There are many guides that illustrate the diversity of jazz, list the essential jazz albums or focus on a particular artist. My goal is to provide a guide that can help you find your niche within jazz.
Jazz is very diverse!!! From acoustic to electric, bebop to fusion, it could be overwhelming to a beginner to find something they like. There are many lists of jazz essentials that include Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Saxophone Colossus, and many more albums. It is always good to check these lists out to find a consensus. But where do you go from there? Here is a quick guide that will combine jazz genres and artists.
-Duke Ellington and Count Basie:
These two fabulous artist, composer and performers had jazz bands that consisted of some fantastic players. Duke Ellington had Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Johnny Hodge to name a few. Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band is a great album of the Duke's orchestra from 1940-1942. Count Basie's orchestra had great musicians also such as Lester Young. The Complete Decca Recordings (1937-1939) shows how the Count's band can swing. This form of jazz is more danceable but this does not mean that it is less complex, the Duke's compositions are marvelous.
-Bebop (The Bird gets Dizzy):
Charlie Parker is the father of bebop. This form of Jazz moved away from the big bands and usually consisted of a small band and had a strong emphasize on improvisation. This became the basis for jazz that followed in the future. The dynamic duo of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie was greatly captured in the savoy and dial studio sessions The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes. You will also hear young Miles in these sessions. If you enjoyed his savoy and dial recordings, I encourage you to check out his verve recordingsComplete Verve Master Takes. A famous live date Complete Jazz at Massey Hall.
He is a genre within himself. The madman at the piano with his crazy array of hats. Not alot of critics or jazz players took him seriously in 1940s. He later reemerged as a genius. He did not change his style throughout his whole career. Here are some of his classic albums Brilliant Corners, Monk's Music, Monk's Dream.
-West Coast Cool Jazz:
This category refers to a downtempo - midtempo jazz that came from record companies in West during the 1950s. I believe that the three most popular musicians in Cool Jazz are Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Stan Getz. Many place Antonio Carlos Jobim in world music, but he is also cool. The pianoless quartet of Mulligan and Baker is great, The Original Quartet With Chet Baker [2-CD SET]. If you like ballads, check out Bakers fantastic riverside album Chet: Keepnews Collection. Chet is very melodic with his trumpet playing. He also played the flugelhorn (Prestige Sessions of 1965). Gerry Mulligan concert jazz band is excellent if you want to listen to cool jazz with larger ensemble At the Village Vanguard. Stan Getz will be remembered for his bossa nova albums one of them being Getz / Gilberto; a lot of the tunes are compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim which recorded some marvelous solo albums Wave. Art Pepper gets thrown in this category; if you liked Chet, you should hear some of his tunes.
He is the Proteus of all jazz artists. He has great cool jazz , hard bop, jazz fusion albums. He is multifaceted; there is no genre that can contain this behemoth. I will try my best to categorize his career. Pre-first quintet – for many this is where cool jazz came alive The Complete Birth of the Cool. First quintet - hard bop driven with outstanding improvisations by Miles, Coltrane and Garland, Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Series, Steamin' With the Miles Davis Quintet. Kind of Blue sextet – Kind of Blue is considered by many as the greatest jazz album, the epitome of modal jazz. Its predecessor "Milestones" is fantastic and upbeat. Gil Evans – Miles and orchestral arrangements by the great Gil Evans. Three famous albums, Porgy & Bess, Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain, came out of this great collaboration. Second Quintet – another all star quintet Williams, Hancock, Shorter and Carter. This quintet was more compositionally driven Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, ESP, Nefertiti. Jazz Fusion – Electric miles. SIDE NOTE: If you like the second quintet acoustic side you should try Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note sessions Speak No Evil.
Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Bill Evans has an impressionistic approach to his jazz. His well known trio is the one with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro. They recorded a perfect live session at the Village Vanguard Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961. Chick Corea played piano for Miles Davis ( by now you should know that Miles was a great scout for talent). His style ranges from hard bop to free jazzNow He Sings Now He Sobs. Herbie Hancock was in Miles Davis’ second quintet. Great all around pianist and composer. I really enjoy his Blue Note sessions Maiden Voyage, Speak Like a Child as well as some of his jazz fusion (see below). Both Hancock and Corea had great fusion albums (see below).
I have very few albums that fall in this category of Jazz. It became popular during the 1960s and 1970s. It is an acquired taste. Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, John Coltrane’s Ascension, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Chick Corea, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure.
This genre of Jazz “fuses” rock, funk, and world music. The use of electric instruments is prominent. This is where a rock fan should start when beginning to listen to jazz. Miles Davis has the classic trio of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew [Vinyl], Tribute to Jack Johnson. Chick Corea’s Return to Forever is another great fusion band Light As a Feather. John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra first three albums are great The Inner Mounting Flame. Many jazz enthusiasts like Weather Report. Herbie Hancock’s classic Headhunters is another great place to start Head Hunters.
I hope this gives you some guidance in what to choose next. It is always great to listen to the music samples, even at times it does no justice to the music. ENJOY