Cross-Pollination: The Effect of Rock Music on Jazz in the Late 1960’s and Early 1970’s as Demonstrated by Miles Davis’s Album Bitches Brew



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The question of “What is Jazz?” has been vigorously explored in academic and cultural circles. While defining it is not within the scope of this thesis, a common feature of the genre has always been to adopt into its core elements, the nuances of the popular music of the times. Jazz, as it is currently understood, has equal footing in traditional and modern conventions. A technological and musical analysis of Miles Davis’s critically acclaimed release “Bitches Brew”, will reveal the effects of rock music of the late 1960’s on jazz. This new adaptation of jazz (still performed today) was later dubbed “fusion-jazz” or “jazz-rock”. That is to say, the fusion of rock rhythmic and harmonic styles into jazz. Additionally it represents the fusion of electric instruments into a historically acoustic genre. During the late 1960’s, rock music was still a relatively new genre. However, it’s undeniable popularity in the late 1960’s inspired Miles Davis to rethink his approach to rhythm and harmony. Several albums of his in this era share this new approach. The most notable of this new genre being “Bitches Brew”, released in 1969. An analysis of compositions featured on this album reveals what later became a trend in jazz performance of the period; single chord or limited harmonic movement over a simpler repetitive rock drum beat (what Bitches Brew keyboardist Chick Corea describes as “Beat music”), with both features being in sharp contrast to the standard performative methods of the era. The secondary point of this thesis will be the “fusion” of electric instruments into jazz, which up until this era, was a traditionally acoustic genre. Davis’s choices of instrumentation reflect his desire to achieve a more “rock” sound and the continued body of work by the sidemen on this album are the test of this new sounds durability. As demonstrated by “Bitches Brew” with it’s inclusion of electric rhythm section instruments (those used predominantly in rock music), and the absence of many of their acoustic counterparts, is the beginning of a genre-wide change in the instrumentation used in jazz.



Davis, Miles, Bitches Brew, Fusion, Fusion jazz, Jazz, Jazz rock