On Monday, November 27th, 2017, the musical world celebrated the 75th birthday of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix.
To say that Hendrix was innovative is a gross understatement. In the short three and a half years of his career in the limelight, before he tragically left this world, Hendrix’ accomplishments are staggering.
Hendrix single-handedly redefined the sonic and musical vocabulary of the electric guitar.
His first solo album broke every existing boundary of musical form, recording techniques, and composition techniques in rock and popular music. Hendrix was also a master musical improviser with an innate ability to play exactly the kind of music that needs to be played at any given moment, and most importantly, convey the exact emotional response and content in his music. Hendrix’ concerts are considered legendary events.
He was the one of the first musicians to transform electronic sound into onomatopoeic musical form; and the first to do so with the electric guitar. The equipment Hendrix used was not designed to produce the sounds he created. Yet, he did it. In fact, a great deal of the electronic devices that were designed and marketed after Hendrix’ passing were designed to reproduce the sounds he got without them.
Shortly before Hendrix died, legendary jazz musician Miles Davis was negotiating with him to do a collaborative album. He also performed with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John McLaughlin, and Larry Young. Hendrix’ composition have been interpreted by musicians and ensembles from genres that are in no way connected to rock music. A few examples of this include the Kronos Quartet, The Gil Evans Jazz Orchestra, The London Symphony Orchestra, and others.
There is a legendary story of Hendrix jamming with Ananda Shankar (Ravi Shankar’s nephew; an accomplished classical sitarist, and pioneer of non-classical sitar). He later said that Hendrix understood the subtleties of Indian raga within minutes; something that normally takes years of study. In fact, I have spoken to people from all over the world, and from all walks of life (including European scholars, Islamic holy men from Africa, Chinese businessmen, etc. as well as people in the jazz world, the classical music world, Indian raga masters, etc.). They all consider Jimi Hendrix to be a truly great musician.
A great deal of what guitarists, and musicians in general, have accomplished owes a debt to the work that he left behind for us to build upon. He showed us what was possible.
In this salute to the Hendrix legacy, I must reflect upon an inescapable fact. The best way to honor the works of any master is not only to preserve them, but to expand on them. This was the example they left behind for us.
“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
- Jimi Hendrix