Jimi Hendrix: Modern Jazz Axis
In 1965, my 11-year-old soul went into a nosedive when the Milwaukee Braves baseball franchise relocated to Atlanta. Gone were the heroes of my youth—Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Rico Carty—sending me into a deep depression. I would be rescued two years later by Jimi Hendrix, who elevated me to delirious heights with a kind of god-sent otherworldly music that got into my bones and altered my life. With his frizzy Afro hair, Fu Manchu mustache and psychedelic “eye shirt” beaming back at me through the purple-tinted fish-eye lens cover photo of 1967’s Are You Experienced?, Hendrix presented a provocative visage that made me forget all about Hammerin’ Hank and the rest. And the music contained on that perfect piece of vinyl was something else—loud, rebellious, exhilarating, nasty, dangerous, adventurous, totally transcendent. n And jazzy.
As Jaco Pastorius put it, in assessing Hendrix’s jazz connection back in 1982: “All I gotta say is...’Third Stone From the Sun.’ And for anyone who doesn’t know about that by now, they shoulda checked Jimi out a lot earlier. You dig?” n Miles Davis readily gave it up to Hendrix, as did Gil Evans, who marveled at his “onomatopoeic approach” to guitar playing and later captured some of that quality on his 1974 recording for RCA, The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (with Ryo Kawasaki and John Abercrombie filling in the guitar chair that had originally been planned for Jimi). Tony Williams left Miles Davis in 1968 to form a band, Lifetime, which was partly inspired by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and another Miles sideman, John McLaughlin, called Hendrix “a revolutionary force who single-handedly shifted the whole course of guitar playing.” n Jimi admired and respected Miles but he idolized Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Hendrix’s record collection, circa 1967, included Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Rip, Rig & Panic right alongside Jeff Beck’s Truth and the odd assortment of Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and Ravi Shankar LPs. In a March 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, writer John Burks reported on the apparent affinity that Jimi felt for Rahsaan: “It’s revealing to hear Hendrix talk about jamming in London with Roland Kirk, jazz’s amazing blind multi-horn player. Jimi was in awe of Roland, afraid that he would play something that would get in Roland’s way. You can tell, by the way he speaks of Kirk, that Hendrix regards him as some kind of Master Musician. As it worked out, Jimi played what he normally plays, Roland played what he normally plays and they fit like hand in glove.”
By all accounts (including a snippet from John Kruth’s book Bright Moments: The Life & Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, which details their fabled jam at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in the early part of 1967), Kirk and Jimi communicated on a mutual plane. Since Hendrix routinely layered three or more guitar parts on his recordings, he must have also felt an immediate affinity for the jazz iconoclast who could play three wind instruments at once. And Kirk’s amazing mastery of circular breathing allowed him to echo Jimi’s own sustained guitar lines. But their strongest bond came from recognizing that the blues was at the heart of their respective styles.
Kirk’s name came up once again when Hendrix mused to Britain’s Melody Maker in an impromptu eulogy: “I tell you, when I die I’m not going to have a funeral. I’m going to have a jam session...Roland Kirk will be there and I’ll try to get Miles Davis along if he feels like making it. For that it’s almost worth dying, just for the funeral.”
Of course, the Jimi Hendrix Experience had made several allusions to jazz along the way. Check out Mitch Mitchell’s slick 6/8 timekeeping on “Manic Depression” and his incessantly swinging ride cymbal work on the middle section of the suitelike “Third Stone From the Sun,” both from Are You Experienced? Dig Mitch’s deftly swinging brushwork on “Up From the Skies,” his hip Philly Joe Jones-inspired fills on “Wait Until Tomorrow” and “Ain’t No Telling” or his freewheeling Elvinesque abandon on “If 6 Was 9,” all from Axis: Bold as Love.
If this doesn’t capture at least some of the spirit of jazz then Mona Lisa was a man.
More proof of Hendrix’s jazz leanings can be heard on his 1968 two-record opus, Electric Ladyland. The extended bluesy jam on “Rainy Day Dream Away” with organist Mike Finnigan, drummer Buddy Miles, bassist Noel Redding and saxophonist Freddie Smith creates a swinging, intimate, smoky jazz-club ambiance that is closer in spirit to vintage Blue Note B-3 sessions than to any frenetic rock concert.
Producer Alan Douglas, who had worked with Eric Dolphy in his formative stages, was rumored to have tried orchestrating a session between Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, but both parties were said to be somewhat reluctant to make the first move toward that summit meeting. Douglas, who believes that Hendrix was definitely heading to a closer connection with jazz at the time of his death, released a posthumous album in 1980 called Nine to the Universe, a collection of casual jams at the Record Plant in New York from 1969 with Jimi interacting playfully with Tony Williams Lifetime organist Larry Young and Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles. The Hendrix estate later sued to halt the subsequent rerelease of that album, which it considered a horrible and unrepresentative recording that mars the Hendrix legacy.
In 1988, Sting collaborated with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra, performing live versions of “Up From the Skies” and “Little Wing,” the latter of which appeared on the pop star’s Nothing Like the Sun. In 1995, Hendrix’s longtime engineer Eddie Kramer masterminded In From the Storm (BMG), an orchestral celebration of Hendrix’s music featuring jazz greats Tony Williams and John McLaughlin alongside Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox, rock-guitar heroes Carlos Santana and Steve Vai, bluesman Taj Mahal and Sting. More recently, MCA released South Saturn Delta, which includes some previously unissued studio tracks featuring Hendrix with a horn section for the first time in his career. As engineer Kramer says of that posthumous release, “It was a portend of things to come.”
Hendrix released only five albums during his lifetime. There have been about 500 bootlegs floating around since his death at age 27 on September 18, 1970. More than 30 years later, his name still registers shivers of excitement. He has been rediscovered by a new MTV-VH1 generation and appropriately enshrined in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There are various tribute recordings currently in the works and his estate (operating under the auspices of Experience Hendrix, the production company formed by the guitarist’s surviving relatives) has already sanctioned two recent releases—last year’s lavish, purple velvet-covered four-CD box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience—a mammoth collection of previously unreleased studio and live recordings as well as revealing rehearsal and demo tracks—and the more recent two-CD set Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection, which combines classic tracks from Jimi’s three original studio albums along with previously unreleased live tracks. Furthermore, fans and Hendrixophiles can log onto www.jimihendrix.com, the official website, to access streaming audio and video as well as a comprehensive Jimi Hendrix encyclopedia. Meanwhile, watch for the Hendrix-devoted Red House Interactive Museum, a 52-foot van traveling to American cities this summer. Clearly, the Hendrix legacy lives on.
Jimi played guitar with the rawness and directness of a Delta bluesman tapped into a million kilowatt power supply and filtered through the rainbow vision of Timothy Leary. His lysergic verse was as inspired and otherworldly as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s and his sense of rhythm-guitar playing was as solid and slinky as Jimmy Nolen’s. All this, plus he possessed the charismatic showmanship of a psychedelic Louis Jordan in the Age of Aquarius. He was a complete anomaly, the total package—what the Germans call gesamtkunstwerk. His influence on guitarists remains staggering; his influence on rock incalculable. But what was Jimi’s connection to jazz?
(Producer-composer-bandleader, Belden is a noted Miles Davis scholar who has presided over the Miles reissues for Columbia/Legacy.)
Are You Experienced? had a profound effect on me. Also, Jimi’s music—particularly the bass lines—directly influenced Miles Davis. If you listen to “Inamorata” from Live/Evil, that’s the bass line to “Fire.” “Mademoiselle Mabry” from Filles de Kilimanjaro is derived from Jimi’s “The Wind Cries Mary”; “What I Say” from Live/Evil is basically “Message to Love” from Band of Gypsys, and so on. Miles had Michael Henderson play those kind of bass lines, and he had Jack DeJohnette play like Buddy Miles because that’s what he wanted to hear. He had Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone in mind.
Hendrix wasn’t a jazz player, per se. He was essentially a blues guitarist who played with a lot of freedom within his own vocabulary. I don’t think he could’ve handled changes that well, but he didn’t need to. There was no parallel for him so it’s hard to imagine where he would’ve ended up had he lived. Would he have become a smooth-jazz guitarist? Maybe he’d end up playing “The Star Spangled Banner” with an orchestra at the halftime of the Super Bowl or in a Las Vegas show. As the song goes, “Who Knows?”
(Guitarist-composer, former Miles Davis sideman and a bandleader for the past 20 years.)
When I first started to play guitar—this was before Hendrix—there was a chord known as the “Hold It” chord, an E sharp 9. It was based on a break tune that came from an older generation, a Bill Doggett song from the ’50s. And then Hendrix started to play this chord and it became known as the Jimi Hendrix Chord. You can hear it on “Purple Haze.” So the “Hold It” chord became the Jimi Hendrix Chord in 1968. Now, that’s a big influence right there.
I remember first hearing Hendrix’s music on the radio. It was on Murray the K’s show in New York. It was the tune “Fire.” I didn’t know anything about him. The first album had just come out and I heard this on the radio and was instantly knocked out. It was coming out of a little transistor radio but it completely blew me away, so I went out and bought Are You Experienced? the next day. I wasn’t a jazz guy yet; I was into Clapton and Jeff Beck. But Hendrix seemed to be on another level. I never heard anything that strong and I was just fascinated by it—the guitar playing and the beat and the whole thing. It seemed to me to be an extension of soul music and psychedelia combined with great blues guitar playing that related to B.B. and Albert King. I became a devotee and bought the next two albums—Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland—and I remember listening to those first three records all the time, trying to learn the licks and being totally into it.
And then I went to see Hendrix with the Experience at Hunter College in early ’69. I took the train in from Connecticut and it was a really, really incredible show. The way he played was so phenomenal and so loose and so soulful that I actually gave up rock ’n’ roll guitar and decided to become a jazz musician because of him. I remember thinking, “I can’t do that. I’m just a little white boy from the suburbs. Forget it. It’s all over. This guy is so outgoing and incredible that I might as well give up on trying to be like that because my personality’s not that way. But maybe these jazz guys like Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery—if I practice hard enough, maybe I can get there.” Later on I was able to absorb some of that Hendrix influence and let it come through in my own playing but at the time I was far too intimidated to do that.
I never thought of Hendrix as a jazz guitarist but I did think of him as an incredible blues player and an improviser in that tradition as well as someone who was improvising on a sonic level, experimenting with feedback and coming up with some incredible new sounds on his instrument. I didn’t see him as a guy playing rhythm changes, I saw him as a new branch of rhythm ’n’ blues—R&B and psychedelia combined. It was this magical trip that he was going on with letting the music expand. And we all followed, to some degree.
(Saxophonist-composer from jazz’s first family.)
As a kid I remember hearing “Purple Haze” on the radio but I didn’t really think of it as anything really earth-shattering. But the Band of Gypsys—now that was earth-shattering! At the time I couldn’t think of why it spoke to me but it did, immediately. First of all, it’s live performance so it’s not a bunch of overdubs after overdub after overdub. And it was at that line where rock ’n’ roll could still be free, and that’s the thing that I dug the most. The shit was just funky the way Led Zeppelin was funky and the way The Beatles had a little groove to their shit, too. But those two groups never could get their bottom to have that funky-ass stank groove the way the Band of Gypsys did. Listening to Mitch Mitchell [with the Experience] it was clear that he was coming from a jazz background, particularly an Elvin Jones thing with all those triplets over everything. But listening to Buddy Miles just keep that pocket was really staggering shit for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t dig the other shit like “If 6 Was 9” and “Manic Depression.” I dug it, believe me. But Band of Gypsys affected me in a much more powerful way. I would suspect that just by the energy on the stage that he really had fun with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Because, you know, if he had been playing with Buddy Miles from the beginning, songs like “Manic Depression” would not have worked. I don’t think Buddy Miles would know what a 12/8 feel was if it fell on him. But I think at the end of the day, Jimi was a groover, which is why songs like “Who Knows?” and “Machine Gun” are so killing. I mean, you gotta be deep in the pocket for that shit to work. Those were his roots, and he smokes on that record.
Hendrix might have had an influence on individual musicians in jazz but he wasn’t a jazz musician himself. I mean, he had an influence on my jazz because everything that I listened to as a kid I think creeps in to the shit that I do now. When I hear Hendrix’s shit today it just reminds me of the blues on acid—hyper, hyper blues. He had all the elements of jazz because you know all the elements of blues are in jazz when it’s played right—spontaneity, creativity, improvisation, the blues itself, groove. He was definitely an improviser but he couldn’t play “How High the Moon.” And he didn’t need to. He always heard some other shit.
I don’t know if Jimi would ever have become a jazz musician. In a lot of respects, jazz probably would’ve been too limiting for him. You know, too many rules and shit. He just wanted to go up there and do whatever the fuck he wanted to do—all the time. Jazz is such a different aesthetic. He would’ve had to go into a serious amount of woodshedding, away from the scene. There’s just so much other shit he would’ve had to come back to—almost like starting from scratch. And I don’t know if he would’ve been able or wanted to do that. Or that he should have. The thing I love about him was he wasn’t a jazz musician but he was a grade A-1 bona fide fucking musician. That couldn’t be disputed. I can understand why Miles, being the forward-thinking cat that he was, particularly in the pop sense of the word—that was very smart of Miles to align himself with a cat like Hendrix. Jimi had his hit with “Purple Haze” but for the most part he was a counterculture cat, the fringe dude that all of the other cats went to check out, including Miles.
(Trumpeter-composer-bandleader and former sideman for Horace Silver, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius and Frank Zappa, he co-founded Dreams in 1969 and the Brecker Bros. band in 1974.)
Do I consider Hendrix a jazz guitarist? Ahh—no! But he was the epitome and essence of rock ’n’ roll! Although he listened to jazz and was a great improviser, the parameters, vocabulary and sensibility were different and sometimes extremely divergent. Jazz is about finesse; Hendrix was as raw as it can get. Pitch, time and dynamics were not important in the Hendrix Experience—and quite frankly, remembering back, sometimes I had difficulty reconciling these items when I heard him, especially live. But the strong points of that group—raw energy, originality, balls, amazing tunes, conception and volume—were so overwhelming that the other points were literally blown away. I still get chills when I put on those records.
Probably the first time I heard Jimi was when he was jamming at The Scene in ’67. I also heard him at Electric Lady before it was turned into a recording studio [for a brief time it was a big club]. My first reaction was to run and stuff pieces of a napkin in my ears. I mean, that shit was loud! But it was also completely unforgettable from the second he walked on stage. You have to remember we had never seen anyone even dress like he did. This was back when you had to wear a suit to play bebop but really didn’t want to.
Jimi’s tunes and the words and his singing all were big influences on my own music. I loved his stream of consciousness lyrics and his singing because it was untrained and functioned as an organic part of the music. After I heard “Up From the Skies,” for instance, which was one of his most jazz-influenced songs, I wrote “Imagine My Surprise,” which became the title song of the second Dreams record. That was one of the few times in fact that I wrote something with only one influence and song in mind. His playing was an influence, too, for that matter. When I plugged into my effects [wah-wah pedals and delays] I always had him in mind along with my jazz influences.
Had he lived, I think Jimi would have played and recorded under different settings, including some very jazz-influenced situations such as his collaboration with Gil Evans, which was on the drawing boards right at the time he died. I also think his playing would have continued to develop but within a rock format and not really radically change that much. The last thing I would hope for him to become would be anything but what he was—the greatest and most original rock guitarist ever.
(Guitarist-composer-bandleader apprenticed with Billy Cobham before joining Miles Davis’ band in 1980. Also played with Steps Ahead, Vital Information, the Brecker Bros.)
I really dug tunes like “The Wind Cries Mary” from Are You Experienced?, which was the freshest-sounding album of its time, and “One Rainy Wish” from Axis: Bold as Love. Jimi’s playing on those tunes is so incredibly lyrical. It has that same singing quality that I dig in Jim Hall’s playing or in Wes Montgomery’s playing, but the thing about Hendrix was he had that sound, he would articulate that lyrical feeling with a fatter sound on his Strat than you could get with a regular hollow-bodied jazz guitar.
Jimi was definitely a legato player, and whether he intended to or not, he started a movement among guitar players with his long sustaining, legato lines. He sounded more like a horn player than anyone before him, and he influenced everybody that followed him. I’m after that same hornlike quality in my own playing whether I’m playing in a straightahead bag or in a more rock vein. When I was playing with Miles he was always saying things to me like, “Play some Hendrix! Turn it up or turn it off!” Miles loved Hendrix. Jimi and Charlie Christian were his favorite cats as far as guitarists are concerned.
Al Di Meola
(Guitarist-composer-bandleader and member of Return to Forever in the mid-’70s.)
One of my favorite Hendrix songs was a very pretty, very underrated tune he did on his first album called “May This Be Love.” He does this solo that sounds like his guitar is underwater, which was so totally foreign to me at the time. I mean, there I was, 13 years old in Bergenfield, New Jersey, learning everything from jazz to bossa nova to classical from my mentor and this guy comes out with underwater guitar sounds! It was so revolutionary at the time. Hendrix was such an innovator. He was just into experimenting with sounds and taking tunes out with long solos that took you on a little bit of an adventure. And this is what is gradually slipping away in the music industry today, not so much in jazz but especially in the music you hear on the radio. It’s so hip to be able to be as free and experimental as Hendix was, but today the pressure is on so much for anyone who’s into the business of selling records to make pop music in the A-B-A form. And I don’t think that pressure was on as heavily back then.
As far as Hendrix the player, his soloing was definitely in the jazz tradition and a lot of members of the jazz community picked up on it. Not everyone, of course—there’s a lot of players from the old school who couldn’t stand to listen to Hendrix. But of my generation, most everyone will admit that Jimi was a leader.
(Keyboardist with Medeski, Martin & Wood, the godfathers of the current jam-band scene.)
First time I heard Jimi I wasn’t really ready for it yet. I was really deep into jazz and classical music and I didn’t really get it at first. It might’ve been a record of greatest hits or something like that and I thought it was alright, but I think Axis: Bold as Love was the first Hendrix record that I really understood from a different perspective. For me, he’s probably the greatest musician of the last century in terms of really culminating everything.
What inspired me about Hendrix’s music was it was so rooted in the blues and then it also had this futuristic, godlike quality to it, like Bach has. And it was also very raw. Whereas, Bach is, like, mathematically genius, Hendrix is, like, soulfully genius. If I had to pick a small amount of music to put in a time capsule that would represent the human race, it would probably be Bach and Hendrix just to show all sides of what we deal with people expressing themselves through music. And the tune that was the one that slew me overall was his solo on “Red House” from Hendrix in the West. I love that particular one. I listened to it maybe 100 times in a row, over and over in my car until I memorized it and could sing it note for note.
And to be totally honest, also tripping on acid to Hendrix was a revolutionary experience. I mean, it brings another dimension of music that is just phenomenal. Anybody who has done that knows, otherwise it’s impossible to explain it to somebody who doesn’t know what that’s about. It turns it into a spiritual experience. When you’re in it, it grabs you in a visual sense.
Hendrix had the same searching quality in his music that Coltrane had. In fact, his would be the third name I’d add to the time capsule—Hendrix, Bach and Trane. But Hendrix represented so many aspects of music. He was pop, he was blues, he was R&B, he was psychedelia and jazz people eventually got around to seeing how great he was. I never regarded him as a jazz musician. To me, he’s beyond that. He’s everything. Hendrix was the only guy I heard that made me wish I was a guitar player.
(Guitarist, and one of the foremost exponents of the Hendrix legacy, was a member of Defunkt in the late ’70s, Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society and Living Colour in the ’80s. His current band is Masque.)
For me, it was Band of Gypsys. I was in high school in the early ’70s. There was a kid in a couple of classes above me, a senior, who said, “You play guitar? You oughta listen to Hendrix.” I remember seeing Hendrix on the Dick Cavett show because back then if anyone black showed up on TV it was news—like “gather the family around.” I remember he was wearing all blue and I thought, “Wow, that’s so different.” But I was just a kid and my focus was elsewhere. I was more struck by the sight of him; I wasn’t really listening so intently to the music. But later on I started listening to Hendrix and it blew my mind.
This was at the time when the Vietnam War had been going on so long that I was actually wondering was it going to last long enough for them to draft me. It just seemed like there was no way out of it—just this endless quagmire. So hearing Jimi’s “Machine Gun” [from Band of Gypsys] really made quite a statement at that time. It was like a movie about war without the visuals. It had everything—the lyrics, the humanism of it, the drama of it, the violence of it, the eeriness of it, the unpredictability of it. I can’t imagine what it was like to have been in the Fillmore East and have that happen in the second set. If you were there it had to have changed your life, if not forever at least for a little while.
As far as electric lead-guitar soloing, Hendrix was one of the only cats to do that activity and have it extend beyond the notion of chops and scales or anything to where it literally melded itself into the fabric of society and the big questions of the day. And to my mind he did it twice. He did it with “Machine Gun” and he did it with “The Star Spangled Banner.” And in both instances, his playing, his improvising was woven into the fabric of the times. It was like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Those were the kind of times that they were, and it seemed like only those times could have produced him.
On a playing level, Jimi was coming from a blues aesthetic, but he was a modernist. He took on Hubert Sumlin and Albert King but he was also of his time, the ’60s —and all that meant. He was certainly a great improviser but when you listen to Hendrix’s solo there’s a certain palette harmonically that he works with. It’s basically the blues—a lot of dominant chords, major and minor, the occasional altered dominant chord like a 7th, D sharp 9, 11th chords. But it’s not like he’s dealing with the same palette as Wes Montgomery. He’s not dealing with bebop. At the same time, he’s not limited by anything. He just plays. You put him in any situation, I think, and he would play something profound. Because he’s not thinking about “This is wrong.” He’s not coming from “I’m wrong here and I need to fix it.” He just plays.
Hendrix arrived at some special place in the mid-’60s. He obviously worked very hard and he took a genius leap. Because there are recordings of Hendrix with Curtis Knight and King Curtis and he sounds like a decent rhythm-guitar player. But he took the same fundamental leap that Charlie Parker took in his own right; that Ornette Coleman took. He took the great leap forward. And I think it’s fascinating when individuals do that because it seems like an individual is doing it but it’s like a whole network of things coming together to make that happen. There’s a whole community of voices in an individual coming together that are informing what ultimately results in him taking a leap. Leaving Seattle was taking a leap. I mean, we are a nation filled with Charlie Parkers and Jimi Hendrixes. The question is, Who is gonna take that leap into the great nowhere? And the great nowhere is [this]: no one approves of it. There was no agreement on Hendrix’s greatness when he first came out. Even when you read reviews it’s like “the guy’s playing too loud, who does he think he is, he’s a clown, he’s jumping around.” He obviously took some moves from T-Bone Walker’s playbook but he had a vision thing, too. He went forward, forward, forward. He’s daunting in that he really always poses a challenge, like Picasso: “OK, this is what I did. It’s there in your life. Now you got to find it.”
Hendrix was a series of collisions and accidents and chances taken and leaps of faith. Plus, he had a certain kind of unassailable integrity that was always under assault, even by his fans, because everyone wanted him to be the Hendrix that they wanted him to be. So he was in constant turmoil with the management scene, with relationships, all of that. So if Hendrix hadn’t choked on his own vomit—well, he woulda had a life.
I would love to commission artists to come up with alternate histories of Hendrix. Hendrix is turned over, he doesn’t die, what happens then? Does Hendrix join Emerson, Lake & Palmer? Does he hook up with Miles Davis? Does he join King Crimson? Does he break his band up, go to Jamaica and become a Rastafarian? Does he move to India or Morocco? Does he go into retirement? Does something even worse happen to him— “Foxy Lady” wine coolers or whatever? Does he get married and have a daughter who is a brilliant saxophonist who becomes the next Coltrane? Does he do the soundtrack to Five Easy Pieces. And what would happen to the music as we know it? Does Hendrix go completely underground or does he get together with Soft Machine or with Patrick Gleeson or Kraftwerk? It’s up for grabs. I would like to think the Hendrix in the early ’70s would’ve done something incredibly progressive for that time period. Like, in another world, maybe it would’ve been Jimi instead of Tommy Bolin playing on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. Who knows? If Hendrix had lived, would he have hooked up with Marvin Gaye? Good god almighty!
David “Fuze” Fiuczynski
(Innovative guitarist who has performed and recorded with a variety of jazz and pop artists, while also leading his own band Screaming Headless Torsos.)
My experience with Hendrix is a little bit different than most players. When I started guitar at age 13 [in 1977], I was a jazz head and I didn’t want anything to do with rock music at all. Then two or three years later, when I happily matured a little bit and realized that there’s more than just jazz out there, I really made a point to avoid Hendrix because I saw how easily people got sucked into his thing and they lost their own identity. So my first experience with Hendrix was actually one of trying to run away from him. I just remember thinking that Hendrix was dangerous.
Then in college, around ’83, I started checking him out. I think it was “Manic Depression” that first grabbed me. That’s really one of the first real heavy-metal bebop tunes. I mean, if you listen to the drums, Mitch Mitchell is playing straightahead. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I got drawn to it, because it had that jazz thing going on in there. Actually by then I was into hard rock and punk and also fusion, but I started to listen to Hendrix a bit. I actually had to learn a lot of his tunes for gigs—the Black Rock Coalition did Hendrix tributes and actually Me’Shell NdegéOcello was thinking about doing a Hendrix tribute album—and people would give me tapes to listen to which were basically best-of compilations, so I never really associated the individual tunes with albums. I just took them all in at the same time and started to learn them. And as I studied these tunes, I realized that I already had gotten a lot of him indirectly through other guitar players. You know, the wah-wah skronks, the whammy bar stuff that I got from other people. It was a revelation, like, “Oh! So this is where they got this from.” You know, Steve Vai’s wah-wah thing and his octave thing and Hiram Bullock had a certain thing that I thought was really individual, which I later found out he got from Hendrix. And that’s happened with probably 10, 15 guitar players that I’ve really checked out personally. They all borrowed from Jimi. So while I tried to avoid him I realized later when I came back that I wasn’t avoiding him at all because it was just impossible. His influence was just too pervasive.
I’ve covered a few of Jimi’s tunes over the years, including an unreleased Torsos version of “Little Wing,” which I’m proud to say doesn’t fall into wedding band/”Misty” mode. I also covered “Third Stone From the Sun” on Jazz Punk. That was my own personal homage to him. It’s an attempt at trying to look at maybe the way that Hendrix might’ve done something if he were still alive. It’s got a Middle Eastern vibe to it, which is something I picked up from being in Morocco in 1992 for a gig I played with this Moroccan contingent. We rehearsed for 10 days in Marrakech in preparation for the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain, and all the Moroccan cats came up to me and said, “Yeah, Hendrix was here, Hendrix was here!” Apparently, he spent a lot of his leisure time there during the ’60s. And that sowed the seed of like, “Hmmm, what would’ve Hendrix done with this Middle Eastern stuff?” So this version is a little bit of an attempt of trying to figure that out.
Calling him a jazz musician is, to me, a little bit restrictive because the cat is also an unbelievable poet. That’s another thing of how he just sets himself apart from other guitar players. And even if he never soloed, some of his heaviest guitar shit is his comping. There’s a lot of cats who get beyond the notes, who transcend their instruments when they’re playing but the way he did it was really earthy. You got some people—they’re really heady, it’s a cerebral thing. But Jimi had that mind-body-spirit type thing going on—the lush written images that were mirrored with the lush soundscapes. He had like that double whammy. This cat just had so many different ways of grabbing you—wild solos, incredible orchestration, unbelievable lyrics—and then you get them all together with phat grooves and showmanship. It’s like a Stravinsky ballet. You have the music, you have the costumes, you have the choreography and the stage design. You have more than one thing going on. Written, verbal, aural and visual, just the full-on total package.
(English bassist-composer-bandleader, moved to the United States in 1968 to play with Miles Davis.)
I knew him very slightly. He played on a number of festivals that we were appearing on with Miles’ group and he was in New York at the same time that we all were. The opportunity I had to play with him was a call I got one afternoon to come down to his studio and just have a jam session with John McLaughlin and Buddy Miles. It was very loose and a lot of fun, and that was the extent of it. It’s interesting though—he had this really long cord and he would walk up to cats and give them a little riff to play and then he’d walk up to someone else and give them a little riff to play, and that’s exactly what Miles did, that same kind of intuitive orchestration.
I think I first heard Hendrix on record when his first album came out in 1967. I just thought it was great because of the looseness, that the music was very improvisational; it wasn’t as regimented as a lot of the music that was being listened to in that period. Miles was interested in all of the music going on around him at the time. He liked Sly Stone’s band and Jimi’s a lot. And I heard rumors—I never spoke to Miles directly about it—but I heard rumors that there was some idea that there may be a collaboration. But it was never more than a rumor, as far as I know.
Hendrix was in Woodstock a fair amount in the late ’60s and he had a musical project that he was doing with local musicians from this area—a more freewheeling kind of thing. His music was growing all the time and there was a sense that he was looking to really expand the horizons of what he was doing. He already had, but I think he still had more of a vision of a collective kind of thing. There was something about his playing that had very much to do with groups and collective playing, interactive playing, which of course is part of the jazz tradition. Well, it’s all coming from the same root, which is the blues. That’s where jazz shares common ground with rhythm ’n’ blues and funk and all these different strains that have developed out of the blues. I think that Hendrix was sort of playing off the older blues styles—very loose, the interaction with the voice and the guitar. He had some very strong roots in the Delta blues stuff, which is why he might’ve gotten on with jazz musicians. There’s a common ground there.
(Hendrixian guitarist who acknowledged the influence on his 1995 DIW recording Tribute to Jimi.)
I was nine years old when I first encountered Jimi’s music. My older cousin played me Band of Gypsys and, man, that shit blew me away! After hearing Band of Gypsys I went back and checked out all the other albums. But for me, Band of Gypsys was the ultimate in terms of what he was doing. I thought the rhythm section was perfect for him. Billy Cox and Buddy Miles—those were two cats who could hit. I mean, it was so solid that when Hendrix went into his psychedelic stuff it was like a perfect contrast. You could see how far he was traveling because the ground was so clear!
Looking back, I don’t think of Hendrix as a jazz player. If you’re talking about a straightahead style, Jimi wasn’t coming from that place at all. He was basically in love with the blues and R&B and he had all that Indian heavy shit going through his blood too. He had a lot of stuff you can’t really categorize, man. It’s power—just the ability to express things in a very finely detailed manner. Like his vibrato was very detailed, man. Like an opera singer—very heavy. And the way that a cat goes from note to note, there was a kind of phrasing that he had that singers have. It was very deep, and very seasoned. It had weight.
Hendrix absolutely influenced Miles. I think he influenced every player in jazz who did not block out funk and rock as possibilities to gain knowledge from. He’s the reference for that, just like Coltrane was the reference for improvisational jazz. Any jazz player who found funk and rock and even blues as a reference point to gain something from had to ultimately deal with Jimi. He’s what Archie Shepp calls a transformational player, like Trane, Elvin, Kenny Clarke, Tony Williams Lifetime with Larry Young. All of these guys, through the force of their own playing, basically said, “Yo! This is where the shit is going!” And I hope that jazz can get back to that spirit of respecting and supporting those kind of players.
(Guitarist formerly with Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine, currently with Kevin Mahogany and leader of Blue to the Bone band.)
I think we’re all affected by the first music that touches us; it stays with us. And so he influenced me in a profound way. It was great to hear that early on in my development: a really creative, powerful, blues-based artist who took a lot of chances. Plus, his drummer Mitch Mitchell played in a looser Elvin Jones inspired way than most rock drummers. Some of his jazzier tunes that I still find amazing are “Manic Depression,” “Third Stone From the Sun,” “Fire” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” There is a tune from the Woodstock album called “Jam Back at the House” that is killing in 6/4. Also a tune I first heard on the Easy Rider soundtrack called “If 6 Was 9” might be as close to jazz as he got. In the middle solo section Noel Redding the bassist starts walking in a fast 4/4 while the drummer plays half-time rock against it with Jimi blowing guitar and wood flute over it. That song knocked me out when I first heard it and it still does. In fact I just recorded it with my Blue to the Bone band. I changed the middle section to more of a Miles vibe with the horn section riffing some of his other melodies over it.
Sure, I consider Hendrix a jazz guitarist. He came out of the blues and incorporated that and rock with the improvisational and experimental facets of jazz. Although his tunes were rock-based, his lines swung.
(Fusion-guitar pioneer began melding rock and jazz as early as 1966 with Free Spirits. Jammed with Hendrix after-hours at The Scene before forming The Eleventh House in the early ’70s.)
Jimi had a trio that sounded like an avalanche coming down off Mt. Everest. Even when he laid out his band thundered on, bringing to mind Miles Davis’ fabled comment: “This black dude made two white cats play their asses off.” I loved that! Wes Montgomery was also playing around New York at the time but a Hendrix performance compared to a Wes performance—I once saw them both the same night—was simply iconoclastic. It was beyond categorization of jazz versus pop or blues. It was a force unto itself. There were, to be sure, elements of the avant-garde that was de rigueur in New York at the time in Hendrix’s music. Plus, it was loud—not obnoxious and unpleasant loud like certain counterparts. But it was, at the same time, sweet, romantic, hard, scary, comforting, spontaneous and free in spirit and—because of the extra tones and overtones coming out of the distortion—in the harmony.
The unison of electric bass and guitar of the C&W-type chords in “Hey Joe” sounded not unlike Stockhausen or Stravinsky or the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, for example. A lot of these similarities with facets of jazz were totally not consciously intended, I’m guessing. Jimi just wanted to play his thing as he saw it. He was like a Mozart surrounded by Salieri. At least when I was around him, he never stopped and let his ego assess his work and compare it favorably or unfavorably with others in a who’s better than who sense.
(Trombonist-composer who is currently a member of Dave Holland’s sextet and leader of Mental Images.)
Growing up, all the music that I was listening to was electric. I wasn’t even listening to jazz at all. I was listening to Chicago, Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad and of course Jimi Hendrix. And the sound of the trombone just didn’t lend itself to that music I was hearing at the time. So I began experimenting with stuff, even when I was a little kid. I used to hook up the wah-wah and the phase shifter and all that stuff to my trombone, but the technology was really bad. Actually Al Grey was the first one I saw who used a pickup on his trombone. I once gave him one of my old mouthpieces and he drilled it and put this Barcus Berry attachment to it. But the technology still wasn’t there. And besides, I didn’t like getting my mouthpiece drilled. Then in the late ’80s I was guest soloist with a band in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the sax player had a microphone hooked onto his bell and I asked him if I could borrow it for a few minutes at the sound check. So I put it on my horn and plugged into a guitar player’s amp, and it worked. My immediate reaction was “Uh, oh!” because I knew I had finally found something to help me get that Hendrix sound I had been hearing for so long. It was like a door opened for me at that point, and it’s led to things like “Blues for Jimi” [on Mental Images’ Get 2 It], which is an obvious homage to a great talent.
Originally published in July/August 2001