100 Essential &
Best Jazz Albums Of All Time

 

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“Jazz and the phonograph were made for each other. Without the medium of recording, a music so defined by spontaneity of invention, individuality of instrumental sound, and rhythmic complexity that defies musical notation could not have been so rapidly or wholly disseminated, nor lent itself to rehearing, studying, and copying. Without recordings, jazz might have remained a temporary regional phenomenon.” – Dan Morgenstern, Living With Jazz

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY
SOMETHIN’ ELSE
One of the best jazz album dates in the history of modern jazz, the chemistry among Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones and Art Blakey is amazing. Their radical reworkings of “Autumn Leaves” and “Love For Sale” are essentials.

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY
KNOW WHAT I MEAN?
A memorable 1962 reunion between Adderley and Bill Evans with Percy Heath and Connie Kay. Beautiful versions of Evans’s “Waltz For Debby,” Clifford Jordan’s “Toy” and Phil Silvers’s “Nancy (With The Laughing Face).”

GENE AMMONS
BOSS TENOR
Ammons’ signature album, thanks in part to the success of his version of “Canadian Sunset”, features his magnificent, commanding big-toned tenor on seven blues and ballads supported by the first class rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor and Ray Barretto.

Louis Armstrong
The Complete Hot Fives & Sevens

The most essential jazz music ever made. All 80 tracks by Louis’ Hot Five and Hot Seven (1925-28) with Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Lil Armstrong and Earl Hines.

Featured Track: Hotter Than That

By the time we get to “Hotter Than That” from late 1927, the New Orleans ensemble sound is mostly gone. It is now a string of solos from start to finish, Armstrong opening the proceedings and setting the bar high on this romp based on the chord changes to “Bill Bailey.” Clarinetist Dodds and trombonist Ory contribute exciting outings but both sound primitive after Armstrong’s seamless brand of swing. In the middle of the record, we hear Armstrong’s distinct voice for the first time in a stunning display of scat singing.

The Louis Armstrong song “Heebie Jeebies” had put scat on the map  but he turns the “nonsense singing” into high art here during his duet with special guest Lonnie Johnson, another New Orleans native and a pioneer guitarist.

In the final chorus, Armstrong uncorks a spiraling ascending phrase before hammering home a two-note riff over and over, foreshadowing a decade’s worth of big band writing that would follow his achievements in shaping jazz of the 1920s. Armstrong’s playing was now stimulated by younger contemporaries who grasped his concept on how to solo and how to swing. Having transformed jazz from an ensemble-based music into a soloist’s art, Armstrong bid adieu to the original Hot Five shortly after this session.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND KING OLIVER
Oliver’s 18 landmark 1923 Gennett recordings with Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin, Johnny Dodds and Baby Dodds, as well as 7 Gennett/ Paramount tunes by the Red Onion Jazz Babies with Louis.

CHET BAKER QUARTET WITH RUSS FREEMAN 1953
The trumpeter’s first quartet included the essential Russ Freeman as pianist and musical director. All 25 tracks recorded by this quartet in July and October of 1953 are gathered on this one CD. Freeman’s dazzling themes and his hard driving piano are the perfect foil for Chet’s personal, lyrical trumpet style. Always an instinctive player, Baker’s solos flow with one melodic idea after another.

THE BEST OF CHET BAKER SINGS
The classic album “Chet Baker Sings” which introduced Chet’s vulnerable vocal style is presented with greatly improved sound and six added tracks, all by the quartet with Russ Freeman. Includes “Let’s Get Lost”, “But Not For Me”, “My Funny Valentine”, “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and 16 more.

CHET BAKER & ART PEPPER
PICTURE OF HEATH
Originally titled “Playboys,” this hard swinging 1956 session features Chet and Art Pepper with Phil Urso, Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce and Lawrence Marable on seven superb Pepper and Jimmy Heath compositions.

Count Basie
The Complete Decca Recordings

The first recordings by this trend setting orchestra that set new and uniquely individual standards because of the highly superior improvisors including Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Benny Morton and, naturally, the “All American Rhythm Section”, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones and leader Basie. The arrangements (many of the classics by trombonist / guitarist Eddie Durham) and the execution of these arrangements, make these recordings some of the greatest during the Swing Era or of any era. Top that off with two top vocalists with their display of blues and pop tunes, Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes.

Featured Track: Swingin’ The Blues

Just one of the many classic Basie Decca sides that stayed in the Basie book for many years. Basie starts in and then solos by both Pres and Herschel plus the newcomer in the band Sweets Edison are showcased and then the band trades riffs with some magnificent drum breaks by Jo Jones.

COUNT BASIE
THE ATOMIC BASIE
On October 21 and 22, 1957, Basie’s band, sounding better than ever, went into the studio to cut 11 new volcanic Neal Hefti charts. Every tune became a classic, changing the course of this great band and this gifted composer-arranger. One of his best jazz albums.

COUNT BASIE
BASIE AT BIRDLAND
June 1961. The atomic band at its peak, off the road and playing at the club they call home – it doesn’t get any better. Basie kicks off most tunes, tiptoeing around the melody to find the perfect tempo. Then BAM! Sonny Payne brings that glorious, roaring big band in swinging mercilessly.

BIX BEIDERBECKE AND THE CHICAGO CORNETS
Twenty-eight Gennett recordings, including all 15 Bix sides with The Wolverines, four others by Bix, and Muggsy Spanier’s Bucktown Five recordings, all from 1924-25.

SIDNEY BECHET
BEST OF THE BLUE NOTE YEARS
Eighteen of Bechet’s greatest performances from 1939 to ’53 including “Summertime”, “Muskrat Ramble”, “Jelly Roll” and “Black And Blue” with such sidemen as Wild Bill Davison, Albert Nicholas, Art Hodes, Joe Sullivan, Pops Foster and Big Sid Catlett.

ART BLAKEY
A NIGHT AT BIRDLAND
On the evening of February 22, 1954, Blue Note recorded Art Blakey’s quintet at Birdland and the jazz landscape changed forever. Art Blakey, already the most exciting drummer in modern jazz, established himself as a bandleader with an ear for young talent. Trumpeter Clifford Brown, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and pianist/composer Horace Silver became major players on the scene. One of the best live jazz albums.

ART BLAKEY
MOANIN’
Art Blakey’s most successful album gave us Bobby Timmons’s “Moanin’” and Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” and “Blues March,” tunes so powerful that Blakey played them almost every night for the next 30 years. This beautifully performed and recorded session made the Jazz Messengers a jazz institution and put Golson, Timmons and Morgan to the forefront of jazz.

Art Blakey
Mosaic

This is a remarkable album is by the most explosive edition of the Jazz Messengers. Blakey had just expanded the group to be a sextet, adding trombone, and found himself with four phenomenal composers. The originals include Cedar Walton’s intricate title tune played with fire and brilliance, Wayne Shorter’s “Children Of The Night,” Curtis Fuller’s “Arabia” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Crisis” and “Down Under.”  The band swings relentlessly and executes each piece to its full potential. One of the most memorable records of an amazing era.

Featured Track: Mosaic

Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic” is a multi-layered and multi-sectional composition that this ensemble nails with ease. Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton all solo in their distinctive styles, leading up to a tour-de-force drum solo. Every solo on this piece is superb, but it is worthy pointing out the amazing technique and execution required to pull a solo like Curtis’s on the trombone

CLIFFORD BROWN
MEMORIAL ALBUM
This astonishing trumpeter was fluid, fiery and fully formed on his first two sessions in 1953, a quintet with Lou Donaldson and Elmo Hope and a sextet with Gigi Gryce, Charlie Rouse and John Lewis. Includes a stunning “Easy Living” and great compositions like “Wail Bait”, “Hymn Of The Orient”, “Carvin’ The Rock” and “Brownie Speaks”.

DAVE BRUBECK
TIME OUT
The experiment with time signatures that became one of the most popular jazz recordings in history. With Paul Desmond, Gene Wright and Joe Morello. Includes “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” On everyone’s list of best jazz albums.

KENNY BURRELL
MIDNIGHT BLUE
Without piano, Burrell, Stanley Turrentine and company get a clean open sound and a deep groove on such now classic jazz music compositions as the title tune and “Chitlins Con Carne”, which has become a blues band staple. A masterpiece from first note to last.

SERGE CHALOFF
BLUE SERGE
One of the original four brothers in the Herman Herd, Chaloff was a pioneer of the modern baritone saxophone. This is his finest album, recorded in 1956 with Sonny Clark, Leroy Vinnegar and Philly Joe Jones. He gives his horn buoyancy on beautiful solo flights through standards like “A Handful Of Stars” and “All The Things You Are” as well as jazz tunes like Al Cohn’s “The Goof And I.”

DONALD BYRD
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
The idea of a jazz group and vocal chorus is an unlikely one. But what Donald Byrd and Duke Pearson accomplished in this 1963 session was more than an innovative experiment. It is music of exquisite beauty typified by the classic “Cristo Redentor.” Hank Mobley, Kenny Burrell and Herbie Hancock are among the sidemen.

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN
THE GENIUS OF THE ELECTRIC GUITAR
A pioneer and one of the greatest jazz guitarists, the innovative Charlie Christian wrote the template on his instrument for next forty years. This essential set with great sound contains the complete Columbia masters and alternate takes by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Christian and either Lionel Hampton or Cootie Williams as well as tracks with Goodman’s orchestra and the Metronome All-Stars.

NAT KING COLE
THE KING COLE TRIO
The King Cole Trio with Oscar Moore and Johnny Miller was the epitome of taste and creativity. They used the piano-guitar-bass combination to retool everything from be-bop to hit pop. These three volumes cover the best of the group from 1942-50 with 18 stunning instrumentals and 44 vocals of great variety.

ORNETTE COLEMAN
CHANGE OF THE CENTURY
The second album by the phenomenal quartet of Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins (October 1959). They breathed and swung as one on such Ornette classics as “Ramblin’” and “Una Muy Bonita”.

ORNETTE COLEMAN
THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME
After introducing his striking saxophone and composing style on two Contemporary albums, Ornette found the perfect ensemble with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. The music on their first album, made in May 1959, is bold, joyful, adventurous and refreshing. An essential jazz album that ranks as one of the best free jazz albums.

ORNETTE COLEMAN
TOWN HALL CONCERT
On this 1962 farewell concert (he retired for three years thereafter), Coleman introduced his amazing trio with David Izenson and Charles Moffett. His heart-wrenching, plaintive alto soaring above Izenson’s bowed bass on “Sadness” is among the most powerful music ever recorded.

ORNETTE COLEMAN
THE COMPLETE SCIENCE FICTION SESSIONS
The great ’71-72 sessions, issued on “Science Fiction” and “Broken Shadows”, have been called his creative rebirth. The original quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins and a quintet with Dewey Redman, Bobby Bradford, Haden and Ed Blackwell perform three tunes each. Then they combine for four powerful septet performances. The writing and playing is electrifying.

JOHN COLTRANE
BLUE TRAIN
His first great jazz album masterpiece with Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. All of Coltrane’s compositions are classics. The superbly executed and blended ensembles have a haunting quality and each solo is a memorable treasure.

JOHN COLTRANE
GIANT STEPS
Coltrane crystallized his “sheets of sound” and introduced his best known compositions on this groundbreaking 1959 Atlantic album, with rhythm sections led by Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly and Cedar Walton.

JOHN COLTRANE
MY FAVORITE THINGS
This is the album that introduced and defined the sound of the great Coltrane quartet with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. And modern jazz music was never the same. Their radical reworkings of four standards are breathtaking.

JOHN COLTRANE
LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD – THE MASTER TAKES
Five legendary November 1961 Village Vanguard performances by the quartet chosen by Coltrane for the release at the time. The three tracks from “Live At The Village Vanguard” plus two from “Impressions.” These are some of the most influential and exciting pieces of Coltrane’s career. Eric Dolphy is added to the quartet on “Spiritual” and “India.”

John Coltrane
Crescent

At once serene and exploratory, this exquisite masterpiece by the classic quartet is perfectly constructed and executed. Coltrane’s five compositions are varied and among the finest that he ever wrote. The music is rich in texture but in a rarified air as four master musicians listen intently to each other and create sublime interaction. Many consider this to be the greatest album by this band. Includes “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Bessie’s Blues.”

Featured Track: Lonnie’s Lament

The somber but beautiful melody of “Lonnie’s Lament” is played by Coltrane over rubato accompaniment by McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. They move into straight time for McCoy’s solo, a brilliant series of variations on the composition. Jimmy Garrison takes a long, unaccompanied solo/ before Coltrane comes back in for the melody. It makes no difference that Trane doesn’t solo. The quartet itself is the voice of this album.

JOHN COLTRANE
A LOVE SUPREME
Not only one of Coltrane’s most important recordings, but also one of the most greatest jazz albums ever made. This four-part suite by the classic quartet exudes inner peace. The second CD of the deluxe edition contains the only live version of the suite (Antibes, July 1965), an alternate take of “Resolution” and two takes of “Acknowledgement” from the aborted sextet session, made the next day with Archie Shepp and Art Davis added to the quartet. Mastered by Rudy Van Gelder.