7/4

100 Essential Jazz Albums in the New Yorker

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100 Essential Jazz Albums

by David Remnick May 19, 2008

While finishing “Bird-Watcher,” a Profile of the jazz broadcaster and expert Phil Schaap, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of a hundred essential jazz albums, more as a guide for the uninitiated than as a source of quarrelling for the collector. First, I asked Schaap to assemble the list, but, after a couple of false starts, he balked. Such attempts, he said, have been going on for a long time, but “who remembers the lists and do they really succeed in driving people to the source?” Add to that, he said, “the dilemma of the current situation,” in which music is often bought and downloaded from dubious sources. Schaap bemoaned the loss of authoritative discographies and the “troubles” of the digital age, particularly the loss of informative aids like liner notes and booklets. In the end, he provided a few basic titles from Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, and other classics and admitted to a “pyrrhic victory.”

What follows is a list compiled with the help of my New Yorker colleague Richard Brody. These hundred titles are meant to provide a broad sampling of jazz classics and wonders across the music’s century-long history. Early New Orleans jazz, swing, bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz, hard bop, free jazz, third stream, and fusion are all represented, though not equally. We have tried not to overdo it with expensive boxed sets and obscure imports; sometimes it couldn’t be helped. We have also tried to strike a balance between healthy samplings of the innovative giants (Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis, Coltrane, etc.) and the greater range of talents and performances.

Since the nineteen-seventies, jazz has been branching out in so many directions that you would need to list at least another hundred recordings, by the likes of Steve Coleman, Stanley Jordan, Joe Lovano, Jacky Terrasson, John Zorn, David Murray, Avishai Cohen, Béla Fleck, Eliane Elias, Roy Hargrove, Dave Douglas, Matthew Shipp, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Fat Kid Wednesdays, and many, many others. There is a suggestion below of the dazzling scope of contemporary jazz, but the focus is on the classic jazz that is Schaap’s specialty.

1. Fats Waller, “Handful of Keys” (Proper, 2004; tracks recorded 1922-43).

2. King Oliver, “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: The Complete Set” (Challenge, 1997; tracks recorded 1923).

3. Louis Armstrong, “The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings” (Sony, 2006; tracks recorded 1925-29).

4. Louis Armstrong, “The Complete RCA Victor Recordings” (RCA, 2001; tracks recorded 1932-33 and 1946-47).

5. Louis Armstrong, “Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy” (Columbia, 1954).

6. Fletcher Henderson, “Tidal Wave” (Verve, 1994; tracks recorded 1931-1934).

7. Bessie Smith, “The Essential Bessie Smith” (Sony, 1997; tracks recorded 1923-33).

8. Bix Beiderbecke, “The Bix Beiderbecke Story” (Proper, 2003; tracks recorded 1924-30).

9. Django Reinhardt, “The Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order” (JSP, 2000; tracks recorded 1934-39).

10. Jelly Roll Morton, “Jelly Roll Morton: 1926-1930” (JSP, 2000).

11. Sidney Bechet, “The Sidney Bechet Story” (Proper, 2001; tracks recorded 1923-50).

12. Duke Ellington, “The OKeh Ellington” (Sony, 1991—tracks recorded 1927-31).

13. Duke Ellington, “Golden Greats” (Disky, 2002; tracks recorded 1927-48).

14. Duke Ellington, “Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band” (RCA, 2003; tracks recorded 1940-42).

15. Duke Ellington, “Ellington at Newport 1956” (Sony, 1999).

16. Duke Ellington, “Money Jungle” (Blue Note Records, 1962).

17. Coleman Hawkins, “The Essential Sides Remastered, 1929-39” (JSP, 2006).

18. Coleman Hawkins, “The Bebop Years” (Proper, 2001; tracks recorded 1939-49).

19. Billie Holiday, “Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles” (Sony, 2007; tracks recorded 1933-44).

20. Teddy Wilson, “The Noble Art of Teddy Wilson” (ASV Living Era, 2002; tracks recorded 1933-46).

21. Lester Young, “The Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-40” (Mosaic, 2008; available direct through Mosaic).

22. Lester Young, “Kansas City Swing” (Definitive, 2004; tracks recorded 1938-44).

23. Count Basie, “The Complete Decca Recordings” (Verve, 1992; tracks recorded 1937-39).

24. Count Basie, “The Complete Atomic Basie” (Blue Note, 1994; tracks recorded 1958).

25. Benny Goodman, “At Carnegie Hall—1938—Complete” (Columbia, 1999).

26. John Kirby Sextet, “Night Whispers: 1938-46” (Jazz Legends, 2005).

27. Chick Webb, “Stomping at the Savoy” (Proper, 2006; tracks recorded 1931-39).

28. Benny Carter, “3, 4, 5: The Verve Small Group Sessions” (Polygram, 1991; tracks recorded 1954).

29. Charlie Christian, “The Genius of the Electric Guitar” (Definitive, 2005; tracks recorded 1939-41).

30. James P. Johnson, “The Original James P. Johnson: 1942-1945 Piano Solos” (Smithsonian Folkways, 1996).

31. The Nat King Cole Trio, “The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classsics, Vol. 1, 1942-1946” (Blue Note, 1995).

32. Charlie Parker, “The Complete Savoy and Dial Sessions” (Uptown Jazz, 2005; tracks recorded 1944-48).

33. Charlie Parker, “Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve” (Polygram, 1988; tracks recorded 1946-54).

34. Charlie Parker, “Best of the Complete Live Performances on Savoy” (Savoy, 2002; tracks recorded 1948-49).

35. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, “Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945” (Uptown Jazz, 2005).

36. Dizzy Gillespie, “The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, 1947-49” (RCA, 1995).

37. Thelonious Monk, “Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1” (Blue Note, 2001; tracks recorded 1947).

38. Thelonious Monk, “Live at the It Club, 1964” (Sony, 1998).

39. Thelonious Monk, “Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane: The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings” (Riverside, 2006).

40. Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, “Intuition” (Blue Note, 1996; tracks recorded 1949 and 1956).

41. Miles Davis, “The Complete Birth of the Cool” (Blue Note, 1998; tracks recorded 1948-50).

42. Miles Davis, “Bags’ Groove” (Prestige, 1954).

43. Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue” (Sony, 1959).

44. Miles Davis, “Highlights from the Plugged Nickel” (Sony, 1995; tracks recorded 1965).

45. Miles Davis, “Bitches Brew” (Columbia, 1969).

46. Bud Powell, “The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1” (Blue Note, 2001; tracks recorded 1949-1951), Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 2001; tracks recorded 1953).

47. Gerry Mulligan, “The Original Quartet with Chet Baker” (Blue Note, 1998; tracks recorded 1952-53).

48. Modern Jazz Quartet, “Django” (Prestige, 1953).

49. Art Tatum, “The Best of the Pablo Solo Masterpieces” (Pablo, 2003; tracks recorded 1953-56).

50. Clifford Brown and Max Roach, “Clifford Brown & Max Roach” (EmArcy, 1954).

51. Sarah Vaughan, “Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown” (EmArcy, 1954).

52. Charles Mingus, “Mingus at the Bohemia (Debut, 1955).

53. Charles Mingus, “Mingus Ah Um” (Columbia, 1959).

54. Charles Mingus Sextet, “Cornell 1964” (Blue Note, 2007).

55. Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook” (Verve, 1956).

56. Sonny Rollins, “Saxophone Colossus” (Prestige, 1956).

57. Sonny Rollins, “Night at the Village Vanguard” (Blue Note, 1957).

58. Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, “Sonny Meets Hawk!” (RCA, 1963).

59. Tito Puente, “King of Kings: The Very Best of Tito Puente” (RCA, 2002; tracks recorded 1956-60).

60. Sun Ra, “Greatest Hits—Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel” (Evidence, 2000; tracks recorded 1956-73).

61. Abbey Lincoln, “That’s Him” (Riverside, 1957).

62. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, “Moanin’” (Blue Note, 1958).

63. Ahmad Jamal Trio, “Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961” (Verve, 1998).

64. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, “Time Out” (Sony, 1959).

65. Jimmy Witherspoon, “The ’Spoon Concerts” (Fantasy, 1989; tracks recorded 1959).

66. Ornette Coleman, “Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings” (Atlantic, 1993; tracks recorded 1959-61).

67. Ornette Coleman, “Dancing in Your Head” (Horizon, 1973).

68. Freddie Hubbard, “Open Sesame” (Blue Note, 1960).

69. Jimmy Smith, “Back at the Chicken Shack” (Blue Note, 2007; tracks recorded in 1960).

70. Dinah Washington, “First Issue: The Dinah Washington Story” (Polygram, 1993; tracks recorded 1943-61).

71. John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” (Atlantic, 1960).

72. John Coltrane, “The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings” (GRP, 1997; tracks recorded 1961).

73. John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme” (Impulse!, 1964).

74. John Coltrane, “Ascension” (Impulse!, 1965).

75. Eric Dolphy, “Out There” (New Jazz, 1960).

76. Eric Dolphy, “Out to Lunch!” (Blue Note, 1964).

77. Bill Evans, “The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961” (Riverside, 2005).

78. Jackie McLean, “A Fickle Sonance” (Blue Note, 1961).

79. Stan Getz and João Gilberto, “Getz/Gilberto” (Verve, 1963).

80. Dexter Gordon, “Our Man in Paris” (Blue Note, 1963).

81. Andrew Hill, “Smokestack” (Blue Note, 1963).

82. Lee Morgan, “The Sidewinder” (Blue Note, 1963).

83. Albert Ayler, “Spiritual Unity” (ESP, 1964).

84. Archie Shepp, “Four for Trane” (Impulse!, 1964).

85. Horace Silver, “Song for My Father” (Blue Note, 1964).

86. Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ at the Half Note” (Verve, 2005; tracks recorded 1965).

87. Cecil Taylor, “Conquistador!” (Blue Note, 1966).

88. Betty Carter, “Betty Carter’s Finest Hour” (Verve, 2003; tracks recorded 1958-92).

89. Frank Sinatra, “Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie & the Orchestra” (Reprise, 1966).

90. Frank Sinatra, “The Capitol Years” (Capitol, 1990; tracks recorded 1953-62).

91. Nina Simone, “Sugar in My Bowl: The Very Best of Nina Simone, 1967-1972” (RCA, 1998).

92. Pharoah Sanders, “Karma” (Impulse!, 1969).

93. Chick Corea, “Return to Forever” (ECM, 1972).

94. Keith Jarrett, “The Köln Concert, 1975” (ECM, 1999).

95. World Saxophone Quartet, “World Saxophone Quartet Plays Duke Ellington” (Nonesuch, 1986).

96. Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, “Steal Away” (Polygram, 1995).

97. Joshua Redman Quartet, “Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard” (Warner Bros., 1995).

98. Cassandra Wilson, “Traveling Miles” (Blue Note, 1999).

99. Wynton Marsalis Septet, “Live at the Village Vanguard” (Sony, 1999).

100. The Bill Charlap Trio, “Live at the Village Vanguard” (Blue Note, 2007).

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So...all the "essential" jazz recordings of the last 30-40 years have been on American "major" labels?

Wow. Who knew?

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This is in some ways a better list of this type than many I have read. In my opinion, its flaws illustrate the futility of making these lists at all.

Who is the perceived audience for these lists, anyway? I can hardly imagine that there are scores of neophyte jazz listeners using these lists to assemble their budding jazz collections.

To me, this is another one of those lazy space fillers that substitutes for genuine jazz writing. Other examples of this space filler tendency include the ever popular "is jazz dead?"/"is jazz coming back" series of articles (as was pointed out years ago by Gary Giddins).

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Who is the perceived audience for these lists, anyway? I can hardly imagine that there are scores of neophyte jazz listeners using these lists to assemble their budding jazz collections.

The kind of people who read the New Yorker, obviously.

These are people who love the witty cartoons, the political writing, don't mind reading the long articles, who can afford the expensive crap that's advertised and want to explore Jazz. They probably also go to the Opera and subscribe to PBS.

Maybe they'll even start listening to WKCR and hear some live Jazz in NYC.

Maybe they"ll hear some Jazz that isn't being performed in Manhattan - off to Brooklyn!

Edited by 7/4

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Anything that kindles or stokes an interest in jazz is a good thing, even a list that every member of Organissimo will have issue with.

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So...all the "essential" jazz recordings of the last 30-40 years have been on American "major" labels?

Wow. Who knew?

The list is not of "all the essential jazz albums". It is a list of 100 essential jazz albums.

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This is in some ways a better list of this type than many I have read. In my opinion, its flaws illustrate the futility of making these lists at all.

Who is the perceived audience for these lists, anyway? I can hardly imagine that there are scores of neophyte jazz listeners using these lists to assemble their budding jazz collections.

To me, this is another one of those lazy space fillers that substitutes for genuine jazz writing. Other examples of this space filler tendency include the ever popular "is jazz dead?"/"is jazz coming back" series of articles (as was pointed out years ago by Gary Giddins).

I pretty much agree with the above. As far as who would buy these recordings I wonder. I much as its important that a lot of these recordings are not forgotten its also seems to make Jazz appear as a museum piece instead of a vibrant and current experience. Why can't we have more current artists on these lists?

fwiw, I love the New Yorker, don't have blue hair, don't buy the expensive shit in the ads or go to the opera and know about every single item on that list.

Edited by WorldB3

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My biggest quibble is probably with the "Complete Birth of the Cool" being listed over the RVG version, which sounds MUCH better. I do have the "Complete," but just for the live tracks.

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People need an entry point, and I think this list does a reasonable job. But Genius of Modern Music v. 1 over v. 2? I don't know...

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Some of those not in the list:

Oscar Peterson

Art Pepper

Cannonball Adderley

Gene Ammons

Woody Herman

Jimmie Lunceford

Stan Kenton

Roy Eldridge

Ben Webster

Lionel Hampton

Lee Konitz

Hank Mobley

Shelly Manne

Earl Hines

Fats Navarro

Artie Shaw

neither Kenny Burrell nor Grant Green nor Barney Kessel

Lou Donaldson

Soul jazz doesn't seem to have happened at all (except for one Jimmy Smith album). Neither does West Coast Jazz. Nothing from the Condonite scene either. It is admittedly difficult to put together a list like this. At least it was about jazz.

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Odd to mention Fat Kid Wednesdays in that article. I am all for the hometown boys, but man, tops in the last 30 years includes them over 100s of others?

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These lists will never make anyone happy.

The list hits most of the obvious, but there’s many oddities. Pharoah Sanders’ Karma? Ornette’s Dancing in Your Head? Why only volume 1 of Monk, when there’s a box set?

On the other hand, thumbs up for picking Money Jungle, Open Sesame and Conquistador!

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Once you own a few thousand jazz discs, picking your top 100 is a waste of time, even if you don't share your list with anyone.

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I wonder if there's ever been anyone on the planet who has made a point of purchasing all of the "essental" whatevers from any published list. It would make funny Onion article: Financial Planner Buys All One Hundred Essential Jazz Albums."

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This is a pretty strange list, even as these sorts of things go . . . I didn't see any Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock . . . and the one Andrew Hill album is "Smokestack"? Really?

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Is Hank Mobley really THAT obscure?

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Is Hank Mobley really THAT obscure?

Yes.

.

Edited by 7/4

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I wonder if there's ever been anyone on the planet who has made a point of purchasing all of the "essental" whatevers from any published list. It would make funny Onion article: Financial Planner Buys All One Hundred Essential Jazz Albums."

Here is an actual Onion piece on a jazz box set:

Five-Disc Jazz Anthology Still Unopened

June 11, 2003 | Issue 39•22

LOUISVILLE, KY—A five-disc jazz-anthology box set, lovingly assembled to give novices an appreciation and understanding of the uniquely American art form, remains unopened nearly two years after its purchase, sources reported Monday.

"Yeah, I should really give that a spin one of these days," said Marc Bergkamp, 29, who in July 2001 purchased Ken Burns Jazz: The Story Of American Music for $69.99. "I just haven't had the time to sit down and go through it. I was thinking about putting it on this weekend while I clean my apartment, but jazz isn't really cleaning music. I need something a little more rocking, like The White Stripes or something."

Bergkamp purchased the deluxe box set after watching a portion of an episode of the 10-part, 19-hour Ken Burns Jazz documentary on PBS.

"I'd always meant to buy more jazz, but every time I went record shopping, there'd be something I wanted more," Bergkamp said. "Finally, after seeing the thing on PBS, I decided to commit to getting some. I went down to Tower [Records] to get a Miles Davis CD, but there were, like, dozens of them, not to mention all these 40-disc Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel—1965 box sets or whatever. I ended up buying an Ornette Coleman CD, since I knew he's supposed to be pretty important, but that ended up being a total mistake. So a few days later, I went back for the Burns box."

Continued Bergkamp: "Even though I haven't cracked it open, I've looked over the list of artists included. It seems like there are some pretty big names on there, people I should really try to force myself to know."

Despite his lack of familiarity with jazz, Bergkamp said he has listened to it on numerous occasions over the years.

"One of my friends in college made me a mix tape that I used to play while I studied," Bergkamp said. "Unfortunately, she didn't write down any of the people. I'm pretty sure there were a couple of John Coltrane songs on there, but I don't know which ones. Ever since then, if I'm just chilling out reading a magazine, I'll put on a jazz station, but I never really catch who plays what."

By purchasing the anthology, Bergkamp said he hoped to broaden his musical horizons, as well as improve his romantic life.

"Girls love guys who are into jazz," Bergkamp said. "Knowing about, like, Thelonious Monk makes you look all sophisticated and soulful. Next time there's some chick I want to score with, I'm sure the box set will do the trick, but I really should take off the shrink wrap before I bring her home. I don't want it to look like I bought it just to impress her."

Bergkamp said he sees his purchase as a sign of his growing maturity.

"I feel like I'm at an age where's I'm too old to just like rock and rap and R&B," Bergkamp said. "I still really prefer it, but to have a few Charles Mingus CDs in your CD collection is a nice way to make you feel like more of an adult. Plus, if I ever feel like listening to something without lyrics, it's there."

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I wonder if there's ever been anyone on the planet who has made a point of purchasing all of the "essental" whatevers from any published list. It would make funny Onion article: Financial Planner Buys All One Hundred Essential Jazz Albums."

Here is an actual Onion piece on a jazz box set:

Five-Disc Jazz Anthology Still Unopened

June 11, 2003 | Issue 39•22

LOUISVILLE, KY—A five-disc jazz-anthology box set, lovingly assembled to give novices an appreciation and understanding of the uniquely American art form, remains unopened nearly two years after its purchase, sources reported Monday.

Classic!

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I think Noj appreciates that last line. :rofl:

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...

By purchasing the anthology, Bergkamp said he hoped to broaden his musical horizons, as well as improve his romantic life.

"Girls love guys who are into jazz," Bergkamp said. "Knowing about, like, Thelonious Monk makes you look all sophisticated and soulful. Next time there's some chick I want to score with, I'm sure the box set will do the trick, but I really should take off the shrink wrap before I bring her home. I don't want it to look like I bought it just to impress her."

:unsure::excited::w

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I haven't read much Onion, but everything I have read has been very, very clever indeed. To quote Stitt, "this shit ain't easy, baby".

MG

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