In other ways, however, mainstream jazz continued to affect, and to be affected by, non-rock popular music throughout the 1960s. Stan Getz led a small movement of jazz musicians who embraced bossa nova, a musical style imported from Brazil; the tenor saxophonist enjoyed a hit with his rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema” in 1962. The soul jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis became part of “The In Crowd” with his hit instrumental single of that title in 1965. Jazz’s mainstream appeal was apparent as Broadway and Hollywood composers increasingly used elements of jazz music in their soundtracks. Successful film composers such as Henry Mancini, who placed second behind Duke Ellington in the 1967 Annual Down Beat Reader’s Poll, had started out as jazz musicians, bringing their jazz skills and tastes to bear on their vocational creations. Hollywood also used long-established jazz tropes for its narratives in films such as Paris Blues (1961), including the idea of the jazz musician as an outsider to “straight” society, including the concert music tradition, as well as popular music’s commercial concerns.
It was widely acknowledged in jazz circles that fusion musicians were not the first to merge jazz with other musical idioms, nor were they the first to introduce innovations that would incite a redefinition of jazz. Dizzy Gillespie’s meetings with Mario Bauza and Chano Pozo merged Afro-Cuban musical sensibilities with bebop aesthetics, for instance, and represent a prior moment of mixing that John Storm Roberts calls “the first of the fusions.” Many jazz musicians, including some of the most creative innovators, are part of a long history of cross-cultural music. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton insisted that authentic jazz required a “Spanish tinge,” and his works often drew on European concert music. His use of Chopin’s “Funeral March” on his own “Dead Man Blues,” for instance, is a sly comment on the differences between European and African American sensibilities toward death and death rites and rituals. Ellington’s continual effort to extend jazz forms into larger compositions that did not follow Eurocentric forms or structures is another case in point.
Paul Lopes argues, “The jazz art world… ultimately staked claim to a unique tradition in American music that bridged various cultural distinctions active in both high and popular art in the United States. This art world was a unique combination of both populism and elitism—a celebration of the artistry of popular culture and a striving of many for high art status.” Yet young jazz musicians who were beginning to fuse rock with jazz at the time read the cultural landscape in ways that contrasted sharply with jazz musicians and critics, of either mainstream or experimental bent, who appeared increasingly uninterested in music deemed “popular.”
”A lot of jazz players make the mistake of aiming just for the listener’s head and don’t try to get to their body. Rock gets to people’s bodies and people have to be moved.”
“[The Beatles] have such a freshness. They approach their thing with just as much finesse and enthusiasm as does John Coltrane. They are “now” and are the greatest.”
As noted by Bernard Gendron and Theodore Gracyk, a number of constituencies began to take popular music seriously during the 1960s. Not just fans but writers and social critics heard a growing sophistication in rock. As Gendron observes, rock displaced jazz in the dominant cultural hierarchy not by “rising ‘higher’ than high-cultural music—it is still ranked lower—but by making the latter less culturally relevant where it matters,” in the myriad venues where fans, critics, and musicians debated rock aesthetics and otherwise “made [rock music] meaningful.” While lyrical content received most of the attention, observers such as Chester Anderson, who noted the correlations between rock and baroque music in a 1967 San Francisco Oracle article, were also acknowledging the increasing musical refinement of rock musicians. The Beatles’ 1967 release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band signaled the arrival of the rock concept album—a recording with related compositions, not simply a compilation of hit tunes or a hit tune coupled to filler material. Sgt. Pepper’s indicated, in fact, the change in rock audiences’ tastes from 45 rpm singles to the 33 1⁄3 rpm “long player” or LP. As rock audiences matured, so did the format for production and consumption, which granted musicians the ability to produce more complex works by providing the time for them to develop musical and lyrical themes.
As a corollary, in the same year as Sgt. Pepper’s, The Pretty Things released a rock opera, S.F. Sorrow, predating The Who’s more celebrated Tommy by a year. These were the activities of serious musicians, unfazed by conventions and music industry dictates for musicians working in the popular music arena. As Paul Williams noted in Crawdaddy! as early as 1966, “But one thing has changed over the years, one minor detail: the music has gotten better. So much better, in fact, that there are even people who are beginning to take rock ’n’ roll very seriously indeed.”
The seriousness with which critics began analyzing rock music can be read in the pages of collections such as the 1969 anthology The Age of Rock, which included articles by the classical composer Ned Rorem on the Beatles, H. F. Mooney’s American Quarterly essay on the shift in popular music tastes from the 1920s to the 1960s, and Ralph Gleason’s “Like a Rolling Stone” article for the American Scholar. The collection’s subtitle, “Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution,” indicates the paradigm-shifting possibilities that rock held out for its serious listeners at the time.
In fact, early black rockers such as Ike Turner, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and a host of New Orleans–style boogie-woogie players such as Fats Domino and Robert “Professor Longhair” Byrd gave early rock ’n’ roll its musical language, as well as its sociopolitical temperament, that is, the voicing of black, later teen, rebellion, including the articulation of anti-bourgeois ideas; the complication of black/white binarisms and polarities through an aesthetic of mixing; an enthusiastic, even confrontational, use of volume, rhythmic velocity, and sense of timbral experimentation; and the celebration of the physical and, as it was increasingly marketed and heard as a white genre, the reengagement of the body in white, middle-class social spheres. The acknowledgment by early white rockers such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins of the influence of black musicians or the impact of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and country-and-western music on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Ellas “Bo Diddley” McDaniel indicate the cross-cultural roots of the music.
Initially, rock ’n’ roll had performed a genre-blending aesthetic of its own, appropriating elements from the blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and country and western before its recognition as a distinctive music idiom enabled rock musicians to begin border crossings of their own (again, these generic designations are used here as shorthand signifiers for broad spectrums of musical creation and consumption). The first rock ’n’ roll record is widely credited to a 1951 recording by Jackie Brenston, an African American saxophonist, whose backup band was led by Ike Turner, of a song titled “Rocket 88” at Sam Phillips’s Sun Studios. However, rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues served as audio signs marked “Whites Only” and “Coloreds Only,” respectively, in the segregated record shops, radio markets, and corporate divisions throughout the U.S. music industry and the broader American landscape in which it operated. In time the racialized separation of musical genres assumed an authoritative backdrop in musical discussions, affecting the ways audiences and artists perceived particular artists and genres. As de jure market segregation transformed into de facto market stratification, the so-called race market morphed into the “rhythm-and-blues” market.
In another sense, however, rock ’n’ roll allowed the “crossover” of black music into the mainstream popular music market through white performers. David Brackett describes the legacy of that movement as evidenced by the continuation of the “crossover” phenomenon: “The crossover process functioned much the same [in the 1980s] as it had since the inception of separate charts for ‘popular,’ ‘country and western,’ and ‘rhythm and blues’ in the 1940s. That is, the ‘black’ chart functioned as a ‘testing ground’ in relation to the ‘Hot 100,’ revealing extraordinarily popular songs that might have broad enough appeal to cross over to the mainstream.” Moreover, the index for mainstream appeal was partially configured by “the expectations about genres and audiences that circulate between industry employees, writers, musicians and fans have the power to affect the way in which the chart performance, and hence the ‘popularity,’ of different genres is represented.” Barry Shank also interrogated the various meanings for “crossover,” from integrative promise to cultural dilution, finally demonstrating that both views may be too limiting owing to the fluidity of both racialized ideologies and musical formations. However, Shank rightly suggests that “crossing over” has the potential to complicate racialized thinking by ensuring that musical meaning is not hijacked by the often racialized notions about musical genres held by audiences who inhabit divergent listening contexts, each creating often radically different interpretations of “what the music means.”
But, in fact, rock ’n’ roll was aggressively promoted to white teenagers through the recordings and appearances by white performers such as Presley, Lewis, Perkins, Charles “Buddy” Holly, and Johnny Cash, followed by a wave of teen idols such as Pat Boone, Dion DiMucci, and Fabian Forte, who were white surrogates for their black models. Pat Boone’s covers of Little Richard and Fats Domino songs were not meant to displace their recordings in African American record players but, rather, were meant to place a “safe” version of black music on white American teenagers’ turntables.
Though Chuck Berry and Little Richard crossed the color line by posting hits on the national pop charts, black musicians, by and large, continued to face subordinate conditions in the marketplace. The oft-repeated quote of Sam Phillips claiming he could make a fortune if he were able to find a white singer with a black vocal sensibility resonates here. Indeed, Chuck Berry’s extraordinary success in the late 1950s points to the possibility of hearing rock ’n’ roll as black music, even as he was explicit about his belief that his ability to use “proper diction” helped him achieve success on the pop (white) charts. Berry’s early recognition of the racialization of rock ’n’ roll as a white musical genre helps explain his careful cultivation of a deracinated vocal style on his recordings. His vocal style cloaked his miscegenational threat from white teenagers’ parents as he sang directly to adolescent sexual desire, rather pointedly in light of his legal problems involving relationships with young, white women.