April 9, 2020

Musical Styles: Influences from Decades Past

Many people know Harry Styles as a “teenage heartthrob from that one boy band.” While he was in One Direction, he’s far from your average boy band member. After giving up writing and singing pop tunes, Styles took a step back in time, admitting to Rolling Stone that he drew his musical influences from legends such as Van Morrison, David Bowie, and Joni Mitchell on his latest album, Fine Line. 

Younger generations may not avidly listen to the musical magic of these artists of decades past, but many of the older generations vividly remember the first time they heard the songs that would eventually become classics.

But did jazz inspire these artists?

3 Musical Influences Who Shaped the History of Rock and Roll and Artists Today

When you look at the history of rock and roll, you can see the influence of jazz here and there. While melody and harmony are indispensable to any song, the jazz influence on rock and roll emphasizes something different– improvisation. Improve was a widely used and hone skill of jazz musicians before rock and roll became known for their hard-core solos.

At the River Street Jazz Café, we’re all about celebrating the jazz influence on pop music. Let’s look at some musical influences who drew inspiration from jazz and forever changed the course of rock and roll music.

Van Morrison

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Van Morrison’s mix of rock, jazz, folk, blues, soul, gospel, and Celtic influences has earned him the label of “one of the most unusual and influential vocalists in the history of rock and roll.” 

A member of the Northern Ireland R&B band Them during the 1960s, it wasn’t until after leaving the band that Morrison found fame and glory with the release of his first solo single, “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. While Morrison may not believe that it’s one of his best songs, we dare to disagree. The song became a hit and has remained immensely popular throughout the years, earning a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the title of one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” 

Morrison’s many accomplishments have definitely made him one of the greatest musical influences of all time. If you’ve yet to indulge in his music, here are a few tracks that should definitely be on your playlist

  • Moondance
  • Into the Mystic
  • Real Real Gone 
  • Days Like This
  • Someone Like You
  • Only a Song
  • Redwood Tree
  • I’m Not Feeling It Anymore

David Bowie

The industry never truly recovered from the loss of David Bowie, one of the most popular musical influences of all time. He was a forward-looking songwriter who inspired generations of musicians with his drama, performance, fashion, and breathtaking lyrics.  Born in South London as David Robert Jones, Bowie began his musical career in the 1960s. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s introduction of his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, that his career truly began to blossom. 

Bowie’s first hit single, Space Oddity, was perfectly timed. Only nine days after its release, the BBC played the song over its coverage of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. The song would eventually become his first big hit in the United Kingdom. Bowie never looked back after that.

His 1983 album Let’s Dance’s title track was one of his best and fastest-selling tracks. Topping the Billboard Top 100, the song was Bowie’s first and only song to reach the top in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Much like Morrison, Bowie wasn’t entirely happy with the song, claiming that the success of the Let’s Dance album wasn’t something he had anticipated and that in years following its release, he felt stuck.

To combat this, he made full use of the jazz influence on pop music in his album, Blackstar. In fact, he was a lifelong jazz lover who regularly used alto and baritone saxophones. He also worked with Pat Metheny in the 1980s.

Joni Mitchell

A Canadian musician with influences from folk, pop, rock, and jazz, Mitchell began her musical journey performing in coffee houses and nightclubs. She found success with her first three studio albums, Song to A Seagull, Clouds, and Ladies of the Canyon. But her fourth studio album Blue is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time by critics and fans alike. 

With various accolades under its belt, the most recent was when the album was ranked number one on NPR’s list of “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women” in 2017. 

Just as Morrison and Bowie were not pleased with their hits, Mitchell, too, was unhappy. But not with the album; she was unhappy when she wrote the album and claims that she “had no defenses” and couldn’t pretend “to be strong”. Still, she must have done something right as the album was given a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1999.

By the mid-1970s, Mitchell was working almost exclusively with jazz musicians, emerging as another pillar of the jazz influence on rock and roll. She collaborated with the likes of Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and Charles Mingus. There’s no denying that her poetic vision, coupled with her interest in jazz-based melodies, is another example of jazz influence on pop music.

Visit the River Street Jazz Café for a Wonderful Musical Evening!

Morrison, Bowie, and Mitchell aren’t the only artists to be captivated by jazz. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the jazz genre, visit the River Street Jazz Café to witness highly talented artists mesmerize audiences with their music.

Music artists will come and go but their songs stay with people for quite some time, influencing hundreds of new artists, and allowing music to constantly evolve. So, just as Harry Styles did, go listen to some classics, and maybe you’ll be inspired too. Visit the River Street Jazz Café for a fun musical evening with delicious food to boot! Contact us to book your tickets today!

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