Hybrid Jazz 

I have several books in my personal library that serve as reference points for all types of music, from Gregorian chants to Barenaked Ladies.

One of them takes a run at a half-dozen major types of music, among them jazz. Under the jazz classification, there are no fewer than 25 subcategories that split jazz into fragments, historically and generically, from "ragtime" to something it calls "modern creative," whatever that is.

My own tastes are not as complicated as that. As a matter of fact, most of the dedicated jazz lovers I know are receptive to most variations on whatever their particular favorite themes are. That's what makes them jazz lovers: they are more smitten by the music than by naming it. And they recognize that in the possibilities of variation reside the very essence of jazz.

Having said that, it is important for me to note that what follows falls loosely under the category of "hybrid jazz," but that's as far as my personal taxonomy goes. What, then, you may ask, is "pure jazz?" I don't know. I doubt that there is such a thing. But, herewith, a few observations about hybrid jazz:
The explosion of musical experimentation in the 1960s led a lot of rock musicians backward, and that accrued to the good of jazz. For example, Al Kooper, a musical gadfly if ever there was one, formed Blood, Sweat and Tears at about the same time that funky old Paul Butterfield in Chicago added horns to his blues lineup. The result was a new respect among young music consumers for the traditional acoustic instruments that saw jazz through its early years.

The influence also led to what some musicians and critics call "jazz rock" or "fusion" by virtue of their having been re-seduced by electronics and, in a sense, picking up where the rock 'n' roll detour into jazz began. That music is a very different animal from the one born of BS&T or Butterfield. For example, the former Chicago Transit Authority -- latterly known simply as Chicago -- trod the same path but lost its way, falling into the pop-tune trap much earlier than BS&T did and traveling through smooth jazz territory until any trace of jazz disappeared altogether from the group's music. Chase, the ill-fated outfit headed by the late trumpeter Bill Chase, was rock all the way with a few high-note trumpet licks thrown in for good measure.

But there are other hybrid influences that bear noting. Josef Zawinul and the Modern Jazz Quartet separately have meant a hybridization that collected blues, pop and classical influences. The freshet that these innovators drank from is often called the "Third Stream." But, like some of his younger colleagues, Zawinul wandered into the netherlands of electronica while the MJQ kept their collective feet firmly on each side of the line that separated the discipline of classical music from the abandon of jazz. Reed man Jimmy Giuffre has kept the hybrid alive and ever fresh, at least to my ear. Whose influence will be more important? Time will tell.

There is a mistaken notion among purists that ballads automatically slot into the "smooth" or "light" jazz categories. I maintain that, although some of this music deserves consignment to elevators and airports, it does not necessarily follow that romanticism will get you booted from the jazz fraternity. But much of balladeering is hybrid jazz of the healthy type. How else do we explain the ever-girlish pipes of Ella Fitzgerald, playing off against the angular eccentricities of Thelonious Monk as she sings his composition, "'Round Midnight'?" Or Coleman Hawkins bringing his blues sensibilities to so tender a tune as "Yesterdays?" And what of Billy Strayhorn, who could take a simple 12-bar blues and turn it into something as sophisticated as a well-mixed cocktail?

My rock 'n' roll brethren still listen to our old Allman Brothers Band albums with the pleasure of jazz devotees, because the core of the music, its very backbone, springs from the same set of sonic genetics as Duke Ellington's galvanizing Newport Jazz Festival performance in 1956 of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." Paul Gonsalves and Duane Allman both deserve a bow.

Purists are born to rail against innovation. In jazz, they are the musical equivalent of conservative politicians who view every step ahead with a jaundiced eye. But music is not, nor should it be, politics. We might argue among ourselves as consumers of the music whether it is worthy of bearing the name of jazz. But, if we are genuine fans who understand it, we welcome the experiments and are willing to judge the music by what it intends, not by what we wish for.