Wednesday, October 01, 2008

For Jazz Neophytes

We just wrote the following to a student asking for recommendations of jazz artists. We share it, lightly edited to conform to the style of the blog, for the benefit of gentle readers needing a respite from politics and economics:

There are so many great artists to recommend! We'd recommend exploring at this web site as a way to begin. Ken Burns's PBS documentary on jazz is not necessarily the definitive word, but you won't listen to any bad music by listening to what he recommends.

Here are some of the great names of jazz who comprise much of our personal playlist:

Louis Armstrong
Duke Ellington
Count Basie
Benny Goodman
Lester Young
Art Tatum
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Miles Davis
Clifford Brown
Charles Mingus
Thelonius Monk
John Coltrane
Herbie Hancock
Wayne Shorter
Stan Getz
Art Blakey
Oscar Peterson
Chick Corea
Winton Marsalis
Branford Marsalis

We recently gave a friend the one-disc version of the two-disc set described here. We could definitely recommend this as a fine collection of great performances with very accessible grooves.

Note that we eschew the subgenre labeled "smooth jazz," which is comprised largely of repetitive R&B-style licks without a lot of substance. "Smooth jazz" is for people who don't want to listen to the music. If unobtrusive background sounds are what you seek, you may be out of luck with all our recommendations, which tend to cause the listener to tap feet, snap fingers, sigh contentedly and occasionally exclaim, "Oh, yeah!" or "Go, man!" In that unfortunate case, go for the contemptible wallpaper music of Dave Koz, Kenny G and other extinguishers of the flame. Then there's the "New Age" school of Windham Hill Records, with such pabulum as George Winston. This is "music" for people who find smooth jazz too challenging, the aural equivalent to Zoloft and warm milk.

Your hipster professor,


willytribs said...

If I may, a few additions:

Cannonball Adderley - if nothing else find the track, This Here.
Ornette Coleman
Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus (one of the best ever, including one of the best tracks, St. Thomas. I am surprised this guy didn't make the list. I must mention Tenor Madness as well, I believe it is the only track featuring both Rollins and Coltrane.)
Albert Ayler
Pharoah Sanders
Sun Ra

Admittedly most of these guys fall into the sub-genre of crazy, for those who do not like abstract, do not bother with Sanders, Sun Ra, Ayler or some of Coleman's work.

Another starting point for the uninitiated would be to find anything Rudy Van Gelder worked on, he generally can't be beat.


Jake said...

For a website, I highly recommend - great current resource on jazz, with a forum that often has interesting discussions.

I note that your list skews heavily to the "classics" - this of course isn't bad, but I'll suggest some great contemporary artists as well.

Brad Mehldau - incredibly talented piano player - about any of his discs are fantastic, but I especially recommend Live, Day is Done, and Back at the Village Vanguard
Dave Holland Quintet - Holland's band is incredible - my favorite jazz group, and one of the best working groups around. Check out Prime Directive. Holland's Big Band and Sextet are also well worth checking out.
Dave Douglas - Douglas is an incredible talent, and leads a number of very different groups. My favorite is his quintet - Meaning and Mystery and Live at the Jazz Standard are outstanding.
Pat Metheny - his Group recordings skew towards smooth jazz, but his trio recordings are exceptional. Check out their most recent studio recording, Day Trip.
Chris Potter - great sax player. All of his stuff is good. I'm partial to his Underground recordings - Underground and Follow the Red Line. It skews towards fusion, but is much better than most contemporary fusion.
San Francisco Jazz Collective - one of the most exciting and inventive current groups. Most of their recordings are only available at their website, but there are two compilations that are more widely available.

I could go on, but those groups would be a good start. I'm also partial to jazz guitar - in addition to Pat Metheny, here's a few other great players, both classic and modern:

Grant Green
Wes Montgomery
Pat Martino
John Scofield
Bill Frisell (especially East and West)
Jonathan Kriesberg
Gilad Hekselman
Peter Bernstein
Kurt Rosenwinkel (incredible - check out Deep Song)

There's lots of great contemporary jazz out there - you just have to know where to look.

rustypants said...

i'll have to add:

keith jarret trio
kenny garrett
the headhunters
modern jazz quartet

an excellent "top 100 jazz cd's" site can be found here.

some good fusion:
billy cobham's spectrum album
return to forever's romantic warrior album
mahavishnu orchestra's inner mounting flame album

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

We regret our pathetic omission of the extroverted Cannonball and introverted Sonny, acknowledged masters of the saxophone. We would hesitate to recommend the more avant garde artistes to newbies, though we enjoy their creations when the house is empty of other listeners. We definitely give the enthusiastic nod to Holland, Douglas, Metheny and other current players.

Wes Montgomery, our fellow Indianapolisarian, is the greatest groove merchant of the guitar. It is a guitar world, so there are many other great players out there. In the beginning, there were Django Reinhart and Charlie Christian, from whom all guitardom flows.

Our recommendations do run to classics, since we think recent work is better appreciated by those who have heard the ancient masters first. But the world is filled with excellent players making wonderful sounds, and so we gladly welcome the gentle readership's additions.

Jake said...

Another recommendation - many of the artists mentioned here, both classic and contemporary, can be found on Its a subscription-based mp3 site, and one of the best deals I've found for trying new music. Its limited to independent or minor labels, but that includes LOTS of jazz, including early labels like Fantasy/OJC.

If anyone is interested in joining, send me an email at jake (dot) christian13 (at) gmail (dot) com. I can send them an invite, which will get them 50 free mp3s for a trial (and 50 for myself, of course). The subscriptions begin at 30 mp3's a month for about $13, I believe. If you don't like the service, you keep the 50 free tracks.

It would be a great way for someone new to jazz to try out many of the artists listed here. I'd be happy to give recommendations, as it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which CDs are worthwhile. I've spent far too much time on this site.

Bryan D said...

This post is woefully short on trombonists, so let me fill in the gaps:

Jack Teagarden
Kid Ory (it's all about the Dixieland, see?)
Slide Hampton
JJ Johnson
The Immortal Tommy Dorsey, whose "I'm getting Sentimental Over You" in D still stands as the paragon of tromboning greatness.

Lastly, my personal favorite, Frank Rossolino.

Of course there are others which have been strangely omitted as well—Chick Corea, Fletcher Henderson, Mel Torme, Michel Camilo, Fats Waller, Cher Baker, Dave Brubeck, Jaco Pastorious . . . but now I see, the list goes on and on!