JAZZ-ROCK by Stuart Nicholson


A History
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An exhaustive look at how some jazz musicians adjusted to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. Nicholson (Billie Holliday, 1995, etc.) begins his study with the emergence of the US in the 1950s and ’60s as a world center of musical innovation, particularly in the uniquely American forms of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. While the jazz influence on acts such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears is perhaps obvious, artists such as Cream and Jimi Hendrix, normally thought of as pure rock or as being predominantly blues-influenced, are shown by Nicholson to also have been very much influenced by jazz. But if jazz made an impression on rock, the opposite also occurred. For instance, it was his friendship with Hendrix that led jazz giant Miles Davis out of traditional jazz and into jazz-rock “fusion.” Davis was soon opening for the Grateful Dead and working with rock promoter Bill Graham. The development of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s career are also thoroughly traced here. The 1980s return of Miles Davis to the scene and the juggernaut of bassist extraordinaire Jaco Pastorius are also plumbed for their vast influence. Exploring rock acts persistently influenced by jazz, Nicholson offers a strong analysis of Frank Zappa, probably the most important artist in the genre, and others. The future of jazz-rock fusion is located in the work of such pioneers as Ornette Coleman and in the development of such groups as Digable Planets. If there is one flaw in Nicholson’s study, it is his tendency to hew to a stiff, repetitive format: covering staff changes in a band’s lineup, discussing a record’s release (including the promotional materials from the record companies), and then going into a close analysis of the music itself. Still, his impeccable music scholarship makes up for this tendency toward structural formula. (50 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-02-864679-7
Page count: 424pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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