Aug 072008

What rock musicians have been able to successfully incorporate elements of jazz into their rock?

How we define “elements of jazz” is best left to you, but I hope we have the good sense not to allow, say, Ted Nugent‘s hiring of the Brecker Brothers to play on one of his songs as an example of a rock artist incorporating elements of jazz into their work.

Rock artists have been pretty comfortable slipping country, blues, and folk into their music, and as much as we deride ’70s-style jazz fusion, a number of jazz artists have incorporated elements of rock into their sound in an effective way. But beside the occasional scat singing of Van Morrison or the chops-laden session cats on a Steely Dan or Paul Simon album, have any rock bands since the days of Soft Machine spent much time even trying to take a “jazz approach” to rock? Joni Mitchell seemed to have gone whole hog into a jazz approach, but I’m not sure that it succeeded beyond a few songs. Of course, I’ll leave it to you to determine what a jazz approach is, or what exactly is jazz altogether.

Is Tortoise a rock band successfully incorporating jazz elements, or do they just market themselves as such? (Full 30-minute set of the band follows!)

This is an open-ended set of questions. Improvise.

I look forward to the scat we toss around!


  26 Responses to “Does Jazz Go With That Rock?”

  1. Perhaps early Chicago or Blood, Sweat, & Tears? Elements of jazz for sure. I know that Tower of Power gets lumped into playing all the jazz festivals, but I’ve never considered them to be a jazz act. They’ve boasted some jazz players into the band over the years, but they are strictly a soul/funk outfit to my ears.


  2. “Life in a Glass House” by Radiohead off of Amnesiac is a great example of jazz elements helping to complete a song.

    Yorke was having difficulty finishing the song and somehow crossed paths with Humphrey Littleton who brought in his band and added the New Orleans funeral march to it.

    “Latin Simone” by the Gorrillaz featuring Ibrahim Ferrer

    Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello have lots of songs incorporating jazz into their music.

    Jackson even has a big band album.

    “Stalin Malone” the instrumental from Spike is the first Costello song that comes to mind for some reason.

    Actually “Mr. Feathers” off of Momofuku is a pretty jazz influenced song I think.

    And of course my boys from Boston, Morphine, incorporated a lot of jazz into their sound.

    I would also add Fiona Apple and Fiest incorporate jazz into their sound.

  3. Ben Folds has some jazzy stuff during his solos. Maybe the piano lends itself to a jazzy nature, but some of it swings even!


  4. Mac and Latelydavid remind me that ’90s rock — when some weird-ish bands could get major-label contracts — had some jazzy elements.

    I love Morphine, they’re a great example. Ben Folds also has his jazzy moments.

    I’m not a big Soul Coughing fan, but do they count? There’s some jazz in that boho hip-hop folky thing they did.

    Then there’s Shudder to Think, who I do like. They had a whole mess of genres going on, and I think jazz rears its head, with the weird time signatures and whatnot. Or is that purely a prog influence?

    I think there’s a suspicion about putting jazz in rock, like rock is tryin’ to get highfalutin’. It’s not like putting blues or country in rock. It’s more like the reaction the classical-rock hybrid often elicits.

    But there are more ways to put jazz in rock than the Steely Dan/Joni Mitchell way, good as that can often be.

  5. If we say that Joni Mitchell put jazz into rock, then are we saying that what she did before that was rock? Hmmm…

  6. King Crimson’s Lark Tongues in Aspic is the closest they come to jazz, and pretty good in that way. Maybe the only rock record to incorporate an understanding of Ornette Coleman?

    I’m wondering too where the weirdo wing of prog-rock fits with this. I can see a connection between, say, Steve Hillage records and the jazz side of the fusion house. But fusion on the rock side of the house is mainly a big oh no….

    Recent Van Morrison records, like What’s Wrong With This Picture, cross into jazz terrain pretty well. It’s still not jazz, but it has the feel of jazz.

  7. I like a lot of what the Bad Plus is doing, though they’re sneaking in the back door of rock from the jazz patio…

    Well maybe kickin’ in the patio door would be more accurate considering how freaky hard the drummer hits…

  8. Are we even going to touch Zappa? Of course, he did just about everything.

    Then there was that whole swing/jump revival in the mid-90s. I think when The Gap used Louis Prima in one of their commercials. I don’t know if I call it “jazz”, but it gave Brian Setzer some exposure. Definitely jazz elements.


  9. The Bad Plus, telewacker? Do you live in southern California? Didn’t realize they were known outside of here.

  10. BigSteve

    The Kinks, The Band, and Randy Newman have all used pre-WWII jazz as an added spice to their music.

  11. Naw I’m Chicagoese. I seen a vid of “Physical Cites” of theirs on PBS and rushed slowly out to get EVERYTHING I could get my hands on…

    One might call an acoustic jazz trio covering ‘Tom Saywer’ or radiohead to be in the same gimmickry class as Kronos covering Hendrix, but those cranks would be wrong! This is as rocking as it gets.

    Many YouTubes available. I’m still in awe of the unison ‘hammer of the acoustic gods break’ in Physical Cities…I’m trying to figure out the secret code…there has to be a tell…

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for taking a crack at this so far. Remember, I’m looking for “successful” incorporations of jazz elements in rock, not just any old incorporations thereof. I won’t bother being too judgemental, though, at this point. What I’m most curious to get at is how rock bands might incorporate the overall approach of different styles of jazz, not just whether they play “jazz chords” or not.

    We’re all in agreement that Joni and Steely Dan incorporated a strong ’70s West Coast jazz fusion approach – and like ’em or not, I think we’d agree they were successful, to a surprising degree, in using those tools to support their own “voices.”

    I like what Mwall says about Van Morrison:

    Recent Van Morrison records, like What’s Wrong With This Picture, cross into jazz terrain pretty well. It’s still not jazz, but it has the feel of jazz.

    I really like this, because he speaks of the “feel” of jazz. There’s a tone to some of his earlier recordings as well (I’m thinking, in particular, of two of my favorities, “Listen to the Lions” and “Fair Play”) that sounds more in line with how a broad swath of jazz musicians play their music rather than any rock musicians, including folk rockers.

    I can hear what BigSteve cites in The Kinks, The Band, and Randy Newman, although I don’t hear Randy Newman as a rock musician – I just don’t. (But that’s not something I want to focus on.)

    Someone entered Beefheart in the poll. I can hear that.

    Obviously there’s a lot I don’t know about jazz, but I do know that there are different styles of jazz. Once you get into the crossbreeding of late-60s/early-70 jazz and rock fusion, there’s not a whole lot that can differ in the approach of Zappa vs Weather Report, for instance. Or is there?

    Again, can we think beyond the hiring of the Brecker Brothers for overdubs and try to examine how the “jazz approach” is used successfully in rock? I know that “Eight Miles High” was inspired by a Coltrane tune. I know that The Doors incorporated jazz approaches (maybe as well as anyone in the ’60s). Did the Dead, in their prime, successfully use a “jazz approach?”

    Feel free to express what you feel makes for a “jazz approach” as you identify artists/bands.

  13. Hey another cat who takes his rock-jazz shaken not stirred is Big EZys Stanton Moore…

  14. Mr. Moderator

    That was pretty cool, Telewacker. Am I seeing/hearing right: does that drummer have nothing but snare drums at his hands?

  15. saturnismine

    I tried to put Stereolab in the poll, but it didn’t work.

    They definitely incorporate jazz elements into their music. They do so seamlessly enough for people to dispute that they do so.

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    Sigh. Must I bear this pince-nez cross forever?

    Re: the Spinal Tap write-in for the RTH Big Choice Poll —

    It’s not “Mach 2.” It’s a take-off on the pompous nomenclature Deep Purple used to use to describe its many incarnations, which was itself nicked from British military hardware manufacturer jargon. Whenever Deep Purple added a new singer, or switched out their bassist, or whatever, they would do the same thing British jet fighter manufacturers would do when they added, I dunno, a new set of landing gear or something: they’d just add “Mark II” (or III, or IV, or whatever) to their name.

    Do you get it now? It may *sound* like “mach 2” in David St. Hubbins’ English accent, but it’s “Mark II.”

    Mark II — abbreviated Mk II.

    Yours extremely nerdily,

    HVB, Mk I

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, Mod — Interesting timing on the Tortoise shout-out. I was just about to post on my first Tortoise album purchase. Look for that soon.


    p.s.: I bought the Tortoise LP through my RTH eMusic subscription. Handy, elegant, easy-to-use, and good for the Hall. Join today!

  18. Big band is probably one of the more successfully used jazz tools rock bands use.

    Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes” uses this pretty successfully with the horns and the tom toms.

    Calexico, along with a heavy dose of Mariachi uses jazz. There is latin flavored jazz, but on songs like “Crumble” off of Feast of Wire, you have a cool jazz/bebop sound. (sorry for the Cowboy Bebop animation, it is the only good version of the song I could find)

    This is almost straight jazz, but you hear the same elements throughout their songs.

    The Eels use jazz. “Hospital Food” has a very cool jazz feel to it. And “Grace Kelly Blues” has elements of a New Orleans funeral march throughout it.

    I know they can’t be classified as rock, but Zucco 103 have mastered the modern pop take on the Bossa Nova:

  19. BigSteve

    I think Stanton Moore is a actual jazz drummer who slums (and makes a living) playing rock/funk. Btw that’s George Porter of the Meters playing bass on the left in that instructional video.

    Thanks for the Tortoise clip. That was awesome. I’d never seen them play before.

    And hvb, haven’t you guessed by now that people say ‘mach’ just to bait you?

  20. Seems to me like the Soft Machine are the obvious answer here. To this day, I have never made up my mind about whether THIRD is a rock album that incorporates jazz or a jazz album that incorporates rock.

  21. King Crimson’s Lark Tongues in Aspic is the closest they come to jazz, and pretty good in that way. Maybe the only rock record to incorporate an understanding of Ornette Coleman?

    I have to respectfully disagree here. Trout Mask Replica, at least to my ears, is very much informed by Ornette and other ’60s free jazz (Cecil Taylor, et al.).

    Great call on Morphine BTW. I would’ve voted for him had they been on the list and I didn’t think of them then.

  22. I know that the Dead are not an RTH favorite, but I think that Garcia, in almost any era of the band, approached gutar solos with a jazz like sensibility. His tendency is to play fairly long solos, that develop over time, rather than a series of flashy disconnected licks. I often think his solos are really nicely put together, even on some of their most unambitious pseudo-country dreck.

  23. Joe Jackson?

  24. Hey I’ll tell yas – Joe Jackson has hits hits and misses – he’s another one of those guys who hit a home run first time in the box and had a hard time living up to it (Fukudome, anyone?)

    Still, I say ‘Jumpin’ Jive’ is a …great… record. I can’t count the number of times I put that one one and just grooved along…

    You have to give most of the credit to Louis Jordan for writing those songs in the first place, but JJ certainly gave all credit where it was due – he knew why that record came out so good…

    A Louis Jordan throwback jersey for Joe Jackson…

  25. Mod, I think the “feel of jazz” thing I was going for earlier really comes down to swing. So any tendency to either swing or improvisation would indicate a degree of jazz in a rock band.

  26. BigSteve

    I just got the 2-CD Ian Dury set Reasons To Be Cheerful, and I had forgotten how jazzy a lot of his stuff was.

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