The Essential Music Library: Jazz

The Essential Music Library project is an attempt to get the many musical minds of the SDMB to sit down and discuss what works are absolutely necessary for a well-stocked musical library. There will be roughly 20 threads detailing a variety of genres so that we can get the depth that would be missing from a single-threaded discussion and the breadth necessary to cover what’s out there.

This thread’s topic is jazz, from the earliest extant recordings to the newest members of the scene today. What’s the collection that best represents the past 90 or so years?

Previous threads: Project Planning | Classical | Rock

I found both of these lists helpful in building my collection. This one, too. And this one. (I’m kind of a list junkie :stuck_out_tongue: )

(re the latter:) “This list does not include ‘compilations’.”

Which conveniently cuts off jazz history at the beginning of the album era. No need to bother with those corny, scratchy pre-bop travesties. Whew!

Yeah, I’m glad he mentioned the “corny, scratchy pre-bog travesties” as his rationale. Oh wait, he didn’t. :rolleyes:

Anyone’s allowed to set certain parameter on their lists (the OP is already engaged in that in his series), and the other lists do include compilations. Comp. albums are tougher to assess because of the varying quality and transfer methods, licensing and usage rights, and availability of material. Plus, albums are created as a whole, with song selections and sequences existing for a specific reason. Compilation albums aren’t typically assembled with that artist’s singular vision in mind. That doesn’t make them less worthy (despite your snarky effort to misread things that way); it just means there’s a perfectly reasonable justification for considering them differently.

I’m just goona lurk here and learn from my betters. :slight_smile:

Am I really going to be the first person to post specific album picks? That seems somehow wrong.

Some things that are fairly basic backbone albums for any Jazz collection:

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue & the Complete Birth of the Cool

Dave Brubeck: Time Out

Charles Mingus: Ah Um

John Coltrane: Giant Steps

Lois Armstrong: The Complete Hot 5’s and 7’s

Charlie Parker: Yardbird Suite

Ornette Coleman: shape of jazz to come

Billie Holliday: Billie’s Blues

Horace Silver: Blowin the Blues Away

Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

King Oliver: King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: The Complete Set

You also need some Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie but I will let others tell you just which big band albums are the essentials. “Jazz” is kind of a big catagory, I tried to give a sampeling from all the styles, but my list is obviously biased. Also this list doesn’t include some of my favorite artists (such as Max Roach) mostly because even though I love them, I wouldn’t call them “essential”.

No, tell us!

I’ve got Take Five and Giant Steps! I am not a complete loser!

A couple extra picks to see if we can get this thread going a little.

Jaco Pastorius, s/t
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
Weather Report, Heavy Weather
Thelonious Monk, Undeground
Squirrel Nut Zippers, Hot

Miles Davis - 7 Steps to Heaven, Kind of Blue and I’m sure there’re more but thats all I know.
Art Blakey - Moanin’
Herbie Hancock - Emperyan Isles, Maiden Voyage
Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd - Jazz Samba

And that’s about all I know. Eager to find out more from this thread.

Few more:

Thelonius Monk Monk’s Dream
Miles Davis Sketches of Spain
Herbie Hancock Head Hunters
Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto Getz/Gilberto
Oscar Peterson Night Train
John Coltrane A Love Supreme

You can buy Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew but I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys that album. I know a lot of people who have bought it, though. I’m sure someone will immediately come in and tell me how enjoyable they find that album.

I’ll add my favorite Miles Davis, not because it is his best but man I love it:
The Miles Davis Quintet Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet

My collections of vocalists are nearly all compilations (Ella Fitzgerald’s Best of the Song Books, Billie Holiday’s Lady in Autumn: The Verve Years, Rosemary Clooney with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Ella and Louis is a very fun album but maybe not essential.). Essential to have some of these but I’m not sure these are the best and I’m not sure that these follow the letter of the OP law. I also have cheap-ass compilations for the big band guys, I’m not sure which one is the best but you need to span your Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and the like somehow.

A few live shows:
Coltrane Live at Birdland
Art Blakey A Night at Birdland
Keith Jarrett The Koln Concert

and eh, why not, just for fun
Juan Garcia Esquivel Space Age Bachelor Pad Music
Carl Stalling The Carl Stalling Project

I forgot McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy, an absolutely brilliant album.

Essential, IMO, are those of the hot-jazz bands of the mid to late '20s and big bands (excluding sweet) to the end of that era. Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington from the Cotton Club era until his death, Louis Armstrong minus his vocals, compilations of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. Glenn Miller’s orchestra should join the list because even it was allowed to break its shackles once in a while. It’s live-broadcast version of I Dreamt I Dwelt in Harlem (Yeah, Bill!) is astonishing, in a St. Louis Blues March (live version) kind of way.

These 60- to 80-year-old recordings are all singles since they predate the modern meaning of the term album. Then it meant five or so 78s packaged in a true, hinged album or two and weighing a ton, impossible to find now if the records are jazz. So these recordings can only be compilations. (But it wouldn’t surprise me if I learned that Shaw had invented the Sergeant Pepper concept despite the limitations of 78s but was foiled during production.)

If I was to be marooned on an island with only one album, it would have to be Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, replete with everything that is wonderful and the prototype of every live-concert recording, jazz or otherwise, recorded since. However, it didn’t become an album until LP technology allowed it (and it isn’t a compilation). But if I, for one, welcomed my new insect masters about to maroon me, maybe they’d also allow me a laptop with a modem connected to redhotjazz.

Some great ones have been named here already. A few more:

Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane: Live at the Five Spot
Miles Davis: Someday My Prince Will Come
Bill Evans: Explorations
Dexter Gordon: Go! or Dexter Calling or Our Man in Paris
Jazz Messengers: Live at the Cafe Bohemia
Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures
Stan Getz & Kenny Barron: People Time
Duke Ellington: *Live at Newport *or *Jazz Party *or Ellington Indigos or The Blanton/Webster Band

Yep, love it. It’s one of the clearest and most commanding statements of vision in Miles’ body of work. May I also add that IMO “Porgy and Bess” is an essential Miles Davis album as well as… the bastard stepchild and guilty pleasure “On The Corner”.

And Lord alp me I have tried, I have laid down good money and endured migraine inducing sessions under the headphones, but I cannot find any edification or enjoyable purpose in enduring the music of Ornette Coleman. Why is his work so highly valued?

I like Bitches Brew and acknowledge that it is a seminal album in jazz fusion history, but I honestly prefer Big Fun. Listening to that while driving west through Joshua Tree NP is an unforgettable experience.

I’m getting a hell of a lot from this thread, including an urge to go jazz club hopping; it’s a pity that LA’s jazz scene is so thin, but there’s a few good spots.

I’ll throw in a suggestion to check out the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks; I think I picked it up at Ameoba Records (great place) for $50; 16 albums, 9 composers, and Ella’s heavenly voice. Now I’m going to go listen to her sing about murdering a string of husbands “To Keep My Love Alive” while I’m making breakfast. Bess as a serial killer just tickles me.


Seconded, thirded, fourthed, and fifthed. It’s currently in heavy rotation chez twicks. Their version of “Night and Day” is heartbreaking – the whole album is heartbreaking, it was recorded live about three months before Getz’s death. It’s an amazing piece of wrok.

John Coltrane A Love Supreme

I can’t believe I get to start this argument!!

Stanley Clarke - School Days
Larry Coryell - Spaces
The (Jazz) Crusaders - Southern Comfort
Al DiMeola - Elegant Gypsy
Herbie Hancock - Headhunters
Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse
Jean-Luc Ponty - Imaginary Voyage
Return To Forever - Romantic Warrior
Andreas Vollenweilder - Dancing With The Lion
We’ll need some Michael Hedges but I haven’t heard enough to say exactly what.

In addition to Take Five and Time Out, you really need some live Brubeck. Just about anything will do: Jazz At Oberlin, The Last Set At Newport, At Carnegie Hall, Jazz Goes To College…

John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard
Gato Barbieri Chapter One Latin America