Three Bands To Help Introduce Jazz Snobs to Classic Rock
Picture by Frank Micelotta, Getty Images
"I don't listen to rock," said a jazz professor I once had, with a sort of cutting smugness that drew a firm line in the sand. He wanted to make it known, loudly and proudly, which camp he belonged to! I can only assume he was freezing cold on account of the extremely tall pedestal upon which he was standing.
But there are more similarities between the jazz and classic rock worlds than one might guess, and it's one of the things I love most about classic rock.
To get us in the right frame of mind, let's remember that the world of classic rock is a very, very large world. It encompasses everything from groundbreaking conceptual albums like Dark Side of the Moon, to incredible vocal harmonies of Yes, to the elaborate theatrics of Kiss' live shows.
So perhaps it's not so surprising that jazz and classic rock have more in common than meets the eye. I'd like to attempt to bridge the jazz and classic rock worlds, and fortunately, there are bands who have already done that hard work.
Steely Dan. Where to begin! Lead singer Donald Fagen's college days included "The Don Fagen Jazz Trio." Guitarist, saxophonist, bassist, and singer Walter Becker wrote or cowrote many compositions with jazz chord structures, which we actually studied in my theory classes in music school!
Coincidentally, the year before I went off to college, Becker and Fagen received honorary doctorates at my now-alma-mater, Berklee College of Music.
Jazz and blues guitar player Larry Carlton played on numerous Steely Dan sessions including the 1975 album Katy Lied.
Jazz and fusion player Lee Ritenour appeared on the hit 1977 album Aja, along with jazz saxophone giant Wayne Shorter.
Former Miles Davis Jazz Multi-instrumentalist (how's that for a title?) Victor Feldman played with Steely Dan on numerous occasions.
The list goes on and on and on. Steely Dan is THE epitome of a band who has a foot firmly in rock and firmly in jazz.
Yes. Guitarist Steve Howe was influenced largely by jazz players like Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel. Bassist Chris Squire says he studied players like The Who's John Entwistle and Jack Bruce, who both have a strong jazz background.
Cream. Bassist Jack Bruce was a classically trained cellist, and went on to play the double bass with a big band, a jazz quartet with guitarist John McLaughlin, and recorded a "free jazz" album in 1968. Drummer Ginger Baker trained with a leading jazz drummer in the UK named Phil Seamen. Guitarist Eric Clapton, though known most for his compositions and blues playing, implemented longer improvisation breaks -- which you'd most commonly find in a jazz setting... until Clapton and Cream popularized it in the rock world.
Did I mention I love classic rock?