Jazz essentials?

I have my record collection in great shape as far as hip-hop, reggae, funk, and rock. My next focus is jazz. I know very little about the subject so I ask you:

What artists make up the perfect jazz collection?

DaLovin’ Dj

I do recommend getting a good reference-book: Cook & Morton’s Penguin Guide is an absolutely marvellous compendium, now in its 5th edition.

I’m wary of the “great man” approach to jazz history, but these albums would certainly be on any conventional list of “classic jazz”:

Louis Armstrong–the early Hot Five & Hot Seven sides

Duke Ellington–the 1940-41 band with Ben Webster & Jimmy Blanton

Charlie Parker–the 1940s discs for Savoy & Dial

Miles Davis–Kind of Blue

Thelonious Monk–Brilliant Corners

John Coltrane–Giant Steps

Bill Evans–Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Charles Mingus–Mingus Ah Um

Oliver Nelson–Blues and the Abstract Truth

I could name a lot more–missing a lot here, like Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke &c.–but those would I think be the obvious starting places. They only carry you up to the early 1960s, I’m afraid–there are many jazz fans & players for whom the “classic” canon of the music would stop 4 decades ago, as witness the embarrassed fast-forward of the Ken Burns extravaganza. I’m not one of them.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily be worried about getting the “classic” recordings of the genre. If I were simply naming discs that I liked a lot & played often, they would include:

Zoot Sims, If I’m Lucky

Art Pepper, Intensity

Shelly Manne, Shelly Manne & His Men at the Black Hawk–this is in five volumes, sold separately, I have no.s 1 & 2

Brad Mehldau, Introducing Brad Mehldau

Yosuke Yamashita, Canvas in Quiet

George Russell, Jazz Workshop

Grant Green, Idle Moments

Clifford Jordan, Spellbound

Sonny Clark, Cool Strutting

Larry Young, Unity

Tomasz Stanko, From the Green Hill

…as well as many other discs, some more pushing towards the avantgarde than any of the above. The jazz tradition is what you make it. Most of the above will be in any serious fan’s collection (except for Yamashita & Stanko maybe).

Sorry I can’t name specific compilations of Armstrong, Ellington & Parker sides off the top of my head–'m sure ohters can join in here.

Thanks ndorwood. That’s a good start!


I don’t know a lot about jazz either, but I do know a little.

If you’re looking for excellent jazz vocals, you can’t go wrong with some Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. For modern interpretations, try some Diana Krall. She’s my favorite.

I watching this thread with interest - I need some rec’s too!

ANY Joshua Redman album.
Sony Clark

2 other groups that may cross out of jazz that are still sweet are:

Liquid Soul
Groove Collective-The older Groove Collective stuff is jazzier. The new stuff is more dancy w/ jazz influences.

I would actually recommend you go with Billie Holiday for jazz vocalist, of course, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, as mentioned, wouldn’t be bad either.

A personal recommendation would be Ellington at Newport 1956 if for no other reason to hear Paul Gonsalves electrifying solo on Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue, wuite possibly the most famous sax solo in the history of Jazz.

ndorward gave you some fine suggestions. Let me add some more:

Sonny Rollins - Way Out West
Art Tatum - The Group Masterpieces Vol. 9 with Ben Webster
Booker Little - Out Front
Art Blakey - Jazz Messengers with Theolonius Monk
Kenny Burrell - Midnight Blue
Dave Holland Quintet - Prime Directive

Anthologies: Some jazz fans scorn anthologies on purist grounds. However, I feel they’re the best way to get into the music. They’re very cheap, and you can sample a lot of different artists this way. Some good anthologies…

The Verve Story - Cheap 4 CD set containing a wide variety of mainstream jazz from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Blue Note anthologies - Look for a series of 2 CD sets called “The Blue Note Years.” It traces the history of Blue Note Records, with individual volumes for hard bop, soul jazz, etc.

Ken Burns Jazz anthologies - I didn’t care for the documentary myself, but the individual discs bearing the series’ name are concise, generally well-chosen introductions to the various artists. Just avoid the Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington discs (their careers were too complex to be boiled down to 1 CD.) Also avoid the box set, which shortchanges developments in jazz since 1950.

Proper Box Sets - Proper is a British label which has been issuing very cheap (about $25) 4 CD box sets of classic jazz from the 30s and 40s. I recommend the Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie, Bud Powell and “Bebop Spoken Here” sets.

It’s Sarah Vaughan. OK, I’m not as well versed in the jazz vocalist literature as in the instrumental stuff, but:

Billie Holiday–the early work (1930s, 1940s), esp. that with Teddy Wilson & Lester Young. AVOID the later work for Verve & Columbia as a first step–I know there’s a cult surrounding the latterday Holiday, but I find it hard to listen to her final, ravaged recordings.

Ella Fitzgerald–Pure Ella, a voice-and-piano album.

Sarah Vaughan–the self-titled disc with Clifford Brown on it.

Betty Carter–The Audience with Betty Carter

Sheila Jordan–Portrait of Sheila Jordan on Blue Note. If you can find it the out-of-print Lost and Found should be snapped up, one of the finest small-group vocal performances ever recorded.

June Christy–Something Cool. I’m also fond of a CD that pairs up The Song Is June! & Off-Beat.

Chris Connor–Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song

One should toss in a few other names like Anita O’Day, Shirley Horn, Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, &c here–I’m sure folks can help out here.

Blossom Dearie–Once Upon a Summertime. Something of a cult singer, with a winsome, charmingly imperfect voice, but I must confess I listen to this probably more than Ella Fitzgerald.

Johnny Hartman–the album with Coltrane.

Probably something by the late Susannah McCorkle should be here (she committed suicide a few months ago).

For contemporary singers–

Kurt Elling–The Messenger

Patricia Barber

Cassandra Wilson–perhaps the recent Travelling Miles

Kevin Mahogany–I forget the title of the disc, but it has Joe Lovano for the opening few tracks.

Dominique Eade
A few personal choices–these wouldn’t be on most people’s lists of “essentials”–would be Jeri Southern, The Very Thought of You; & the first duo disc between Jeanne Lee & Ran Blake, which has been released under a few different titles but I think is usually known as The Freshest Sound in Town.

ndorward’s list of basics is wonderful.

I’d like to add Count Basie’s Decca recordings from 1937-38, which swing harder than the Ellington/Webster/Blanton band (which you should also have, naturally, because it’s GREAT).

Also Miles Davis’ The Birth of the Cool (not so much for Davis’s contribution as for those of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Lee Konitz), Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Count me among the fans of later Billie Holiday, but there’s more than enough variety to work your way up to that. Still, for my money, her 56/57 Verve sides are best - ragged, raw, striped bare - the woman lived what she was singing.

I just picked up Anita O’Day Sings Cole Porter and its a keeper.

The Best of the Songbooks may be a good place to start with Ella. Wide range of styles (some voice and piano stuff mixed with later, Nelson Riddle-arranged material). “My Funny Valentine” is the best song ever recorded, bar none, you can take it to the bank, I’ll eat your hat if it ain’t a fact. Did I mention that I really enjoy her version of “My Funny Valentine?”

I"ve seen Blossom Dearie’s stuff advertised and I could never make myself plunk down the cash - could be that I’m averse to her name. Now I’ll give her a listen.

You’ll need to pick up some Brubeck (can’t go wrong with Take Five - a bit of a cliche, but that’s only because it works so well. Paul Desmond on sax). You may like some of Stan Getz’s work as well - his bossa nova stuff is a gass (how’s that for 50s slang). You also some of that with Quincey Jones’s big band recordings.

Nat King Cole Trio

I’ve listened to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Last Concert recording a bunch and never tired of it - jazz chamber music for lack of a better term.

Diana Krall - some cringe, I like her. She’s got good piano chops and Christian McBride on guitar.

Wes Montgomery for the jazz guitar and Jimmy Smith for the Hammond B-3 (through in Stanley Turentine on sax and you’ve got some very funky stuff).

Also, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out! is a classic, although it is sometimes unfairly (IMHO) maligned as too pop, too cool, too West Coast…whatever.

And don’t forget Dizzy Gillespie, how about The Quintet Jazz at Massey Hall with Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and MAx Roach.

Just realized I omitted one disc I’d meant to include in the list of vocalists: Helen Merrill’s early disc with Clifford Brown (I think it has a literal title like that, Helen Merrill with Clifford Brown). Enthusiasts of that disc will want to check out Brownie, her posthumous tribute to Brown that contains arrangements of Brown’s solos from the original recording.

Yeah, Blossom Dearie’s name is a little offputting…& I’ll confess that the two other discs of hers I have (a self-titled disc, & Give Them the Ooh-La-La) aren’t nearly as good as the one I mentioned, tipping into archness (not to mention questionable French pronunciation on the former). But Once Upon a Summertime is notable for containing two remarkable revisionist covers of “Tea for Two”(!) & “Manhattan”, done as very slow ballads. Truly astonishing & unexpectedly moving performances. She also can play piano quite well. – In the same category of idiosyncratic, characterful vocal/piano jazz one might place her buddy Dave Frishberg, & Mose Allison. So add to my list Frishberg’s marvellous Classics & Live at Vine Street & Allison’s early work for Atlantic. None of these musicians will earn an award for a mellifluous voice (Frishberg is aptly described by Cook & Morton as having a “corncrake voice”; Allison always sings like he’s got a cold), but like Billie Holiday they demonstrate that refined or virtuosic vocal technique isn’t obligatory in jazz singing.

It’s available now from the BMG/RCA Jazz! label as The Newest Sound Around.

But it’s printed in Germany and Amazon.com takes around six weeks to get it to you.

Hmm. Not sure what happened there – I deleted most of the quoted text and composed a reply, but what showed up was the original quoted text. Euty? Ike? Any way to kill it?

Do. Though it’s possible you already have. If you’re of an age to have grown up with Schoolhouse Rock, you may remember “Figure 8” or “Unpack Your Adjectives” – that’s Blossom Dearie.

Essentials? If you don’t have a trumpet, it’s not jazz.

There’s a great series of jazz compilations called This is Jazz - it’s now up to like 34 or 35 volumes, and I own about twenty of them. Some say it’s lacking in the original albums’ and recordings’ intent, but they offer the great highlights of most jazz artists’ work.

I personally love Billie Holliday - any period (even the later years). “These Foolish Things” is one of my favorite love songs ever (very dancable for romantic evenings). Anything with her voice on it is sublime, but This is Jazz Volume 17 and 32 are wonderful. “I Wish I had You” is another great collection of her love songs.

I’m very much into vocalists, and you can’t miss with **Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, ** and Etta James. Etta is a bit more blues, but her rendition of “At Last” is breathtaking - and I got to hear her sing it live at ArtScape this year! The Chess classic recordings set is awesome.

I love Louis Armstrong - again, This is Jazz Volume 1 is a great mix of his songs. Also check out his work with Ella Fitzgerald. “Stars Fell on Alabama” is my favorite song of theirs, but they do a lot of standards with renewed spunk and humor.

Count Basie, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie are awesome.

I hate Diana Krall, but YMMV. I’m partial to jazz created in the 30’s-50’s - I think the best jazz is that which emerged during this era.

Mahogany and Barber are supreme. Add to the list the incomparable Dianne Reeves, Carmen McRae(not contemporary), Mark Murphy, and sometimes Ian Shaw.

Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” is a classic. Unfortunately, the teens at Borders Books play it constantly.

Curse you rackensack! I wanted to say that! She was also one of the voices for Mother Necessity.

Schoolhouse Rock has a bunch of good Jazz artists, including Bob Dorough (who wrote many of them), Grady Tate,
Jack Sheldon (Conjunction Junction and I’m Just a Bill), and Dave Frishberg.

Just about everything else that I like has already been mentioned.