Folk jazz is a known quantity, but what about jazzy folk. And yes, there is a distinction. Folk jazz has been in use as a musical term as far back as the 50’s when quite a number of jazz musicians started incorporating elements of folk music, usually as a vehicle for obligatory solos. Clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and saxophonist Tony Scott were considered as kind of initiators of that trend. The trend continued into the 60’s and had it’s moment in the sun in the 70’s, with groups like Paul Winter’s Consort and in particular, Oregon. Later on, jazz artists like guitarist Pat Metheny also messed around with the genre.
Folk to jazz, but what about jazz to folk?
But what about the folk musicians or singer/songwriters using the elements of jazz? There again, a musician more connected with jazz had the key influence – Chicago born Terry Callier was considered the key purveyor of the sound and his albums like The New Folk Sounds of Terry Callier or What Color Is Love are considered classics of the genre. The other important initiator is virtuoso guitarist John Fahey, whose instrumental excursions included almost everything, from spirituals and Christmas carols, to ragas and avant-garde jazz.
Still, the ‘classic’ singer/songwriters mostly went by another route. Tim Buckley and Joni Mitchell both started out as straight-out folkies and went into deep jazz. Joni Mitchell’s albums like The Hissing Of The Summer Lawns, Hejira, and Mingus are actually straightforward jazz affairs, while Tim Buckley’s albums Lorca and Starsailor can be considered avant-garde jazz vocal improvisations more than folk or rock. On the other hand, his album Blue Afternoon is something that can be truly called jazzy folk and is an absolute classic no matter what musical form you classify it under.
On the other side of the Pond, or the British Isles, to be more precise, the intermingling of jazz and folk was much more prominent as far back as the late 60’s. Led by master guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn…
On the other side of the Pond, or the British Isles, to be more precise, the intermingling of jazz and folk was much more prominent as far back as the late 60’s. Led by master guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Pentangle were the prime example of what can be considered jazzy folk. Their recently reissued and expanded self-titled debut album is a must for any serious collector. The trend continued with gone too early singer/songwriter Nick Drake. Any of his three albums issued while he was still among us are a mixture of folk interwoven with jazz and classical music. The trend had its moments with John Martyn, another folkie gone jazz and electric, his albums One World and Grace and Danger being excellent examples. And then, since somewhere in the early 80’s, as if playing folk with elements of jazz went out of vogue, any artists that attempted to do so were too few and far in between.
Jazzy folk needs a resurrection
So we come to Manchester England singer/songwriter John Stammers and his sophomore album Waiting Around. An album that can signal the resurrection of jazzy folk; and what an appropriate title for an album that took six years to make. In many ways Stammers continues on the singer/songwriter essence of his self-titled first album on which Stammers wears his Nick Drake influences clear as day on his sleeves. But on Waiting Around Stammers has brought an organic integration of jazz and ambient music elements into his music, giving it another expanded dimension.
An album that can signal the resurrection of jazzy folk; and what an appropriate title for an album that took six years to make.
The title song, “Stepping Around Her Clothes”, with its muted trumpet, “Risky Flowers,” “I See The Signs”, for example, could be considered showcases, but throughout the album even in songs that veer toward country, like “Miss Valentine”, jazz is an integral part of Stammers’ folk sound. A lot of it has to do with the fact that a big part of the album was recorded in Stammers’ cellar directly, to tape with no overdubs. Surely something that has the ambiance of a true jazz club sometime in the 60’s. One of the reasons it took Stammers six years to record this album was the fact that, like Neil Young and Jack White often do, he insisted on recording it on analog equipment. But unlike Young and White, Stammers doesn’t have his own analog studio, and renting such equipment is considered extravagant at the moment.
While it might be hard to expect that the quiet elegance of Waiting Around will make a big splash, it could be a sign that a somewhat forgotten, but rich musical style might get back in vogue. It deserves it.