Best Jazz Albums
Cool Jazz

Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool

This album is actually a collection of Davis’s three 1949-50 nonet sessions with the unusual instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, alto sax, baritone sax, piano bass and drums. The arrangers included John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Carisi. As 78s, they had more influence on musicians than the public. The texture and voicings of this ensemble definitely had the relaxed feeling of cool, even on classic bebop tunes.

Featured Track: Move

The nonet plays John Lewis’s arrangement of Denzil Best’s bebop classic “Move” at a breakneck tempo, but with an air of cool detachment. Miles and Lee Konitz deliver lyrical solos before the band exchanges fours with Max Roach.

The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of the
Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker

The 1952-53 Mulligan quartet with Chet Baker, Bob Whitlock or Carson Smith on bass and Chico Hamilton or Larry Bunker on drums was an instant hit with the general public. The music was fresh and counterpuntal – at once swinging and lyrical. The group had a profound effect on the major innovators of the cool school.

Featured Track: Motel

Mulligan’s “Motel” which bears some melodic similarities to Monk’a “I Mean You” typifies this quartet’s up-tempo performances. After Mulligan and Chet Baker solo, the baritone saxophonist trades written lines with the drums and then moves into a counterpuntal section with the trumpet.

Art Pepper Plus Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics

Art Pepper was the West Coast star of the alto saxophone, who blew hot and cool. This inspired 1959 album consisted of 12 great modern compositions magnificently arranged by Marty Paich for an 11-piece ensemble. Pepper is the primary soloist and he is stunning.

Featured Track: Walkin’ Shoes

Marty Paich arranges Gerry Mulligan’s “Walkin’ Shoes” with the feel of a big band chart with moving sections. Art Pepper is featured. Jack Sheldon takes a short but delightful solo.

Art Pepper & Chet Baker: Picture of Heath

This 1956 summit meeting of two of Los Angeles’s finest soloists features five Jimmy Heath compositions and two by Pepper. Phil Urso completed the front line and the rhythm section -Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce and Larance Marable – was as good as it gets in L.A. at the time. The aesthetics of this superb session straddles hard bop and cool. Incidentally, the album was first issued as Playboys in 1957, but rights to use Playboy’s name ran out.

Featured Track: C.T.A.

Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A.” is a wonderful line, first recorded by Miles Davis. It would soon become a modern jazz classic recorded Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller among others. This cohesive bright version features solos by Phil Urso, Baker, Pepper, Carl Perkins and Curtis Counce before the horns trade eights with Larance Marable. This sextet sounds like it has been together for years..

Shorty Rogers and His Giants:
The Swinging Mr. Rogers

The prolific Shorty Rogers wrote and arranged for countless West Coast ensemble nonets and big bands in the ‘50s. He led his own quintet throughout the era and the 1954-55 edition with Jimmy Giuffre, Pete Jolly, Curtis Counce and Shelly Manne was his finest. This Atlantic debut album combined great Rogers originals with re-arranged standards.

Featured Track: Martians Go Home

This atmospheric piece opens with a tongue-in-cheek intro with Shelly Manne hi-hat and Pete Jolly’s high note plinks. The attitude is ultra-cool. Jimmy Giuffre takes the first solo on clarinet followed Rogers and Jolly. An interlude of interaction among the bass, piano and drums sets up the closing theme.

Jimmy Giuffre: The Jimmy Giuffre 3

The first trio formed by Giuffre in 1956 was a unique blend of his clarinet and tenor and baritone saxophones, Jim Hsll’s guitar and Ralph Pena’s bass. The music is intimate, almost introverted, but they always swing. Pieces like “The Trane And The River” and “Crawdad Suite” blend folk and country roots into this most modern of ensembles.

Featured Track: The Train And The River

Jimmy Giuffre’s “The Train And The River” has a folkloric quality to it with its dancing melody and almost march-like rhythmic underpinning. Giuffre is heard on clarinet and finally tenor sax, gently purring the melody. Jim Hall’s guitar is the harmonic and rhythmic glue throughout.

Paul Desmond: Take Ten

The first of four gorgeous quartet albums with Jim Hall and Connie Kay is a standout. “Take Ten,” the first of three Desmond originals, is his sequel to “Take Five.” The balance of the albums is filled by beautiful readings of Tin Pan Alley standards and two Brazilian songs by Luis Bonfa. The self-proclaimed slowest alto saxophonist in jazz is lyrical and grace, in other words in fine form.

Featured Track: Nancy With The Laughing Face

Comedian Phil Silvers and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote “Nancy (With The Laughing Face)” for Frank Sinatra soon after the birth of his daughter Nancy. It’s a great song, made even greater in the hands of a lyrical master like Paul Desmond. As usual, Jim Hall, Gene Cherico and Connie Kay provide perfect support.