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Friday, January 15, 2010

Jimi Hendrix

The first time I ever got goosebumps from music, was when I listened to Hendrix as a teenager. I wasn't even aware at first that the music triggered this physical effect. But then it happened again, and again. I still have this today.

This year the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death is commemorated. A new album, "Valleys Of Neptune" with unreleased tracks will become available in March.

Why was Hendrix such a great musician?

It was a coincidence, or maybe not, that in the sixties two musicians transformed their traditional music drastically, turning it inside out and upside down, turning tunes into art. The first was John Coltrane, the second Jimi Hendrix. (Hey, you say, what about Miles Davis, what about Ornette Coleman? Yes, I answer, sure, but they're different).

What they did was comparable: unleash deepfelt emotions, re-inventing what they knew, re-think the scales, deconstruct and recreate, pushing the boundaries. Music before that time did not have the same expressive quality it has now. What we take for granted today, was unheard of before these two geniuses. Compositions were tunes, with harmony and rhythm, there to please an audience and were designed to dance and entertain.

Hendrix sure still made some poppy songs, released on just four official albums, but his real environment was the stage, the place where his music received its full power. Voodoo Chile and Foxy Lady were compositions on which he could speak a language unheard before. That language knew no boundaries. Even if his instrument was the same, almost bankrupt, stratocaster that "The Shadows" used, he used electricity, amps, pedals and feedback, but not for the sake of it, but to create a sound that could express his innermost feelings of distress, turmoil, passion, sadness, anger, ... he could scream, yell, howl, weep, soar, wail, ... his guitar technique was self-taught, based on simple blues scales, and fairly limited at the basis, but the new elements he discovered, the new techniques he developed, and the resulting sound he managed to create, it all remains unparallelled in terms of technical skills and especially in its expressiveness. Many, many guitarists were and are better schooled than Hendrix, with a much broader range of styles in their fingers, but none managed to transform feeling into sound like he did. Not one of them. 

Hendrix was an explosion of exuberant and expansive expressivity.

What has Hendrix got to do with jazz? Well, nothing with jazz per se, but surely with free jazz. He could just let go of rhythm and harmony and just do his thing on stage, exploring the unlimited potential of sound and impact, while always falling back on his feet. Listen to some of his Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) versions, or to "Hear My Train Comin' (electric version)" on the Blues CD. Goosebumps guaranteed.

Many musicians have tried to copy Hendrix. Check the tribute albums that are around. There aren't many good ones. The musicians playing tribute deliver poor covers, maybe with the exception of Stevie Ray Vaughan, but then he sticks too close to the original, demonstrating skills but no vision.

Several jazz musicians tried to the same. And I must say, the end result is even poorer.

La Musica Di Jimi Hendrix Per Jazz Ensemble - If Six Was Nine (1992) (All brass)
Lonnie Smith - Purple Haze - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (1995)
Jean-Paul Bourelly - Tribute To Hendrix (1995)
Reed Robbins - Songs of Jimi Hendrix for Solo Jazz Piano (1995)
Christy Doran, Fredy Studer, Phil Minton, Django Bates, Amin Ali - Play Jimi Hendrix(1995)
Lonnie Smith - Foxy Lady - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (1996)
Gil Evans Plays Jimi Hendrix (1998)
Andreas Willers & Friends - Play Jimi Hendrix Experience (1995)
Ron E. Carter Trio - Play Hendrix (1999)
Nguyen Le Purple (2002)
Christy Doran, Fredy Studer, Erika Stucky, Kim Clarke - Jimi (2005)
Francis Lockwood - Jimi's Colors - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (2008) (piano solo)
Hiram Bullock Jimi Hendrix Tribute (2009)

... but all these albums are often rather painful attempts to sell rather than genuine tribute albums. 

The only "jazz" performance that is fun to listen to, even if not worthy of the original, is to be found on this Youtube clip, with Charlie Hunter on guitar, Skerik on sax, Mike Dillon on percussion, and Stanton Moore on drums. Apart from Hunter's fabulous technical skills on his 8-string guitar, listen to Skerik's sax solo somewhere in the middle.

© stef


Maciej Nowotny (Editor) said...

Jimmi music is obligatory for all jazz fans no doubt. As for Miles he is known to instruct his guitarists to play "like Hendrix". He seems to be influenced by him. Enough said. Good post.

Seven said...


Had good fortune to see Jimi,here-

Stef said...

Wow!! I envy you Bill! Great clip, one of his many great Red House performances.


Unknown said...

Actually some pretty good covers (imo) of hendrix tunes were done by mina agossi (although sparsed through various albums). this studio version of voodoo chile may not be the best example but it has good sound quality

jimi rocks! :)

Anonymous said...

great article! check out Earthless - space psychedelic improvising in vein of Jimi... goosebumps guaranteed as well :)

Unknown said...

Hendrix was, is and always will be the Greatest Guitarist there will be!!! In my Humble opinion There are just 3, yes 3 Musicians that are Fully Left Brained. #1 Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart. #2 Jimi Hendrix. #3 Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey a Nigerian of the Yoruba Tribe. They do things in their composition that no other can or attempt to do.