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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Riches in Store

OT (music again): Just FYI, iTunes is offering a nice opportunity in the form of "Jazz 101 on Sale," five pages of great classic albums for sale at $6 and $7 each. If you're like me you'll have most of these already, although I did pick up Joe Lovano's Rush Hour and a couple of other things. However, if you're not yet a jazz fan but have been meaning to give it a try, a lot of iTunes' selections would make anybody's top 100.

Not all great jazz is easy to get into for non-jazz-listeners, and a lot of "introductory" lists and articles make the mistake of recommending the wrong things to beginners. Among the more easily digestible things here, The Complete Atomic Basie is a must-have, as is Art Blakey's most famous record, A Night in Tunisia. Giant Steps and My Favorite Things are John Coltrane (below left) at his most accessible. Gene Ammons' Boss Tenor (that's Gene in the picture, above right) and Kenny Dorham's Quiet Kenny are both masterpieces, and not difficult. Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool is a great bargain for $6. Django and Brilliant Corners are stone must-haves for any jazz collection. Sonny Rollins' mighty twin peaks, Saxophone Colossus and Tenor Madness, both on the list, are among the best-sounding jazz albums ever recorded—I actually have two different pressings of Saxophone Colossus on vinyl and two CD versions, and all of them sound fantastic. Horace Silver's Song for My Father is one of my own all-time favorites, as is Mulligan Meets Monk. Monk's Music is there; that one would go with any jazz fan to the apocryphal desert island (wonder where we'd get electricty? Oh well, you know what I mean).

There are a few (relative) dogs. For instance, I'd stay away from The Great Summit: The Master Takes unless you know what you're getting into. It's accorded great reverence because it's the only time that Ken Burns's heroes of choice, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, recorded together, but it's actually only a fair Armstrong record and might as well not have Ellington on it at all, considering how little of his brilliance or personality comes through. (This is another of those jazz albums that people "buy to try" and come away from feeling vaguely disappointed. There are a lot of those in jazz. A Love Supreme is many peoples' first Coltrane record, which is unfortunate because it then becomes their last. Not that it's not a great record, but it should be peoples' eighth or tenth Coltrane CD, and their 200th jazz recording rather than their second*.)

For the more adventuresome, try Andrew Hill's great first album; Stan Kenton's classically-tinged City of Glass; Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (shouldn't be your first Monk album, though); or Eric Dolphy's wonderful Out There.

I have a lot of these titles on vinyl, CD, or both, and in various "audiophile" iterations, and some of these records are now as familiar as the Beatles and the Stones to me (and a quiet shout here to my younger brother Scott, who first got me into jazz, years ago). But this sale gives me a strange feeling...of envy, toward those who have yet to discover all these fantastic treasures. Anyone who has the lion's share of this music still in their future has riches in store.


*And what's their first? Kind of Blue, of course, the overwhelming all-time #1 choice of People Who Only Have One Jazz Record. Fortunately that one's a great—and safe—recommendation for jazz fans and non-jazz-fans alike.

Featured Comment by Bob Burnett: This sale is worth it for the Monk and Miles alone! Here are a few more thoughts for people looking for a place to jump in:

Change of the Century: Ornette Coleman: A-list Coleman. This represents that glorious late '50s-early '60s moment when his quartet was the talk of the jazz world.

Sunday at the Village Vanguard/Waltz with Debbie: See my review on C60 of the full day of music—at $6.99 these are a perfect way to find out about that legendary and fabled summer day in NYC.

Memphis Underground: Herbie Mann: A surprise album that features Sonny Sharrock on guitar in the early days of his re-shaping the range of what guitar playing can be. Sharrock is often called the Jimi Hendrix of jazz.

Art Pepper: Smooth, drifting, savory stuff here. Plus it wins the award for jazz artist in the worst throes of heroin withdrawal album cover photo session. And you guys think it's tough doing a northern light photo session with a CEO! Pepper wrote wonderfully about this cover photo session in his autobiography, Straight Life.

UPDATE: We've just posted a review of Monk's Music (written by Bob) at the C60 site. —Mike


Blogger robert e said...

As usual, Mike, a worthwhile and much appreciated OT-music post. I'm one of those who wasn't ready for "A Love Supreme" for his first Coltrane LP (I bought it because it was cheap). Luckily I made friends who knew their jazz and my tastes and soon steered me to "Kinda Blue" and bop. (And I'm still so not ready for LS.) I've found that almost anything featuring Cannonball Adderly is a satisfying recommendation for people who want "that cool old jazz saxophone stuff, you know?".

Damn, I can almost hear that nice warm vinyl crackle...

And that's the thing about jazz, and some other things--it just seems so much easier and better to pick it up through friends or relations, or at least more than casual acquaintances. Perhaps its one of those things that personal blogs are well suited for, too.

By the way, everyone knows that "Kinda Blue" is one of the best make-out albums ever, right?

10:42 AM  
Blogger BobB said...

...but you didn't mention Jimmy McGriff's "Groove Grease" for best naked girl and double entendre title......

12:21 PM  
Blogger radca wegrowicz said...

IMHO one of the most accessible jazz music was recorded by hank mobley (especially I mean his Roll Call or Soul Station) - don't you think so?

2:43 PM  
Blogger Andy Frazer said...

What serendipity! I was just thinking I should email Mike and ask for a few suggestions for someone with no knowledge of jazz.

I'm going to check some of these out.

Andy Frazer

2:52 PM  
Blogger rhythmimages said...

"They like jazz, but in small doses . . ."

Ain't Misbehavin', Thomas "Fats" Waller

I've always liked Pharoah Saunders' "Creator Has a Master Plan" because it starts out ultra mellow and works itself into high energy pain.

I just put Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Bright Moments" on because I think live recording help put music in context. Some of it's very commercial, put they're all players and it comes through.

If someone only likes pretty photographs, better follow up "Kind of Blue, with Bill Evans and MJQ and maybe leave it at that.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"IMHO one of the most accessible jazz music was recorded by hank mobley (especially I mean his Roll Call or Soul Station) - don't you think so?"

I do think so. His "Workout" and "The Turnaround" are also great (although I don't know if he ever recorded a bad album), and "Straight No Filter" is one of my favorites.


3:16 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"But this sale gives me a strange feeling...of envy, toward those who have yet to discover all these fantastic treasures. Anyone who has the lion's share of this music still in their future has riches in store."

You've just described me perfectly. All I can say is thank you. For this doorway into a world I've always been curious about but intimidated to enter.

And I have to thank you again for your previous post about the NHT Moos. I am listening right now to Art Blakey's "Kozo's Waltz" through a pair of them as I write this. Outstanding.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Jose Guilis said...

I tend to recommend friends to start with early jazz records (Bechet,Armstrong, Waller, dixieland stuff, etc.) wich is in general "easy listening", then graduate to cool, bop etc.
Song for my father has been a favourite for ages,as is Money Jungle (Ellington, Roach, Mingus). I was equally deceived by The Count meets the Duke album, i fact twice: I saw the cd, and bughth it again,, without remembering I had already done it.
The record I'll take to the proverbial desert island would be the Paris Concert 1961 from Elligton (with all the greats, Hodges, Williams, etc.) which I lost amd can't get on cd now. I don't think it's on itunes, either. And there is a record I should have never loaned to a friend, Bud Powell's Blues for Bouffemont. It's impossible to find nowadays.

I think Cannonball Adderley is too often neglected. He was at least as impressive as Coltrane and not as depressive (sorry for my English, hope it's inteligible for all of you)...

And I think it is revealing that most people think about horns and trumpets when discussing jazz. What about piano, guitar, bass? I'm an addict to Monk, Mingus, Tatum, Kenny Burrell, Charly Christian, Wes Montgomery, Evans??

I'll take your advice on Hank Mobley. Never heard him. Thanks.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

There's a thing called "The Great Paris Concert" on both iTunes and on CD on Amazon, but it's probably not the one you mean because it's from 1963, not 1961.

I had a Socratic experience with Money Jungle. It was one of the earliest jazz records I ever bought, so I assumed it was typical of "jazz." Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and for a long time I was frustrated and puzzled by my inability to find anything else like it. Little did I know at the time what a strange and wonderful little disc it is.

Ellington is tough to buy. I'm no expert. There are 179 albums on iTunes and well over 400 on Amazon--endless greatest hits collections, compilations and permutations, issues and reissues, ad infinitum. The first record I'd say anybody should get is "Ellington Uptown." Not his best known but really solid, and very characteristic. Personally I would not want to be without "Side by Side," his record with Johnny Hodges; I love "Jazz Party" just because it's so wierd; "Anatomy of a Murder" is great (although be careful to get the Sony 1999 reissue that does away with all that horrid reverb), and "Money Jungle" of course, although that has little to do with what made him famous.

But far and away the Ellington record to have is "Blues in Orbit." That one's really fantastic, a great classic, great sound, wonderful performances, very strong material, the works. I even like the sequencing.


7:23 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

P.S. "Blues for Bouffemont" is available on iTunes for $11.

7:51 PM  
Blogger John said...

For a real introduction to the very beginning of jazz, and an incredible read, Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje is a must have for any jazz aficionado. The first horn, like the first tree. As a photographer this book will make you see Buddy Bolden moving through 1920 New Orleans. It will make you lust for a view camera and a time machine.

12:08 AM  
Blogger BobB said...

Coltrane immersion pecking order off the TOP of my head--from easy to challenging in 16 or so steps :

Kind of Blue
Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane
Monk's Music
Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
Ultimate Blue Trane
Giant Steps
My Favorite Things
Live at the Village Vanguard
A Love Supreme
Kulu Se Mama
Africa Brass
In and Out
Live In Japan
Interstellar Space

4:26 AM  
Blogger Mirko Caserta said...

I agree with what you say about "A Love Supreme" non being a good starter. I would even say "Giant Steps" is quite an "hard to get into" record. There are many earlier recordings by Trane which are more accessible and they show how freakin' awesome was Trane's command of the bebop language before venturing into the "new thing".

If I might suggest some "easier" (but not necessarily less imporant) Trane albums, I'd say go for "Soul Trane" and "Ballads". I especially love "Ballads" for it shows how the man (and his terrific band) was able to render apparently "simple" tunes into real works of musical art by using very simple devices.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Jose Guilis said...

Yea, I checked iTunes after writing, should have done before. It's a special record in many ways. Was recorded after Powell was released from a loony asylum in Paris. He was "adopted" by a french fan, who got him back to a normal sort of life. The story was the basis for Around midnight, my favorite jazz film, on a par with Eastwood's Bird.
Great that it's available on iTunes. I am not a collector or a record fetishist, but there are a few I need to own. Blues for Bouffemont is available on Amazon, used, for US$ 96 . Seems I'm not the only one who loves it.

Ellington is a genious who trascends the genre, IMHO. Anything he did is good, most is brilliant. Not bad considering there were years when he published five or six records. Sometimes an artist finds a special grace and combines subject matter, technical process, emotional resonance, all together makes perfect. It's like Ansel Adams, b&w, large format, landscape or Cartier Bresson, b&w. leica, streets, or Avedon or... you know... and it's Duke Ellington, Tizol, Strayhorn, Cat Anderson, Gonsalves, Hodges, Williams...
I agree with you on Uptown, I'll try to find Jazz Party, and you're right about the Great Paris Concert, it's from 1963 and available in the US. It's the band on one of its best moments, with all the energy from a live performance and quite well recorded. I'll order it straight away...

5:30 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

The first jazz record I ever got was Trane My Favorite Things in 9th grade (1989) and remember thinking to myself that is sounded almost like classical music, that being said I put it away and got a best of Parker album, which to me was much easier to understand. I play tenor sax, and have for 20 years; what I've realized is that the average individual does not really hear any difference between Miles' Kind of Blue and some cheesy "elevator" them they sound the same!

Getting back to my Trane experience; when I finally did go back and listen to My Favorite Things...I was blown away! The difference was probably 2 or 3 years time, a ton of listening to bop and earlier and learning to actually play the music. Paying your listening "dues" by listening and to maybe some extent understanding the early stuff will pay itself back when you get to the later Trane albums, Miles Cellar Door Sessions, etc

Thanks for starting the post...its great to see people actually still listen to the music. Jazz is such an "active" listen music and to hear individuals that are technically proficient (i.e. sax playing technique) as well as the creative (soloing/composition) side is something you don't hear in many other forms of music.

12:32 PM  

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