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Jimi Hendrix: Modern Jazz Axis

Jimi Hendrix
illustration of Jimi Hendrix

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.”

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