As this is the inaugural post on the blog, I'll begin with an introduction of sorts. I first listened to jazz in 1996, when I was in seventh grade and joined the Arvida Middle School Jazz Band under the direction of Roger Faulmann. I had been playing trumpet for a year at that point. This band was my first exposure to jazz, though the band did not play much jazz per se (the repertoire was a mostly American popular songs with some oldies and traditional big band charts thrown in for good measure). Besides the borderline-jazz and non-jazz tunes, we played arrangements of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington. So the first jazz I was listening to came from that source. Soon enough, I was broadening my horizons to Miles, Bird, Monk, Trane, and all the other jazz greats one would expect an adventurous neophyte to discover. This continued into high school, where I blossomed into a full-fledged music nerd, playing in multiple bands at Coral Reef Sr. High in Miami, Florida, and developing into a mildly competent jazz trumpeter.
By college I had given up all aspirations of becoming a musician, but used jazz in a research focus for my history degree, writing an undergraduate thesis on the racial politics of hard bop for the history department at the University of Florida. This interest continued at the University of Virginia, where I wrote another thesis (this time for an M.A.) on the discourse of race in the jazz community of the 1960s. before dropping out of grad school with an M.A., I had ambitions of becoming a historian who examined jazz and American culture. I now work in the "real world" at stock market research firm, and have decided to continue writing about jazz on this blog.
I've always had a passion for jazz; for the way it challenged me, surprised me, made me laugh; for the way musicians incorporated disparate elements into their music while stamping out a unique musical identity. I plan on building a catalog of critical writings, discussing jazz of many eras, reviewing books and new albums that come out, and trying to find an answer to the eternal question, "What is jazz?" I hope you'll at least find my posts thoughtful and occasionally thought-provoking.
Because every once in awhile I am asked by friends for a brief primer into jazz, I often think of what to recommend to the nascent jazz listener. I've come up with what I think is a good list to give someone a basic discography on which to build a collection. While I try to keep it broad, I think the list still reveals what I like the most and what I find to be the most important building blocks of jazz, so I include it below to give you an idea of my own tastes. I should note that most was recorded before 1970. This is not because I think good music ceased to be recorded after this point, it is because I feel one should first be introduced to "The Jazz Tradition" (I will address the problems of such a canonization of a tradition and attempt an explanation of the Jazz Tradition in later posts). This allows the listener a better understanding of the context out of which a jazz musician from any era comes. I also try not to repeat artists, so I can include more.
So, acknowledging those caveats, here is my list, in chronological order:
- Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Louis Armstrong
- Decca Recordings, Count Basie
- The Blanton-Webster Band, Duke Ellington
- Yardbird Suite (or any other collection with the mid-'40s sides with Dizzy Gillespie), Charlie Parker
- Moanin', Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
- Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
- The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman
- Monk's Dream, Thelonious Monk
- A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
- Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock
Of course, when I actually make this recommendation, I often double the list so I can include Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan, more Miles and Monk, Bill Evans, etc. But the exercise is no fun if you do not impose any boundaries...
Since the above list excluded everything after 1965 (I was unable to include any fusion on the list, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to narrow it down), I will include a second list of everything since then for the beginning listener who is familiar with The Jazz Tradition.
- Bright Size Life, Pat Metheny
- Standard Time, Vol. 1, Wynton Marsalis
- Soul on Soul, Dave Douglas
- Tonic, Medeski, Martin & Wood
- Whisper Not, Keith Jarrett
- Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, and Elvin Jones
- Prime Directive, Dave Holland Quintet
- Oh!, ScoLoHoFo
- Modernistic, Jason Moran
- House on Hill, Brad Mehldau
That's the introduction. Stay tuned...