My Favorite Jazz Artists and Music

The good – Deep musical concepts

The bad – Too complex for some listeners

The ugly – Nothing

 

Thanks to my parents, radio, and TV, I was exposed to MANY different styles of music when I was a child. This included several types of jazz. But I really didn’t become a fan of jazz (and jazz-fusion) music until 1976, when I bought Al Di Meola’s Land of the Midnight Sun album, and Return To Forever’s The Romantic Warrior album. These two records started my ongoing love of jazz, and subsequent journey backwards to its roots and forward through its modern era.

What I like about jazz is that it’s typically complex and interesting. Only (some) classical music can match it in this regard. Jazz doesn’t use the same old 4/4 time signature, which is typical in popular contemporary music, so jazz rhythms are generally very interesting. Jazz also doesn’t use the same three or four chords over and over to carry the song: its song structure goes much further. Jazz also uses different scales and chord forms than mainstream music, which adds considerable depth and interest.

Jazz isn’t for everyone. Some people get confused or lost when listening to it and prefer music that’s more simple and predictable. Jazz is usually anything but simple and predictable. It definitely doesn’t follow the patterns of mainstream (popular) music. There have been (and still are) some forms of jazz that are less complex, and some have made it into the mainstream. But that’s not necessarily my favorite kind of jazz music.

Miles Davis sets the standard in 1959
When Miles Davis released his epic album Kind of Blue, jazz fans, and many jazz and non-jazz musicians, sat up and took notice. This music was unlike anything before it. It set a new standard, not just for jazz, but for all types of (then) contemporary music. Of course, most jazz musicians wanted to learn how to play this new style, and many of them followed Davis’s lead.

Even though Kind of Blue was acoustic jazz, it influenced some of the progressive rock music that would surface in the 1960s and 70s. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman studied the nuances of the album and were influenced by it. The contemporary music that followed wouldn’t have been the same without the new sound of this landmark Miles Davis album leading the way.

Miles Davis goes electric
Like many jazz musicians, Davis wasn’t one to sit still and accept the status quo. He was always trying to push the envelope and take his music to new places. So he added electric sounds to his jazz in the form of electric keyboards, guitar, and bass. One of his first electric keyboardists was Chick Corea, who would go on to carry the torch of progressive jazz into the future. Many of the Miles Davis “sidemen” would rise to legendary status and help push jazz music’s popularity further. Davis continued stretching the musical envelope throughout his career, adding different elements along the way.

Return To Forever

Chick Corea formed the progressive jazz band Return To Forever, who released their first album in 1972. This band took several different forms, with many of its members going on to achieve success in their own solo careers. In 1973, Corea changed the lineup and music style, creating what would become known as jazz-fusion, or simply fusion. It was a blend of jazz and electric rock sounds—a “heavier” style of jazz. The band achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success, culminating with the landmark album The Romantic Warrior in 1976.

Al Di Meola
A guitarist in the Return To Forever band, Al Di Meola has enjoyed a long and successful solo career. His first solo album, Land of the Midnight Sun (1976), was what sparked my initial interest in jazz-fusion music. I was heavily into guitar-based rock music at the time, and became an instant Di Meola fan, buying each new album upon release. Di Meola’s fusion music was a fresh new sound to me, going beyond anything I’d heard in rock music. It inspired me to check out other jazz and fusion music to find out what I had been missing. Of course, the first step was to buy the previously-mentioned Return To Forever album The Romantic Warrior. I then bought other jazz and fusion albums, and my love for this music style grew.

Chick Corea Elektric Band

Chick Corea has enjoyed success both in his solo career and with his various bands and collaborations. In 1986, Corea formed the Elektric Band. The band’s second album, Light Years (1987), was the first to feature what is considered its definitive lineup, with Corea on keyboards, Eric Marienthal (sax), Frank Gambale (guitar), Dave Weckl (drums), and John Patitucci (bass). This lineup produced four stellar albums. I was fortunate enough to see them perform in Columbus, Ohio around 1990. All of these band members went on to enjoy successful solo careers. I like many of Corea’s solo and band projects, but this Elektric Band lineup period is my favorite.

Dave Weckl Band
Dave Weckl was a successful drummer before joining the Chick Corea Elektric Band, performing on recordings by, and in live performances with, such artists as Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross, Madonna, The Honeydrippers (featuring Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame), and George Benson, among others. His exposure in the Chick Corea Elektric Band led to even greater demand for Weckl as a studio and live-appearance drummer.

Weckl released his first solo album, Master Plan, in 1990. Weckl’s solo albums all featured jazz and fusion music styles. In 1998, Weckl released his fourth solo album, Rhythm Of The Soul, under the name Dave Weckl Band. This band featured his long-time friend and music collaborator Jay Oliver on keyboards; another long-time friend, Tom Kennedy, on bass; and seasoned veterans Brandon Fields on sax and Buzz Feiten on guitar. This lineup also produced a second album, Synergy, in 1999. These two “band” albums are my favorites of Weckl’s solo career. I was fortunate enough to see this “band” lineup perform at the Jazz Kitchen, a small jazz and blues club in Indianapolis, IN, in 1998 and again in 1999, where I was able to meet and have conversations with Weckl and his band members. Quite a thrill.

And others
The artists and albums mentioned above are my favorites. But there are a lot of other artists that I also enjoy. These include traditional and modern jazz pianists like Thelonius Monk, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock, and fusion bands like Vital Information and Tribal Tech.

Jazz and fusion changed my life
Starting in the late 1970s, it seemed as if rock music was becoming stagnant. Yes, there were, and always will be, new artists. But it all sounded like the music that had preceded it. Nothing new and exciting. Fortunately, this is when I became exposed to the jazz-fusion music mentioned at the beginning of this post.

As both a fan of music, and as a musician, I have always enjoyed complex and interesting music. Progressive rock was the first music style that really inspired me. But as I began to lose interest in the (supposed) progressive rock of the late 1970s and 1980s, jazz and fusion music filled the void. It opened up a whole new world of music for me to listen to and study. It also greatly influenced me as a musician. It was one of the “a-ha” moments that changed, and enriched, my life.

…jf…

Comments are closed.