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Learn From 5 Jazz Fusion Legends



In this JGT lesson, guitarist Zakk Jones highlights specific great moments throughout Jazz Fusion guitar history, using 5 legendary players (w/video examples).

One of my favorite things about great fusion guitarists is their ability to blend a mixture of rock & blues with a deep knowledge of jazz language and beyond. “Fusion” literally means just that…a fusing of a few, or often many, genres, eventually morphing into its own umbrella that includes everything from Weather Report to Tribal Tech or Airto Moreira to Herbie Hancock. One obvious tenet of Jazz Fusion was the inclusion of electric instruments, which opened a whole world of improvising through sounds, tones, and textures. The guitar established itself quickly as being a core part of this new sound, with players like Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola paving the way for generations of axe-wielding gentlefolk. 

I wanted to highlight some specific great moments throughout the range of Jazz Fusion guitar history, using 5 different players.

Between my analysis and the video, you should have a pretty good understanding of what makes these brief moments so great, memorable, and integral to the language of this music. Remember that transcribing is not just learning notes and rhythms…try to unpack their tone, articulation, phrasing, and feel (do they lay back in certain moments?). The way Scofield plays his 8th notes lines is wildly different than Kurt Rosenwinkel for instance. 

Zakk Jones in the studio – photo credit Tiera D

Larry Carlton on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” (Video Start 0:00)

No need to introduce Larry Carlton…he’s played with everyone and then some. His work with Steely Dan speaks for himself, and his solo on this track really captures his ability to combine tasteful idiomatic language with some effective navigating of the changes. 

This 2-measure part of the solo is split up in 2 phrases. Notices these things:

Jazz Fusion Legends #1
  • The first measure arpeggiates a C major triad, then uses notes entirely from the C major pentatonic scale
  • Check out the pivoting he uses with the “E” on the G-string bouncing back and forth between 5 notes moving up the pentatonic scale. This creates a lot of motion without a lot of effort.
  • The 2nd measure has a similar pivot sound but backwards, this time using a top note (C) to bounce the lines downwards. Notice how the notes change to fit the Bb13 chord, we now have a Bb and Ab. 
  • He again uses the same C major arpeggio as in the beginning, but this time going backwards. This C triad over a Bb7 creates the 13#11 sound.
  • The mileage he gets out of this little position of the neck is great, and his ability to have such a complete musical phrase in just a little over two measures is astounding!

For more great moments of Carlton with Steely Dan & Company check out these tracks:

Don’t Take Me Alive (Steely Dan)

Third World Man (Steely Dan)

New Frontier (Donald Fagen)

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