May 21, 2013
The passing of Ray Manzarek, the co-founder and musical center of The Doors, leads me to ask the question I do when thinking of many of the great 1960’s rock figures.
What kind of jazz was he into?
I ask because it seems that almost all of these musical pioneers were deeply into the sounds of the Blues and the sounds of Jazz, particularly modal and free jazz. Check this quote from Doors drummer John Densmore:
Ray grew up in Chicago so he had the blues, Muddy Waters and all that. He also had classical training. That was pretty cool. That was invoked in the intro to "Light My Fire," which was very kind of Bach-like. Robby had a flamenco and folk music background. I was so enamored with watching Robby's fingers crawl across the flamenco guitar strings like a crab.
I'm a jazz guy and Ray was also into jazz, so when we met we talked about [John] Coltrane and Miles [Davis]. I think that influence gave me freedom. Like in "When the Music's Over," I just stopped playing the beat, and I would just comment on Jim's words percussively, out of rhythm, like we were having a conversation. I got that from listening to Elvin Jones and John Coltrane.
While the Doors might not have had that many overt jazz moments during their careers, Manzarek had at least one moment in 1973. That year he went into a Los Angeles studio to record The Golden Scarab, his first solo record. The result was a recording more like jazz-rock fusion than psychedelic rock. While Manzarek’s roots clearly had something to do with that, it was more likely due to the presence of Tony Williams.
Williams had been Miles Davis’ drummer and the architect of one of the seminal fusion bands, Lifetime, with John McLaughlin. He anchored a rhythm section that included bassist Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley, The Doors, Bob Dylan), jazz guitarist Larry Carlton and rocker Joe Walsh, and included jazz saxophonists John Klemmer and Ernie Watts. Click here to listen to “The Purpose of Existence Is?” a centerpiece of the album.