Friday, September 30, 2011

Jazz for the beginner

I came across one of those articles recently by a jazz writer recommending recordings for the jazz novice . . . as in someone who might have heard something he or she might have liked and decided it was "time to get into jazz." Not surprisingly, I found the critic's suggestions pretty strange. I have no idea why anyone would recommend Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" as one of the first ten recordings to own. Don't get me wrong: I love Eric Dolphy and I love "Out to Lunch." I have several recordings on which Dolphy plays (mostly with John Coltrane) and as a leader. But to start? No. Dolphy, Andrew Hill and Tony Williams were pushing bop into a freer place, although still a good standard deviation or two inside Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, both of whom I love. A novice does not need Miles Davis's early '70s recording, "On a Corner," a period in which Miles was at his lowest creative ebb, having followed the "fusion" movement launched by Weather Report and Gary Burton. As much as I love Miles Davis and deserves every great thing that can be said about him, I never liked his electric period (post-1968). I love music that fuses genres -- Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Joe Zawinul's world music, for starters; I just don't think Miles did this very well because it wasn't him. His heart, which he fought against in the latter part of his career, was always in the beautiful melodies of the great jazz standards and the freedom and beauty of modal jazz.

Anyway . . .

Here are my ten starter jazz recordings in alphabetical order. I begin with Ellington, the great American composer and bandleader, who bridged the gap between old swing era and the bebop revolution. I end with Wayne Shorter in 1966, a time when jazz had reached sort a peak in terms of boundary-pushing. Ornette, Cecil and Andrew Hill were moving jazz into a place so free that few could even understand where the pulse was. Miles was about to disband his second great quintet; the fusion movement was building but had not yet rocked, literally, the jazz world; the Beatles were at their peak, and African-American recording artists like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations and James Brown were drawing black listeners, and the young white music fans, who would have grown up on Bill Haley and Elvis Presley a decade before they were about to turn to Jimi Hendrix and the Who to stake out their claim in the late 60s cultural rebellion. On these ten recordings you'll hear most of the major instrumentalists and composers of the early modern era, which is one of the main reasons I chose them. Remember, this is for the beginner! And in alphabetical order.


Dave Brubeck, "Time Out"
Miles Davis, "The Complete Birth of the Cool"
Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue"
John Coltrane, "Blue Train"
Duke Ellington, "Live at Newport 1958"
Bill Evans, "The Complete 1961 Recordings at the Village Vanguard"
Thelonious Monk, "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington"
Wes Montgomery, "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery"
Charlie Parker, "The Complete Savoy Recordings, 1947-48."
Wayne Shorter, "Adam's Apple"

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