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Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion (Refiguring American Music) Paperback – August 8, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Refiguring American Music
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (August 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822350475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822350477
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #719,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Fellezs succeeds in being both academic and a fan. He succeeds in bringing these four artists in from the margins while recognising their cross-cultural capital lies in their non-belonging to any mainstream discourse.” - Andy Robson, Jazzwise

“Fellezs offers fascinating biographical detail and the kind of serious critical overview that the music has long deserved. His knowledge is impressive, his perspective thought-provoking, reflected in fascinating historical tidbits and observations. . . . [O]ne-of-a-kind, critical reading.” - Ken Micallef, Downbeat

“. . . Birds of Fire (named for the second album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra) is actually a relatively easy read that posits some fascinating theories about how and why fusion developed and why it was embraced by some, castigated by others.” - Andrey Henkin, New York City Jazz Record

"Kevin Fellezs's Birds of Fire gives a detailed history of the fusion movement of the 1960s and 1970s. . . . This is an excellent and engaging study of this under-represented musical idiom. . . . Birds of Fire will appeal to scholars and fans alike, with enough scholarly engagement for the former, and enough biographical and musical detail for the latter.” - Katherine Williams, Popular Music

“More than a study of one underexplored market niche, Birds of Fire brilliantly illuminates how the market both inhibits and enables creativity, as well as how creative musicians challenge the music industry’s narrowing and naturalizing of complicated, constructed, conflicted, and deeply contradictory social identities.”—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place

“What a pleasure it is to read this insightful, exciting, and extremely well listened analysis of fusion music. Kevin Fellezs suggests new ways of understanding the four artists he profiles, develops a productive framework for rethinking fusion, and helps us to understand why artists and audiences were stimulated by this music even as it was dismissed by purists. Birds of Fire is a major contribution to rethinking the place of fusion within jazz studies, as well as broader questions of genre across disciplines.”—Sherrie Tucker, co-editor of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies

About the Author

Kevin Fellezs is Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Troll on September 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The process of jazz has always relied upon fusion as a crucible for creativity. Indeed, the fusion of African and European traditions is at the very heart of jazz.

With Birds of Fire, Kevin Fellezs has provided a well researched analysis of the time when jazz began to reflect the influences of rock, funk, and world musics. He also honors the spirit and passion of the musicians that created the new directions in music during this era.

Fellezs focuses his analysis on Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell, and Herbie Hancock as representatives of distinctive threads of development during this time. No quibbles with this focus, though Joe Zawinul and Weather Report are conspicuously absent. Zawinul's investigation of world music traditions is one of his most important contributions to jazz [and Zawinul's contributions to Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderly were essential infrastructure for the further development of "fusion"]. The contribution of Miles Davis is often noted in the book, but it is also well covered in other books. All in all, Fellezs recognizes the major contributors [Gary Burton, Chick Corea, etc.] to the music even if they are not the focal points of the book.

The inclusion of Joni Mitchell is also important - and welcome - as the changes in the music were not limited to high octane guitar pyrotechnics and rapid fire drumming. Her inclusion highlights the broader changes taking place in music as the wider availability of recorded music began to be felt in jazz, rock, pop, etc.

Fellezs has done his homework and lays out the societal, economic, and artistic forces that impacted musicians at this time. He also tracks the changing racial forces that were at play - particularly those driving the marketing of the music.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Jefferson TOP 100 REVIEWER on February 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Trade size soft cover-2 page Acknowledgments, 14 page Introduction, 213 pages of text, 35 pages of Notes, 17 page Bibliography, plus an Index. There's a few b&w reproductions of album covers throughout the book. I have always (and still do to some extent) liked "jazz-fusion music". McLaughlin, Williams, Davis, etc. all released albums of this type of music that I still play today-along with straight/traditional (or whatever you want to call it) jazz. Both jazz-fusion and jazz can be enjoyed on their own merits. But the fact that this book has been out for a while, and few people have responded to the two reviews (as of this date) leads me to believe that the critics were right. Fusion music/jazz rock/whatever you call it, was a dead end musically. Briefly exciting, but ultimately unable to advance in musical terms and style. But it was exciting while it lasted!

"I could put together the greatest rock 'n' roll band you ever heard". Miles Davis.
"We're not a rock band". Miles Davis.
"Well, jazz is such a bad word, and rock is such a bad word". Tony Williams.
"It's not classifiable as either jazz or rock, it's just music that is as good as the people doing it". Larry Coryell.
" ain't jazz and it ain't rock". Jeff Beck.
"I'm not a jazz musician but I need that creative freedom". Joni Mitchell.
"I just want the freedom to do any of it I want to whenever I want to". Herbie Hancock.

This book (one of few) focuses on so-called "fusion music", "jazz-rock", or whatever you might label the coming together of jazz sensibilities with the back-beat of rock, with a bit of funk mixed in. This type of music was fairly popular in the very late 60's/early 70's.
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