Birds of Fire

Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion

Birds of Fire

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: August 2011

Author: Kevin Fellezs

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music > Jazz

Birds of Fire brings overdue critical attention to fusion, a musical idiom that emerged as young musicians blended elements of jazz, rock, and funk in the late 1960s and 1970s. At the time, fusion was disparaged by jazz writers and ignored by rock critics. In the years since, it has come to be seen as a commercially driven jazz substyle. Fusion never did coalesce into a genre. In Birds of Fire, Kevin Fellezs contends that hybridity was its reason for being. By mixing different musical and cultural traditions, fusion artists sought to disrupt generic boundaries, cultural hierarchies, and critical assumptions. Interpreting the work of four distinctive fusion artists—Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell, and Herbie Hancock—Fellezs highlights the ways that they challenged convention in the 1960s and 1970s. He also considers the extent to which a musician can be taken seriously as an artist across divergent musical traditions. Birds of Fire concludes with a look at the current activities of McLaughlin, Mitchell, and Hancock; Williams’s final recordings; and the legacy of the fusion music made by these four pioneering artists.


“A welcome addition to jazz scholarship, Kevin Fellezs’ Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion is a well-researched and thought-provoking book on fusion.” — Eunmi Shim, Notes

“Fellezs’s first book, Birds of Fire demonstrates his agile mind and thoughtful approach to critical studies in music, sure to be followed by many more throughout his career. . . . With this book, Fellezs has forged a path for fusion (and other jazz-related music previously dismissed as “simply commercial”) to be discussed with academic rigor.” — Alex Rodriguez, Ethnomusicology Review

“Like all the best writing about music, Fellezs book makes you want to seek out the recordings he writes about I went out and bought the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire after encountering those of Fellezs. If you don’t know the music he writes about yet, you’ll want to soon. Recommended.” — Peter Mills, Volume

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

“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. . . . One-of-a-kind, critical reading.” — Ken Micallef, Downbeat

“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

"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


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kevin Fellezs is Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. Bitches Brew / considering genre 15

2. Where Have I Known You Before? / fusion's foundations 33

3. Vital Transformation / fusion's discontents 65

4. Emergency! / Tony Williams 91

5. Meeting of the Spirits / John McLaughlin 123

6. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter / Joni Mitchell 148

7. Chameleon / Herbie Hancock 183

Conclusion 222

Notes 229

Bibliography 265

Index 283
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Co-Winner, 2012 Woody Guthrie Award, presented by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (US Branch)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5047-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5030-9
Publicity material