This week we are discussing fusion (a.k.a jazz-rock fusion), a controversial genre from the 1970s that featured groups with names that hailed afro-Futurism, such as Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Head Hunters. This is a trend in jazz that, due to its embrace of technology and prog-rock and funk aesthetics, sounds more “dated” than “classic” to our early 21st century ears. It should come as no surprise that there are only a handful of studies on the topic.
For a recent blog post for a website associated with the U.S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US), Karl Hagstrom Miller (UT-Austin) interviewed Keving Fellezs, the author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion about his inspirations for the project. If you are curious about how a scholar goes on to study one of the most abject trends in jazz, Fellezs tells us that as a performer of both rock and jazz, he was caught up in the debates about jazz history during the 1980s (something we will be covering next week). He also tells us why the music appealed to him:
This was music that I found both virtuosic and visceral – a marriage of technique and expression that I found compelling and exhilarating. And I couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to feel this way. Fusion wasn’t even being talked about in jazz circles and Stuart Nicholson’s Jazz-Rock book was more than a decade away. When I first started this project, it really felt like a personal crusade.
As you listen to the recordings for this week, I want you to think about what it means to appreciate or enjoy music that no one else even deems worthy of mention. Is this something that you have experienced? What does that tell us about the power of discourse on the musical styles that we enjoy.