The Formative Years – All the Jazz
The connection between Rock’n Roll, its derivates and Blues is amongst the more obvious and commonly accepted when it comes to the evolution of guitar driven music.
When it comes to punk rock, Jazz does not tend to jump to the top of one’s mind as an influence, however, once one dares to scratch the surface of the breadth of music that resides under the label of this often improvisational musical form, things might start to look like quite differently.
Me delving into Jazz started with not only investigating the roots of proto punk bands like The Stooges and MC5 but having the fortune of being gently pushed towards listening to Ray Charles, the solos of Jimi Hendrix, the spastic rhythms of Captain Beefheart, John Coltrane and Sun Ra.
An early epiphany I had was that to my surprise, their emissions did not lack grittiness and raw attitude but just managed to channel it in a different if not slightly more sophisticated form via employing different instrumentation, with horns and the brass section being a definite point of difference.
Looking back and having gained a deeper understanding of music at large, the link between Jazz and Punk becomes more obvious, especially as far as the free form approach is concerned. An example par excellence is Velvet Underground and the way they were influenced by John Cage’s minimalism and Coleman’s guitar work.
It appeared that apart from clearly visible blues roots, jazz elements were present and channelled in a dirtied, simpler and louder form with X-Ray Spex, The Stooges and early “No Wave” bands being early adapters from the realm of punk rock, and which again provided the foundation and template the first stage of punk rock bands calibrated their music against.
Later on and once I felt the urge to explore music further than the at times very dogmatic, purist and confined hardcore punk I was listening to, bands like Sonic Youth and other that were more accomplished on the musical front, opened new horizons as far as the incorporation of jazz elements were concerned.
Once my musical horizons expanded, I revisited the more twisted, distorted, and frantic jazz that bordered on the atonal and never lacked surprise or to ability to startle, which again found it contemporary punk equivalent in how e.g. Greg Ginn infused Black Flag or bands not unlike Saccharine Trust with jazz spirit.
In essence, I found Jazz and its improvisatory essence and boundless willingness to explore free of any form to be a conglomeration of outside sounds, with a core attitude that resemble that of punk both in terms of adventure as well as creativity.