Jazz-Funk Party Jams

It was tough to be a jazz musician in the 1970s, and not just because of the haircuts. Fusion's electric pulse captured the attention of both performers and wider audiences, and as the era progressed, more and more established jazzers started adding funky beats, fat electric basslines, juicy synths and backup vocals to their tracks. By mid-decade, many formerly straight-up jazz icons were releasing albums that could have easily been filed under funk, R&B or disco in any respectable record store.

And perhaps that's the best way to view these crossover tracks, which tend to drive jazz scholars up the wall -- as funk fit for summer block party jams. Truth be told, many don't hold up as vehicles for ...Expand »

It was tough to be a jazz musician in the 1970s, and not just because of the haircuts. Fusion's electric pulse captured the attention of both performers and wider audiences, and as the era progressed, more and more established jazzers started adding funky beats, fat electric basslines, juicy synths and backup vocals to their tracks. By mid-decade, many formerly straight-up jazz icons were releasing albums that could have easily been filed under funk, R&B or disco in any respectable record store.

And perhaps that's the best way to view these crossover tracks, which tend to drive jazz scholars up the wall -- as funk fit for summer block party jams. Truth be told, many don't hold up as vehicles for improvisation or jazz composition. But they sure smoke and groove, as beat-heads and sample-seeking hip-hop producers will attest. From Stanley Clarke's monster bass riffs on 1976's "The Dancer" through the porn-soundtrack sleaze of Lonnie Liston Smith's "Voodoo Woman" to Joni Mitchell hornman Tom Scott blasting through "Bless My Soul" and flautist Herbie Mann penning an improbable disco tribute to Superman, these ostensible "jazz" cuts would fit in perfectly alongside any single from Kool & the Gang or Fatback.

So don't look to this playlist as an apology for the smoother moments of George Benson or Roy Ayers. Just have some fun with the funk. And dig those outfits!

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