Jazz Fusion guitar arose out of the new genre of jazz fusion itself in the late 1960s. Not surprisingly, one of the main pioneers of this music was jazz trumpet player Miles Davis, who helped define many jazz styles during his life.
With rock music continually gaining in popularity in the 1960s and establishing itself as the most popular form of American music, it's not surprising that jazz artists like Davis decided that a "fusion" of jazz and rock was a worthy experiment. And of course, guitar players went along for the ride.
Like jazz fusion itself, fusion guitar typically refers to the marriage of jazz (specifically advanced melodic and harmonic concepts) and rock (specifically the rhythmic elements as well as instrumentation). Jazz fusion guitarists are known for their ability to fuse the advanced theory of jazz with the technical prowess of rock music.
Two of the earliest guitarists to embrace the theory and sound of the fusion of jazz and rock were John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell.
Though John McLaughlin had already established himself as a versatile, powerful musician, it was when he joined forces with Miles Davis that McLaughlin truly established himself as a leader in the ever-evolving genre of jazz fusion. It was albums such as "Bitches Brew" that helped put McLaughlin on the map and helped prepare the way for other projects such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra. John McLaughlin is a true fusion guitarist in that he experimented not only with the fusion of rock and jazz, but Indian and other world music as well.
To some, Larry Coryell defined the roll of the guitar in the new world of jazz-rock fusion in the late 1960s. While Coryell's jazz chops are not in question, it was his inclusion of rock and blues tones and technique as well as his unique phrasing that established him as a pioneer of jazz fusion. He has performed with everyone from Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix, cementing his status as a man caught between (at least) two worlds - jazz and rock/blues.
Because jazz fusion players aim for a more rock-oriented sound, the equipment reflects that. You'll find more solid body instruments as well as effects devices (even Miles Davis experimented with effects pedals and the like) and high gain amplifiers such as Marshall and Mesa Boogie.
Other guitarists that are significant in jazz fusion include Jeff Beck, Larry Carlton, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Frank Gambale, Greg Howe, and Steve Morse. Do you have anything to say about these great jazz fusion players? Submit a comment below!