Sunday, May 25, 2014

How I Got Into Instrumental Music (Part Four)

For me, no discussion of my roots in instrumental music would be complete without mentioning the fusion movement of the 1970s.

As recording artists evolved their music coming out of the 1960s, many of them found the constraints of a single musical style, such as jazz, pop, or rock and roll too confining. In the 1970s, a number of artists emerged who blended elements of several genres, an approach the music press eventually called fusion. A prime example of this was Brazilian composer and keyboardist Eumir Deodato, who topped the pop charts with jazz-rock versions of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." But what I remember most about Deodato is a tune of his I played with my friend Greg Lutz and some other musical friends called "Super Strut."
This was pure jam, and pure joy.

At the same time, as I was getting into high school and playing drums in the high school band, big band music was enjoying a resurgence. Part of the reason for the comeback was that the big bands were embracing the fusion movement and adding elements of rock and pop to their charts. No one was more out in front in this regard than legendary high-register trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.
Not only did Maynard blend elements of rock and pop (and even disco!) into his music, his performances with his young bands felt more like rock shows than big band concerts, as you can see from the above video.

One of Maynard Ferguson's most popular charts, both on record and in concert, was an arrangement of a Latin-influenced jazz waltz called "La Fiesta," written by a then young lion of the jazz scene named Armando Anthony "Chick" Corea. The original composition appears on Chick's 1972 album "Return to Forever," which I tracked down and consumed with gusto.

The interesting thing about Corea though, is the lengths he ultimately went to in following his muse. He formed the group Return to Forever and named it after the title of that record, but took it in a completely different direction. By the time Return to Forever recorded the album "Romantic Warrior" in 1976, its heavily electronic and rock-influenced sound was light years removed from "La Fiesta."

From children's pieces for solo piano to forays into the classics, Corea has always made it very clear that he would never allow limitations of style or genre to interfere with his ultimate goal, which is to connect with the listener. This is the spirit of fusion, and the spirit of music. That ethos has stuck with me in all that I try to do musically from then until now.

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