Essential Jazz Albums

Essential Jazz Albums

Essential Jazz AlbumsJazz is perhaps best experienced live, but some recordings are veritable works of art. Below is a list of ten albums that represent important periods in the development of jazz, and whose music is as fresh today as when it was recorded. The list, ordered chronologically by the dates each album was recorded, functions as a mere introduction to classic jazz recordings. 1. Louis Armstrong – Complete RCA Victor Recordings (RCA)

This compilation is a must have for anyone interested in the origin of jazz. Louis Armstrong’s melodic trumpet improvisations and his scat singing are considered the seeds from which all jazz since has sprouted. This collection consists of crackling renditions of some lesser-known tunes from Armstrong’s repertoire. Each track radiates the joyous spirit and individualism that Armstrong bestowed upon jazz.

2. Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes (Polygram)

When Charlie Parker, one of the creators of bebop, recorded with a string ensemble, he was criticized for pandering to a popular audience. His music was characterized in part by taking conventions of swing music and pushing them to their extremes; extreme registers, extremely fast tempos, and extreme virtuosity. Unlike swing music, bebop was considered art music, and represented a hip musical subculture. Parker’s recording with strings, although perhaps more palatable for a popular audience, doesn’t display any sacrifice of craft or musicality. On each of these tracks, Parker’s sound is pure and crisp, and his improvisations display the impeccable technique and harmonic knowledge that bebop was famous for.

3. Lee Konitz – Subconscious-Lee (Original Jazz Classics)

Lee Konitz made his mark on the jazz world in the late 1940s and 1950s by developing a style of improvisation that contrasted from that of the father of bebop, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Konitz’ dry tone, swirling melodies, and rhythmic experimentation are still models for today’s musicians. Subconscious-Lee features pianist Lennie Tristano and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, two of Konitz’ comrades in the development of this style.

4. Art Blakey Quintet – A Night at Birdland (Blue Note)

Art Blakey's music is known for its funky stride and soulful melodies. This live recording, featuring trumpet legend Clifford Brown, is one energy-filled example of Blakey’s first ventures into the driving style that would come to be known as hard-bop.

5. John Coltrane – Blue Train (Blue Note)

John Coltrane was said to have practiced up to twenty hours a day, so much that late in his career, it was rumored that by the time he was finished he had already abandoned some techniques he had figured out earlier in the day. His short career (he died at age forty-one) is underscored by constant evolution, shifting from traditional jazz to completely improvised suites. The music from Blue Train marks the pinnacle of his hard-bop stage, before he moved on to more experimental improvisation styles. It also contains tunes that have worked their way into the standard repertoire, including “Moment’s Notice,” “Lazy Bird,” and “Blue Train.”

6. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (Columbia)

Each of bassist Charles Mingus’ pieces on this album has a specific character, ranging from frenetic to morose to ebullient, so that the compositions almost have a visual nature. Each member of the band plays his part in such a way that it sounds as though he is improvising, giving the music vitality and spirit that is practically unmatched.

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