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The Genres: Bill Milkowski on Fusion

Miles Davis

If you never had ears for Jimi Hendrix, if you had no use whatsoever for Cream, Led Zeppelin, James Gang, Frank Zappa, the Who, the Allman Brothers, Sly Stone or the Beatles, then you probably never got fusion.

In its earliest incarnation, fusion music was raw and full of abandon; a loud, iron fist upside the head of jazz complacency. A renegade movement fueled by the spirit of search and risk and the prevailing climate of hippiedom, it provided a bridge for both listener and player between the throbbing, cathartic power of Jimi Hendrix and Cream on the one hand and the probing, heightened improvisations of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on the other. It ambitiously melded pyrotechnic virtuosity on the level of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with the sheer decibels of the Who and the psychedelia of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles. Reviled by an older generation of jazz musicians (who smugly referred to it as “con-fusion,” just as Louis Armstrong had dismissed bebop as “Chinese music”), fusion was revered by a younger generation (myself included) that easily related to its pulsating, incandescent energy.

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