen to discover musical qualities in themselves that they weren’t aware of. Many of his band members became innovative fusion leaders such as Chick Corea and Return Forever, Wayne Shorter and Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, whose fusion explorations led to his hit “Headhunters,” and John McLaughlin, who formed a group with Buddy Miles (Hendrix’s drummer) and Larry Young, also a Miles alumnus.

            

“Earth is just as much in space as all the rest of the planets, so we are all space people,” says Patterson.

BY RON SCOTT

I can make the rhythm go to the beat...

I make the sound real...

I make the crowd scream...

—Brandon Blake

 2ndgrade, G.P. Brown computer School