A piece in these pages a couple of weeks ago on Willie Nelson prompted me to dust off an old CD of the veteran country outlaws, and I found myself pondering the strong but generally unacknowledged connection between jazz and country music. Nelson is a good example of this. His country always had a healthy dose of blues in it - he wrote BB King's hit Night Life and recently recorded a duet remake of The Thrill Is Gone with him - and he often sings standards associated more with jazzmen than Nashville pickers. His guitar-playing is obviously jazz-influenced, as is his phrasing as a vocalist. Not that many of his fans would be particularly aware of this. Jazz and country do not, generally speaking to appeal to the same audiences. Superficially their worlds appear to have little in common. Jazz goes in and out of fashion, but there is always a hipster element to its appreciation. At some level the music is always going to be cool. This is not true of country. There are many things you can be while wearing a Stetson hat, but even if you sell as many records as Garth Brooks, cool is not one of them. Yet these worlds have always talked to each other. Although the musical disciplines are different, and that of jazz much more overtly complex, to really work well both genres require musicianship of a high order. Long before the late 1960s, when jazz entered into a marriage of convenience with rock to produce so called 'fusion', a perfectly natural fusion had occurred with what was then called hillbilly music - western swing, of which the best known exponents were Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. It has never been absolutely clear whether that style, which emerged in the 30s, resulted from country musicians playing jazz or jazz musicians playing country, but the tradition of 'hot' solos goes straight back to New Orleans, and there is nothing down-home about the sophistication of the chords. The first really influential electric guitarist, Charlie Christian, who made his name with Benny Goodman, played on the jam sessions at Minton's, from which bebop emerged, but he also liked to trade licks with Wills' steel guitar player, Leon McAuliffe, although sadly no recordings of those exchanges exist. Pedal steel guitar tunings tend to push the players towards jazz. Buddy Emmons, perhaps the greatest living master of the instrument, plays bebop on it astonishingly well. He is no respecter of categories and an Emmons set is just as likely to include a Charlie Parker-influenced Cherokee as the long list of country standards on which he has played. Perhaps the most self-conscious fusion of jazz and country was guitarist Hank Garland's 1960 album Jazz Winds from a New Direction. Garland was a Nashville picker who played on a number of the early rock and roll sides - that's him on Elvis Presley's Little Sister - but there was always a jazzman in him bursting to get out. That happened when he got together in the studio with vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Joe Morello and bassist Joe Benjamin to record six tracks, including the standards All The Things You Are and Always. The album, now re-released on Columbia, remains perhaps the ultimate country jazz session, and an unobtrusive but surprisingly influential piece of work. You can certainly hear echoes of it in the work of Burton's protege, Pat Metheny, who has never made any secret of the importance of country stylings to his open, airy sound. Certainly the album was a revelation to country virtuoso guitarist Albert Lee, whom Martin Taylor, in Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, describes aptly enough as 'the Charlie Parker of country guitar'. You would not readily associate modern jazz bassist and sometime Ornette Coleman collaborator Charlie Haden with 'hick' music, but his 1999 masterpiece The Art Of Song closes with an acknowledgement of his roots. The great instrumentalist offers a rare vocal on Wayfaring Stranger. Music makes for strange bedfellows sometimes.