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Title:Rock Becomes Jazz: Interpretations of Popular Music by Improvising Artists in the 1960s
Author(s):Felix, Brian M.
Director of Research:Solis, Gabriel
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Stephens, John Chip
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Solis, Gabriel; Pugh, James; Lund, Erik R.
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ramsey Lewis
Steve Marcus
Abstract:The advent of rock and roll changed the jazz world’s relationship to itself and its musical public. The popularity of jazz, in decline since the rise of bebop in the mid-1940s, was further eroded by rock and roll’s rise to prominence in the mid-1950s. By the mid-1960s, the jazz world seemed to be faced with a choice: adapt to accommodate the burgeoning new genre or risk fading further into popular irrelevance. Many jazz artists chose to ignore rock, oftentimes viewing it as a simple-minded pursuit dominated by white artists stealing from black musicians. Other artists, though, chose to engage with the new music and bring it into the jazz world by interpreting rock repertoire. In a way, this trend was no different than the time-honored jazz tradition of interpreting contemporary popular songs. Interpreting rock songs and incorporating them into their repertoire was different, though, because of the many prejudices that jazz musicians held toward rock music and the relative simplicity of rock’s musical attributes. This paper is dedicated to the in-depth study of jazz versions of rock music in the 1960s. By examining biographies and interviews, I highlight the various musical, commercial and racial considerations that were present for jazz artists during this era and seek answers to the following questions: How do jazz musicians deal with changing times, and how do their musical choices reflect that? What do these choices and processes say about their musical/artistic worldview and what non-musical considerations influence the decision making process? How do commercial considerations fuel the choices made by jazz musicians? How do these early interpretations of rock music in a jazz context pave the way for future crossover between the two genres? With these queries as a backdrop, I delve deeply into the the musical attributes of each selection, including form, key, tempo, meter, melody and harmony. Through these musical specifics and in conjunction with relevant testimony from the artists and observers, I arrive at conclusions regarding the interpretive methods and their relative commercial and/or artistic success. Overall, there has been relatively little academic analysis devoted to the covering of rock music by jazz musicians, and this paper is intended to fill that void. The influence of rock music on the jazz world has been important in modern jazz, both in the jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s and the massive up swing of rock songs in the jazz repertoire in 2000s. Looking closely at the first attempts at combining jazz and rock provides a clear foundation for these efforts. Additionally, close study of 1960s jazz interpretations of rock music highlights certain musical, commercial and racial considerations that colored the choices made by artists in the 1960s and continue to influence artists’ decision-making processes in the 21st century.
Issue Date:2010-08-09
Genre:Dissertation / Thesis
Publication Status:unpublished
Peer Reviewed:is peer reviewed
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-02-03

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