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Jazz’s Evolvement: Miles Davis

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Jazz music can always give audiences surprise about how could the music sound like, because jazz always shows its large flexibility of combining with other styles of music and its high acceptability about new ideas. “In its earliest form, jazz showed an ability to assimilate the blues, the rag, the march, and other idioms”. In the contemporary era, some of musicians combined jazz with rock, pop music, and free funk, etc. The works they created, started to emerge from 1960’s, belong to new genre called jazz fusion. Jazz fusion brought audience a new kind of aesthetic experience, and encouraged musicians in that era create many special pieces. In “Bitches Brew”, Miles Davis mix some rock elements in jazz music; in Freak out! and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Frank Zappa created music that give people totally different feelings although both of them are jazz fusion albums; and in Weather Report’s album Heavy Weather, they combined jazz with funk and R&B music and gave every member opportunity to improvise. Jazz fusion, as a general concept, only shows people that the music that represents an idea of combing characteristics from two or more types of music to create new and special works that have musicians’ personal icon and can express musicians’ emotion better. If we explore each kind of combinations, we could find that each new type is so special in their focuses, the using of instruments, emotional expression.

When jazz fusion is mentioned, people probably will think about Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew first, due to its importance jazz-rock fusion music and amazing composition and arrangement. The first time I listened to this song, I felt this song sounds like jazz since it includes lots of improvisations and some melodies sound disharmonic and chaotic. However, the beats of the song played by drum and bass are much powerful than the beats of the jazz music I heard before, and that reflects the influence of rock music on Bitches Brew. Bitches Brew probably could be the most remarkable album that mark the appearance of the jazz-rock music, and its characteristics of both rhythm and improvisation can be seen as innovations.

The musical instruments used in this song that response to the rhythm section include a guitar bass, a double bass, three drums, two electric pianos, and a percussion, were played at the same time during the recording. The rhythm section plays a large role in the whole music, just like a rock band’s music, and then the soloists, Miles and Wayne Shorter who played trumpet and soprano saxophone, could have more freedom and space to make their improvisations and express themselves. When the record was making, Davis focused on the spontaneous interaction between each player, instead of giving many instructions about what they would play. This decision also made the improvisation part of Bitches Brew very special.

Frank Zappa is also representative figure in jazz fusion that was active from 1960s to 1990s. However, his music gives people a feeling that significantly different from Davis’ music. As a musician who did not get much musical training, Zappa had a hybrid music style that is hard to be clearly categorized. Although his music usually gives people feeling of rock music, it also influenced by music styles like classical music and rhythm and blues. But his music style is not always same in his career.

Like what wrote by Gioia, “Zappa always chose to distance him from jazz”. When I listened to his band The Mothers of Invention’s early album Freak Out!, I felt that this album is a rock album because it includes the heavy beats played by drum and bass guitar. Also, beside vocal, the sound of electric guitar is the most notable one, and the guitarist, which is Zappa, even played some solos and improvisations at the middle of some songs. Different from Bitches Brew’s feeling of chaotic and disharmonic, The Mother of Invention’s this album makes listeners feel powerful without of feeling of nervous.

Later, Zappa’s music style changed a lot. “His music during the period 1969-72 was so permeated by the jazz fusion vocabulary that it sometimes seemed as if Zappa were on the verge of abandoning his rock root”. The Mothers of Invention’s album Weasels Ripped My Flesh could be considered as in a different music style compared with Freak Out! and Davis’ Bitches Brew. To make this album, the band used more saxophones and electric instruments than they used for preceding albums, so more different sounds of instruments, vocal noises, and chaotic improvisations can be heard. The elements of Avant-Garde jazz are included, and a mysterious and quirky feeling is expressed. The whole album contains evidences of many different types of music from jazz to rock, from pop to classical. Frank Zappa, as the bandleader, the producer, the person wrote the songs, and a representative personage of jazz-rock fusion, created music that much more complex than simple addition of jazz and rock.

Besides combing jazz with rock or classical music, some musician in the middle and late of twenty centuries also mixed jazz with R&B and Funk music. The band Weather Report is a group of people who were trying to create these new types of music. Developed from a Avant-Garde Jazz group, jazz is the central and basis of Weather Report’s music. When I listened to their album Heavy Weather, I can still hear many improvisations, which can represent the influence given by jazz. But this band focused on every member’s improvisations, which means that besides improvisation played by traditional instruments like trumpet and saxophones, people can also hear synthesizer, electric piano, bass guitar’s improvisations. When the keyboard player Joe Zawinul gradually took control of this band, the band made their music contain more funk and R&B sounds. For example, in their song “A Remark You Made”, the heavy and intensive beats they used and the slow tempo combined with the improvisation of synthesizers, express a feeling of relax and mysterious. So, instead of making listeners feel anxious just like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, the mixing of jazz R&B and Funk create a different atmosphere.

In conclusion, in the mid and late of twentieth century, jazz had gone through fusions with different music types: rock, R&B and Funk. As the representational figures for the fusion with rock, Miles Davis offered more opportunities for band members to improvise and interact with each other, and Frank Zappa comprehended multiple music types into his rock style. Furthermore, Frank Zappa added plenty of experimental elements into his later works. Weather Report was an American band that colligated R&B and Funk into jazz by frequently use synthesizer and strong beats, creating a unique musical trend.

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