Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

JT’s July/August 2010 Issue: Stringing It Along

One of the most valuable lessons jazz teaches us is that there was musical life before Jimi Hendrix. To the general populace, it seems as if music begins and ends with the distorted electric guitar. That worldview holds water only until you hear Louis Armstrong, or Charlie Parker, or, for that matter, Django Reinhardt. Long before Leo Fender carved his first Strat or Jimmy Page lit his first cigarette, jazzbos were buying the stairway to Heaven. If you researched hard enough, I’m sure you’d find proof of drink-soaked young men trundling down 52nd Street playing air-alto. I recently saw McCoy Tyner alum Azar Lawrence play a devastatingly powerful set of Coltrane (and Coltrane-style) music in Baltimore, and it became easy for me to understand what Eric Clapton meant in JT a few years back when he discussed how his playing in Cream was aesthetically influenced by Trane. Lawrence’s tenor didn’t need a wah-wah pedal or a Marshall full-stack to provide transcendence, but his playing still inspired audience members to stand up and scream as each passing chorus snowballed in intensity. So JT and the artists we cover have the unique ability to entertain and excite without use of the amplified six-string.

But to ignore the instrument in jazz would be to overlook so many incredible players-like our cover artist John McLaughlin, who, developing with influences from acoustic jazz and psychedelic rock, figured out how to have it both ways. McLaughlin matched the enduring jazz ideals of virtuosity and ensemble interplay with certain signs of the times-rock’s sonics and volume, a vague but intense spiritual yearning-to create something wholly unique. As Geoffrey Himes discovers in his story, much of McLaughlin’s inspiration in life and music, both then and now, comes from Coltrane-and A Love Supreme specifically. (Unlike Slowhand, however, McLaughlin made it his business to grasp jazz’s harmonic inner-workings rather than just its ambience.)

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published