Jazz After 1970: Free Jazz and Jazz Fusion

The two most conspicuous and controversial jazz advances of the 1970's were Free Jazz and Jazz-Fusion. The controversy toward these radical breakthroughs was the disagreement between jazz innovators and jazz "populists:" the innovators felt that jazz, by its very nature as a creative music, must progress, while the populists thought that jazz should always attract and please a large audience. Even today these controversies remain
far from settled. In many ways they mirror the general tension in America between popular and fine art. What ultimately validates an art form? Acceptance by a large audience (the popular) or the originality resulting from ground-breaking experimentation (the avant garde)?

Free Jazz

What made Free Jazz so controversial was that the style radically rejected aspects of the jazz tradition that many players and listeners considered fundamental. Improvisation still remained in Free Jazz, but other elements were drastically altered - changes that made the music seem incoherent to many. These changes included the absence of a steady beat (the 4-beat swing groove often considered essential to the jazz tradition was frequently abandoned in Free Jazz performances) and the absence of a fixed set of chord progressions - for Free Jazz soloists improvisations were not bound by an underlying song form or chord cycle. In sum Free Jazz transferred improvisation from songs to open-ended musical "space." While the trend toward Free Jazz was initiated in the 1960's by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, the style was brought to fruition by the later Miles Davis combos in the late 1960's and by various alumni and protégés of Davis such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, John Mclaughlin, and Joe Zaiwinal, who formed a Free Jazz group called Weather Report. An extreme practitioner of Free Jazz was Cecil Taylor.

Jazz Fusion

Jazz Fusion developed parallel to Free Jazz in the 1960's. Fusion involved the incorporation of Rock, Soul, and Funk elements into jazz. Key elements of Jazz Fusion included 1) the replacement of the 4-beat swing groove with Rock or Funk rhythms, 2) the replacement of the rich and varied harmonies of mainstream jazz with rudimentary and repetitious chord progressions, and 3) the use of electronically amplified instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, and electric pianos and keyboard synthesizers. Jazz Fusion was controversial because it represented a crossing over to Rock. For most jazz musicians and listeners, Rock was the antitheses of Jazz — especially in its de-emphasis of high technical skill and avoidance of elaborate improvisation. Once established, Jazz Fusionbegan to include a blending of jazz with other styles, such as Country Music, Classical Music, and, especially, Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music. An early example of the latter was Bossa Nova, a blend of Cool Jazz and Samba. A more recent exponent of Latin jazz was Chick Corea's group, Return To Forever.