From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jazz-funk is a sub-genre of jazz music characterized by a strong back beat (groove), electrified sounds, and often, the presence of the first electronic analog synthesizers. The integration of funk, soul, and R&B music and styles into jazz resulted in the creation of a genre whose spectrum is indeed quite wide and ranges from strong jazz improvisation to soul, funk or disco with jazz arrangements, jazz riffs, and jazz solos, and sometimes soul vocals. Jazz-funk is primarily an American genre, where it was popular throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, but it also achieved noted appeal on the club-circuit in England during the mid 1970s. Similar genres include soul jazz and jazz fusion, but neither entirely overlap with jazz-funk. Notably jazz-funk is less vocal, more arranged and featured more improv than soul jazz, and retains a strong feel of groove and R&B versus some of the jazz fusion production.
At the jazz end of the spectrum, jazz-funk characteristics include a departure from ternary rhythm (near-triplet), i.e. the "swing" (see swing rhythm), to the more danceable and unfamiliar binary rhythm, known as the "groove". It is therefore no surprise that this type of jazz saw its name associated with the term funk, a genre that created this groove rhythm, which was spearheaded by James Brown's drummers Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jabo" Starks. A second characteristic of jazz-funk music was the use of electric instruments, such as the Rhodes Piano or the electric bass guitar, particularly in jazz fusion (or electro-jazz), and the first use of analogue electronic instruments notably by Herbie Hancock, whose jazz-funk period saw him surrounded on stage or in the studio by several Moog synthesizers. The ARP Odyssey, ARP String Ensemble, and Hohner D6 Clavinet also became popular at the time. A third feature is the shift of proportions between composition and improvisation. Arrangements, melody, and overall writing were heavily emphasized.
Ambivalence of the genre
At its conception, the jazz-funk genre was occasionally looked down upon by jazz hard-liners as a sell-out, or "jazz for the dancehalls." It was unsubstantially presumed by these to be not intellectual or elite enough, which led to controversy about the music crossing over, but it was making jazz much more popular and mainstream.
The jazz-funk (as well as a proportion of the jazz) community absorbed the street sound of the funk rhythm, which gave the genre a dance-able rhythm and gained influences from the electric and some new analog electronic sound of fusion. The 1970s included many original stylistic creations, and the jazz-funk genre was very representative of this movement.
From a jazz perspective, the ambivalence towards the jazz-funk genre arose – despite commercial success – because it was "too jazzy" and therefore too complex. Arrangements and instrumental tracks in pop or R&B music requires less initiation and allows the lead singer to relate to the audience, but jazz-funk was more focused on specific notes and overall music writing, so it seldom offered this same interaction with the audience.
Disdained by a part of the jazz community and its inability to top the pop charts, jazz-funk had a long hard time to establish itself. In the UK's nightclubs of the mid to late 1970s, DJs like Colin Curtis in Manchester, Birmingham's Graham Warr and Shaun Williams, and Leeds-based Ian Dewhirst and Paul Schofield championed the genre, along with Chris Hill and Bob Jones in the South. In the late 1980s, the work of rare groove crate diggers–DJs in England who were interested in looking back into the past and re-discovering old tunes, such as Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson and hip hop DJ's such as Marley Marl in the US, have both the jazz community and the pop professionals beginning to understand the value of the genre. Eddie Henderson, Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock are seldom challenged as major influences on jazz. The Mizell Brothers have received official accolades from the industry and are being listened to widely. Their work has also been sampled in more modern music.
It is also worth noting that the more famous acid jazz movement is often seen as a rediscovery of 1970s jazz-funk, interpreted or produced by contemporary artists of the 1990s. One of the most blatant example is the band US3, who were signed to Acid Jazz Records founded by Peterson and Eddie Piller. US3 covered Cantaloupe Island, originally recorded by Herbie Hancock, and reissue of rare grooves from the era, led by DJ Peterson and Patrick Forge in the United Kingdom. Contemporary jazz artists have also contributed to the rediscovery, most notably Nathan Haines and Courtney Pine.
Examples of artists that explored jazz-funk, soul jazz, or jazz fusion are Soul Rebels Brass Band, Herbie Hancock, David Axelrod, Sun Ra, Roy Ayers, Azymuth, Gary Bartz, George Benson, The Brecker Bros., Tom Browne, Donald Byrd, the Mizell Brothers, Billy Cobham, Lou Marini, The Crusaders, Deodato, Ned Doherty, George Duke, Charles Earland, Funkanova, Roger Glenn, Johnny Hammond, Gene Harris, Eddie Henderson, Bobbi Humphrey, Bob James, Kool & The Gang, Ronnie Laws, Mass Production, Francine McGee, Jaco Pastorius, Pleasure, Patrice Rushen, Lee Ritenour, Lonnie Liston Smith, Bill Summers, The Tower of Power, Miroslav Vitous, Dexter Wansel, and Leon Ware.
Herbie Hancock was dedicated to jazz-funk on many albums including Head Hunters, Thrust, Man-Child, Flood, Secrets, Sunlight, and Mr. Hands. Post jazz-funk era, later in the early 1980s, he threw in electronic influences into the jazz-funk mix when he created Future Shock and Sound-System.
The role of producers
Many mainstream artists in jazz used the talents of a few producers who were specialists in the genre and generated great commercial success. While Herbie Hancock was always his own producer, he teamed up with Mike Clark and Paul Jackson and formed "The Headhunters". The Mizell Brothers - Larry and Fonce - were responsible for a lot of the jazz-funk wave as they single-handedly produced many of the major jazz-funk artists (Donald Byrd, Johnny "Hammond" Smith, Bobbi Humphrey, Gary Bartz, and more). Other producers included Dexter Wansel, Bob James, Dave Grusin, generally acclaimed musicians (especially arrangers) themselves who tried their hand at sound-engineer, arranger, or composer (the Mizell Brothers produced most of Byrd's and Johnny "Hammond" Smith's Jazz-funk) other artists. It was typically during this era - the mid 1970s - that the producers gained their arms and paved the way for others later, such as super R&B producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards from Chic in the early 1980s.
Focus on the UK
Several British jazz-funk artists and bands emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s who broke away from the disco and commercial scene, encouraged by club DJs like Chris Hill, Robbie Vincent who was then on BBC Radio London, and Greg Edwards who had a Saturday evening show on London's first ever commercial radio station Capital Radio, and Norman Jay. This type of music was also heavily played on Europe's first soul radio station, Radio Invicta. The first of these self contained bands to establish a real UK identity was Light of the World formed by Breeze McKrieth, Kenny Wellington, Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick, Paul 'Tubbs' Williams, Peter Hinds and David Baptiste.
Chris Hill and Robbie Vincent were instrumental in starting the Caister Weekender on the east coast of England in the late 1970s. It ran for several years until the mid 1980s, but a reunion in 1992 at a holiday camp on the south coast was to spark a revival in the event, and it returned to Great Yarmouth on the east coast, to the Vauxhall Holiday park in 1996. The weekender continues to attract thousands of soul, jazz, and jazz-funk fans to the camp, three times a year in May, October and on New Year's Eve. It is called the Caister Soul Weekender and focuses heavily on this genre, but with two or three venues running simultaneousely throughout the events other styles including jazz-funk, Latin jazz, Northern soul and nu-jazz now featuring heavily.
Chris Hill signed many artists to his Ensign record label. Some of the best known UK jazz-funk acts include Beggar & Co who reformed twice and are currently recording as Beggar & Co featuring The Funk Jazz Collective , first as Light of the World  and then as Incognito . The prime mover in all three bands was Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick. Although Light of the World continue to perform in its own right without Bluey. The Light of the World website includes a discography. Some of the band's albums contain tracks from Beggar and Co, and Incognito highlighting the overlap between the three bands, although by 2006, the website was a little out of date.
Incognito was influenced by Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon", but without its leader Bluey the band has moved towards R&B and house music rather than playing pure jazz-funk and are now signed to Rice Records, based in London.
Other British jazz-funk bands include: Central Line, Level 42, Freeez, Heatwave, The Real Thing, Atmosfear, FBI, Morrissey - Mullen, Shakatak, Hue and Cry and Gonzalez. Notwithstanding the significantly sophisticated musical quality of these bands, to the even remotely trained ear, these UK bands productions are more dance and pop oriented thant their American counterparts such as Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham or Eddie Hendreson, who make more place for improvisation in their productions Vs catchy choruses.
The 2003 album British Hustle: the Sound of British Jazz Funk 1974 to 1982, compiles tracks by some of the above artists. It's recorded on the Soul Jazz label, ASIN: B0000C84NU, Catalogue Number: SJRCD82.
The album has extensive sleeve notes charting the history of jazz-funk in the UK, and provides a good sample of British jazz-funk. In 2006, it was still available on CD and 12" vinyl.
Many national and regional DJs including Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay and Tony Blackburn have, and continue to play jazz-funk tracks on their national (sometimes international) radio shows and at club nights.
The music genre has over the years featured heavily in the UK magazine Blues & Soul - it also has an online version of the magazine.
American jazz-funk, soul jazz, or jazz fusion artists and producers from the 1970s and 1980s are now widely recognised as pioneers in jazz, and their music quality has stood the test of time, has gained their peers' recognition, and the most recognised artists in straight ahead jazz have, for a large majority, adopted it in one or more of their tracks. They have now become academic themselves and often hold key influential roles in the music industry (see Patrice Rushen, Herbie Hancock, Dave Grusin, Bob James).
Current state and future of the jazz-funk/soul jazz/fusion genre
Some heavy producers (Jazzanova or Kaidi Tatham, also known as Agent K from Bugz in the Attic), some of whom are trained in classical music and jazz, are taking the elements of jazz-funk and using them in the full-electronic and computer assisted era. These movements are called nu jazz, and broken beat and are however heavily dominated by not musicians, but rather by DJs.
Yet some (including those quoted) are outstanding achieved arrangers and producers, heavily influenced by jazz-funk, and therefore full musicians taking the jazz-funk genre into the 21st Century. The hard-liners will without a doubt complain again about the movement which often does not use session musicians, but uses computers to play some of the music. The more open-to-change liners will call this notes, rhythms, arrangements, improvisation, harmony, production, melodies, themes, and therefore composition, writing and jazz just the same. The UK (e.g. K. Tatham), Germany (e.g. Jazzanova), and Japan (e.g. Kyoto Jazz Massive) dominate today's production of broken beat which is however starting to take-off in the USA.
Prince is said to have played most of his songs with jazz-funk in mind.
Notable musicians and albums
In alphabetical order by last name or first non-article.
- Haircut 100
- John Scofield
- Soul Rebels Brass Band
- Nils Landgren
- Brian Culbertson
- Sam Sparro
- 3 Pieces
- Grover Washington, Jr.
- Roy Ayers
- Banda Black Rio
- Gary Bartz
- The Blackbyrds
- Donald Byrd
- California Flight
- The Crusaders
- Stanley Clarke
- Miles Davis
- George Duke
- Charles Earland
- Ronnie Foster
- Greyboy Allstars
- Groove Collective
- Herbie Hancock
- Gene Harris
- Level 42
- Ron Holloway
- Freddie Hubbard
- Bobbi Humphrey
- Akari Kaida
- Ronnie Laws
- Bobby Lyle
- Harvey Mason
- Marcus Miller
- Medeski, Martin, and Wood
- The Mizell Brothers
- Alphonse Mouzon
- Patrice Rushen
- Oliver Sain
- Anthony Smith
- Johnny Smith
- Lonnie Smith
- Wayman Tisdale
- Victor Wooten
- Dexter Wansel
- The Jazz Funk Collective
- Lord Bubba's Nu-Jazz Project
- David Cain & Senses
- Jaco Pastorius
- Funky Serenity by Ramsey Lewis
- Alive! by Grant Green
- Instant Death by Eddie Harris
- Pure Cane Sugar by Sugarman Three
- Living Black by Charles Earland
- Funk Inc. & Chicken by Funk Inc.
- Live At Club Mozambique by Dr. Lonnie Smith
- Unlock Your Mind by Soul Rebels Brass Band
- Out Louder by Medeski Martin & Wood
- Wildflowers by Connie Price & the Keystones
- 102% by The New Mastersounds
- No Place Like Soul by Soulive
- The Budos Band by The Budos Band
- Step It Up by The Bamboos (funk band)
- Hit the Floor by Breakestra
- The Origin Of Captain Hammond by Captain Hammond
- In The Raw by The Whitefield Brothers
- Soul Strike by Calypso King & the Soul Investigators
- Hutspot by Lefties Soul Connection
- Destination Get Down! by The Diplomats of Solid Sound
- Sahara Swing by Karl Hector & The Malcouns
- Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock
- Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd
- School Days by Stanley Clarke
- Fat Albert Rotunda by Herbie Hancock
- Back to Back by The Brecker Brothers
- Need Want by David Cain & Senses
- Bringing Back the Funk by Brian Culbertson
- California Flight Project II by Jerry J
- Gambler's Life by Johnny "Hammond" Smith