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Electronic Jazz Part 3: Early Synthesizer Jazz

Adding a new expressive instrument to jazz

In the first two parts of this three part series we explored electronic jazz that 1) used magnetic tape to add electronic sounds to jazz performance and 2) the introduction of amplification to jazz instruments so that they could be used with effects devices originally intended for electric guitars. In this part, we explore early uses of the electronic music synthesizer with jazz. This all happened during the period when fusion jazz was taking off in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Here is a playlist of the recordings heard in this episode along with the instrumentation for each. We will close with a rare recording of Sun Ra's first encounter with a Moog Modular Synthesizer for "Space Probe," recorded in 1969 but not released commercially until 1974. My recording is a private pressing autographed by Sun Ra from sometime during that period.


1. Don Sebeskey, “Water Brother” from The Distant Galaxy, 1968.

· Arranged By, Conductor, Moog Synthesizer – Don Sebesky

· Clavinet – Warren Bernhardt

· Bass – Chuck Rainey

· Drums – Donald McDonald

· Electronic Effects– Rick Horton

2. Burton Greene, “Slurp!” from Presenting Burton Greene, 1968.

· Piano, Harp [Piano Harp], Harpsichord [Electric], Voice [Chants], Moog Synthesizer, Written-By, Arranged By, Conductor– Burton Greene

· Alto Saxophone, Trumpet – Byard Lancaster

· Bass – Steve Tintweiss

· Percussion – Shelly Rusten

3. Ornette Coleman, “Man on the Moon,” a single released in 1969.

· Alto Saxophone, Producer, Arranged By – Ornette Coleman

· Bass – Charlie Haden

· Drums – Ed Blackwell

· Electronics [Bell Telephone synthesizer] – Emmanuel Ghent

· Tenor Saxophone – Dewey Redman

· Trumpet – Don Cherry

4. Jon Appleton & Don Cherry, “OBA” from ‎Human Music, 1970

· Flute [Wood, Bamboo, Metal], Kalimba, Drums [Earthquake], Cornet [Traditional Mouthpiece and Bassoon Reed], Producer, Composed By – Don Cherry

· Synthesizer, Electronics, Producer, Composed By – Jon Appleton

· Realized at the Bregman Electronic Music Studio, Dartmouth College, Hanover (New Hampshire, USA).

5. Paul Bley, “Mr. Joy” from The Paul Bley Synthesizer Show, 1971

· ARP 2500 Synthesizer, RMI Electric Piano – Paul Bley

· Bass –Glenn Moore

· Drums –Steve Hass

· Composed By – Annette Peacock

6. Herbie Hancock, “Quasar” from Crossings, 1972

· Electric Piano, Piano, Mellotron, Percussion – Herbie Hancock

· Moog Synthesizer – Patrick Gleason

· Bass Trombone, Tenor Trombone, Trombone [Alto Trombone], Percussion – Julian Priester

· Congas – Victor Pontoja

· Drums, Percussion – Billy Hart

· Electric Bass, Bass, Percussion – Buster Williams

· Soprano Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Piccolo Flute, Percussion, Alto Flute – Bennie Maupin

· Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Percussion – Eddie Henderson

· Voice – Candy Love, Della Horne, Sandra Stevens, Scott Beach, Victoria Domagalski

· Moog and mellotron recorded at Different Fur Trading Company, San Francisco.

7. Herbie Hancock, “Spank-A-Lee” from Thrust, 1974.

· Fender Rhodes electric piano, Clavinet [Hohner D-6], ARP Odyssey Synthesizer, ARP Soloist, ARP 2600, ARP String] – Herbie Hancock

· Drums – Mike Clark

· Electric Bass – Paul Jackson

· Percussion – Bill Summers

· Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute – Bennie Maupin

· Synthesizers recorded at Different Fur Trading Company, San Francisco.

8. Mahavishnu Orchestra, “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters” from Birds of Fire, 1973

· Guitar – John McLaughlin

· Keyboards, Minimoog Synthesizer – Jan Hammer

· Violin – Jerry Goodman

· Bass – Rick Laird

· Drums – Billy Cobham

9. Mahavishnu Orchestra / John McLaughlin, “Inner Worlds Part 1 and 2” from Inner Worlds, 1976

· Guitar, Effects [Frequency Shifter], Guitar Synthesizer, E-mu Synthesizer/Sequencer] – John McLaughlin

· Bass Guitar [Brassmaster Bass] – Ralphe Armstrong

· Drums, Gong, Timpani [Tympani] – Narada Michael Walden

· Synthesizer [String], Synthesizer, Customized Polyphonic Mini-Moog, Steiner-Parker Synth – Stu Goldberg

· Thanks for Bob Moog for his help.

10. Chris Swansen, “Moondog, Can You Hear Me?” from Album II, 1975

· Synthesizers [Moog ICA Performance, Moog Mark III, Badger Polyphonic], Effects [Bode Ring Modulator and Frequency Shifter], Electronics [Badger Frequency Spectrum Generator], Tape [Scully Tape Recorders, Dolby A Noise Reduction System], Producer – Chris Swansen

· Effects [Modulation] – Jon Weiss

· Engineer [Technical Assistance] – Bill Hemsath

· Synthesizer [Moog Polyphonic] – Don Croker

11. Miroslav Vitous, “Synthesizers Dance” from ‎Magical Shepherd, 1976

· Bass, Guitar, Minimoog Synthesizer – Miroslav Vitous

· Drums – Jack DeJohnette

· Fender Rhodes electric piano, ARP Odyssey Synthesizer – Herbie Hancock

· Percussion – Airto Moreira

12. Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra, “Space Probe” from private recording, November 1969.

· Moog Modular Synthesizer - Sun Ra

· Later officially released in 1974 on an album

· Recorded at Gershon Kingsley studio in New York.

The Archive Mix in which I play two additional tracks at the same time to see what happens. Here are two additional tracks of electronic jazz and synthesizers:

1. Paul Bley, “Improvisie” from Improvisie, 1971. ARP 2500 synthesizer and RMI electric piano.

2. Herbie Hancock, “Sleeping Giant” from Crossings, 1972. Moog Modular synthesizer by Patrick Gleeson.

Also see my paper, Thom Holmes (2018): The Roots of Electronic Jazz, 1950–1970, in Jazz Perspectives

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