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9 of Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits

Except for some lean years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank Sinatra was one of the greatest entertainers of all time and was able to find popularity like no one else of his generation. Frank was the master when it came to the singing of a ballad. He understood and gave meaning to the lyrics as he would by being a storyteller.

This was especially true with, what he would call, his “saloon songs” – songs of heartbreak and pain. And although he wasn’t a jazz singer (and by that I mean he didn’t scat or take incredible liberties of a song’s melody) he sure did know how to swing and his favorites included Billie Holiday, Lester Young and for phrasing Tommy Dorsey. To give you an outline of Sinatra’s years, we have songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Billy Vera expounding on the life along with musical examples. Billy covers it all and brings out key elements of this magical performer. – Scott Wenzel

Bix Beiderbecke

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard of Bix Beiderbecke, but I do know when I first heard him play on record. A “scroll” Victor 78 I picked up in my pre-teen years at our church’s Thrift Shop gave me access to hearing Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra performing Tom Satterfield’s arrangement of “You Took Advantage Of Me” with Bix and Frank Trumbauer trading bars in a spectacular solo section before an uncredited Bing Crosby, still an unknown in 1928, delivers a joyous vocal.

In a short span of time, 1924 to 1931, Bix was the catalyst for bringing a new sound to the still very young music called jazz. In an era where jazz was supposed to be “hot”, he paved the way for it to be “cool”. – Scott Wenzel

Away From The Spaceways: John Gilmore

David Brent Johnson devotes this one-hour Night Lights to the brilliant but underrated tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. The reason for his obscurity is that most of his musical life was spent as a sideman with Sun Ra. He left the Ra Arkestra in 1964 & ’65 to freelance. The fact that he found work with Paul Bley, Andrew Hill, Grant Green, McCoy Tyner, Elmo Hope, Pete LaRoca and Art Blakey during that short time gives us an idea of how highly he was regard by his fellow musicians. – Michael Cuscuna

Count Basie on Art Tatum
1980 Interview with Oscar Peterson

An interview with Oscar Peterson acting as host to Count Basie in a 1980 BBC television program “Words & Music”. The subject is Art Tatum and the conversation is a delight – I could listen to both of these giants all day. – Scott Wenzel

Extraordinary Jazz Guitarists

Eddie Lang was the first to bring the guitar to jazz. He gave it a voice as a solo instrument in popular music, and was for two decades the acknowledged master of the instrument influencing a generation of jazz guitarists who followed him. Lang’s highly advance technical, harmonic and rhythmic skills saw him literally write the textbook for the modern jazz guitar method. – Mike Peters, the author of The Django Reinhardt Anthology

Read Mile Peter’s essay on Eddie Lang and additional essays on five other great jazz guitarists.

18 Individual Voices of Jazz Piano

Unlike wind or plucked string instruments, the piano can’t “vocalize”, but real jazz pianists have devised ways to simulate vocal sounds, particularly when playing blues. The key factor in all this is style. Notice how jazz piano styles gradually changed from stride piano, and gradually evolved to where there are jazz pianists who play in a free style that many question whether it is jazz at all. – Dick Katz

Interview with Jackie McLean (by Steve Lehman)

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, once a student of Jackie McLean’s sat down for an interview with him in 2000. He wanted to weight the conversation to Jackie’s compositions, influences and creative process. He succeeded in a wonderful interview, now posted on Ethan Iverson’s Do the Math blog.

Art Under Attack
Radio City Music Hall Jam Session
July 3, 1972

Featuring Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Red Norvo, Bud Freeman, Teddy Wilson, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley

Michael Steinman was lucky enough to be present at the Newport Jazz Festival’s midnight jam session at Radio City Music Hall back on a July 3rd in 1972. Michael had the wherewithal to bring a cassette recorder in the house for this star studded affair. However, there was some controversy in the NY Times a few days later as Don Heckman belittles Gene Krupa…I think unfairly. What do you think? – Scott Wenzel

Lennie Tristano
Upcoming Release

Even in a world shaped by iconoclastic creative geniuses, Lennie Tristano stood out. He applied his prodigious technique to new ways of creating improvised jazz. He often altered the roles of the left and right hands on the piano, built original chord sequences and gave rhythm a flexibility. He even performed completely free jazz in the late ‘40s. He built a deep empathy with his sidemen which was necessary to keep his music fresh and intuitive.

Despite the accolades he received after arriving in New York in 1946, winning the Metronome poll, the support of artists like Charlie Parker and recording opportunities with Keynote and Capitol, Tristano developed a reputation as a great teacher, sharing his rhythmic and harmonic theories with his students.
In some ways, his performances and recording took a back seat to his teaching goals.

Nonetheless, Lennie Tristano led a variety of groups and continued to record and perform live when opportunities presented themselves. This 6-CD set of previously unreleased material from Lennie’s personal tape collection chronicles his growth and accomplishments from 1946 to 1970.

Carol Tristano carefully curated this set of her father’s music and separated great performances by context. The 6 discs cover his early trio with Billy Bauer, his superhuman solo piano work, the sextet with Konitz and Marsh, the ‘50s trio with Peter Ind, duets with Sonny Dallas and live material from the Half Note in 1962. There’s never been a more comprehensive portrait of this genius.

(Not yet available for preorder. Released date mid-November)

George Wein

George Wein who died this week at 95 years old was an extraordinary person, who was often misunderstood. He loved music and wine and lived his life in pursuit of both on the highest level. He was a restless pianist who ended up being a club owner, record producer, concert promoter and festival creator/director. Some complained about not getting on one tour or another and others griped about being held to 50 minutes stage time. But those were disciplines that came with the job.

George’s taste were traditional, but he was a prime promoter in the careers of trailblazers like Miles Davis, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and so many more. He loved musicians and he loved the road. He also built an amazing international staff with people like Marie St. Louis,  Simone Ginibre, John Philips and Danny Melmick who dedicated their lives to pulling off great events and treating musicians with love and kindness.

George was also fortunate to share a life with his wife Joyce who had many skills and complimented George and his musical activities seamlessly. Joyce passed away in 2005. His most cherished times were those shared with Joyce over food (she was a gourmet cook) and music and memories over experiences like playing piano for Lester Young for a week at Storyville in the early ‘50s. He was a no-bullshit delight and a generous soul. – Michael Cuscuna

Benny Goodman
DownBeat Interview

What a brilliant insight about the man and musician Benny Goodman back in 1964 when he was only 55. One of the ways to describe Benny Goodman’s persona is that jazz and the clarinet was of paramount importance and foremost in his mind. To back it up, this article, from a 1964 Down Beat written by Marian McPartland, is a most insightful and thoughtful expose of The King of Swing. There are quotes from many of Benny’s sidemen with examples of his quirky personality. – Scott Wenzel

Mosaic Records
Open House

This will be our final open house since we will be closing the office (the palace shown above) and working-from-home like many businesses these days. During the pandemic we found the business could operate efficiently primarily since we contracted out the warehouse functions a number of years ago and the software programs can now all be accessed remotely.

Sale Items:
Out-of-print Mosaic Sets
Partial Mosaic Sets
Over 125 out-of-print Mosaic booklets
Specially priced Francis Wolff Fine Art Prints and 8 x 10 prints.
Out-of-print Jazz CDs, boxed sets, LPs, 78s, DVDs and books.

Dates & Location
Thursday/Friday/Sat. Sept. 23-25 ; 11:00-5:00
425 Fairfield Avenue
Suite 421 (second floor)
Stamford CT 06902

Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal is first and foremost a pianist with a natural gift for the instrument. His technique, dynamics and control are something to behold, but the mind that manipulates what comes out of the piano is extraordinary. – Michael Cuscuna

Visit our Ahmad Jamal page which includes an interview with Kenny Washington and an excellent 35-minute Parisian performance that comes from the same 1971 tour that produced Ahmad Jamal’s live Montreux concert issued on Impulse.

Big Band Bird: Charlie Parker

Nightlights highlights a tandem not often thought of when discussing the music of Charlie Parker…his work with big band. David Brent Johnson explores the many instances where Bird was a young sideman with Jay McShann’s band and his work on Verve and guest starring with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Great show and an appropriate tribute, although not noted as such, to the recently departed Bird afficionado Phil Schaap. – Scott Wenzel

Jazz Store

While a substantial amount of music is unavailable on CD and LP, there are some gems that are either newly discovered material or reissued with improved sound and packaging. And jazz journalism, biographies and photographic archives have improved measurably in the past 60 years and set off a bonanza of well-done books on jazz from every vantage point. We have combed thru Amazon for CDs, LPs and Books that are currently in-print and our recommendations can be found by clicking image above.

If you click thru and purchase items on Amazon, we earn commissions. Thank you very much for your support!

A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle

54 years after his passing, people are still coming up with dramatic audio discoveries from legacy of John Coltrane. This one is a real surprise because we all thought we’d released everything from September 1965 at the Penthouse in Seattle. Now comes another live version of “A Love Supreme” from that gig with Pharoah Sanders, bassist Donald Garrett and alto saxophonist Carlos Ward. An astounding find since Trane had played his suite live only one other time at Antibes in July. – Michael Cuscuna

Listen to NPR interview with Nate Chinen and track sample.

Phil Schaap

Phil Schaap, a fixture on the New York jazz scene for more than 50 years, succumbed to cancer on Tuesday, August 7 after a hard-fought four-year battle with the disease. His daily morning show “Bird Flight” on WKCR was an institution, shaped by his deep love of Charlie Parker’s music and his amazing memory for music and details. Programs could range from a two-hour lecture on minutiae on a specific day in Brid’s life to debuting newly discovered live music by Parker.

Phil was also an educator, historian and reissue producer on such high profile box sets like the Complete Verve recordings of Charlie Parker, the Complete Miles Davis-Gil Evans Studio Sessions and the Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker. Above all, he was a great friend who was generous with his knowledge and who could take himself seriously one minute and laugh at himself the next. He will be missed in so many ways. – Michael Cuscuna

Read New Yorker article about Phil Schaap from 2008.

The Artistry Of Elvin Jones

How is it that Elvin can play just quarter notes on the whole drum set with both hands and feet in unison as he might do at times for several choruses and light up the stage and entire audience? Even the casual listener is drawn into his vortex and aura. One only has to look at the expression on his face, the sheer joy and light he spreads with that famous grin of his to realize that this is one very special human being with a power that reaches far beyond the music itself… – Dave Liebman (click image for more)

Carla Bley in the Hall of Fame

Right in time for her 85th birthday, Carla Bley tops the DownBeat 69th International Critics Poll and becomes their choice for the DownBeat Hall of Fame. About time, don’t you think?

Suzanne Lorge in her celebratory piece, Carla Bley: The Voice, charts the composer’s travels through 60 years of jazzdom, from her hanging with the New York avant-garde, composing for everyone from George Russell to Gary Burton, into her own big bands and orchestras, captivation of soul and R&B and back again toward chamber trios and duos. Not to mention her decades of recording, touring and entrepreneurship (with Michael Mantler) in record labels and distribution. And to this day, she doesn’t stop. Whew!

Back in 1970, there was an evening where Carla unknowingly opened my ears, eyes and my world, like she would for countless others over the years. I not so innocently  stumbled past a “Closed Session! Do not enter!” sign at the RCA Studios having no idea what this “Jazz Composer’s Orchestra” was, but as a young rock’n’roller looking for more I was interested in whatever ‘jazz’ was. The giant studio floor was completely filled with musicians –sure, a rhythm section, but also cello, clarinet, tuba, a whole orchestra, wait, is that Don Cherry?!– and I had no idea that this was an early session for what would unfold as the three LP opera (operas were back in vogue after The Who’s Tommy) Escalator over the Hill. It sure didn’t sound like jazz that night, but boy was it intriguing.

A little later I overcame the indignity of Carla calling my college radio show when I admitted to chatting with friends during the New York radio debut of Escalator when she and Mantler invited me to become the packing assistant at their ground breaking New Music Distribution Service. And again when they asked me to do sound and road manager her first ever tour across the United States. Across every venture I was honored to witness, her open ended musical curiosity and open heart for the disenfranchised was mind expanding to anyone who would listen.

Once at NMDS, when we suggested dropping artist owned lines who barely sold but took just as much administration as the Philip Glass hits or the ECM releases, Carla admonished us.

“My music was rejected by everyone, always! We started NMDS to help all the artists that no one else wants. How about this? If someone sells at least one album a year, we keep distributing their line?” And that was it. From then on we all knew what it was all about.

Carla Bley stood for the artist and the art. What else is there? – Fred Seibert

Interview with Jackie McLean (by Steve Lehman)

Ethan Iverson has unearthed and published a 2000 interview of Jackie McLean on his Do The Math site. Saxophonist Steve Lehman, a former Jackie Mac student, conducted this extensive review asking astute questions that prompted a lot of memories and insight.

Chronology: Quincy Jones in the 1950s

Jazz Times has published “Jazz From Detroit ‘ author Mark Stryker’s perceptive study of Quincy Jones’ singular arranging work in the ‘50s.

Mosaic Set: Paul Desmond – Running Low

With a rhythm section that suited his every need, a renewed Paul Desmond delivered some of the best performances of his career. The repertoire consisted of standards, Brazilian songs, jazz classics and originals that the alto saxophonist loved to play throughout his career, challenging himself to breathe new life into material in his comfort zone.

The acclaimed journalist Doug Ramsey was one of Desmond’s closest friends and his biographer. He provides an insightful essay into Paul Desmond, the person as well as the artist and notes for these amazing sessions, half of which are unreleased.

Please order your set today! Once we run out of current supplies the set will no longer be available.

Maynard Ferguson with Stan Kenton on The Ed Sullivan Show-December 3, 1950

Here’s an early Ed Sullivan Show (at the time it was still “Toast of the Town”) from December 3, 1950 with Stan Kenton and his orchestra with solos by Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Milt Bernhart and Maynard Ferguson. Considering Stan’s taste in jackets for the band, we should be thankful this is in black & white. – Scott Wenzel

The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer

I was not aware of Dottie Dodgion until I was sent an email by one of our Mosaic customers, Wayne Enstice. She is a 91 year old drummer and vocalist and worked with Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman and others. Her musical experience is told in a new book titled “The Lady Swings; Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer”. Further information can be gleaned from the University of Illinois Press website. – Scott Wenzel

Bix Society

Among the many “fan clubs” of jazz artists, the Bix Society is a strong one and here is their website that also includes the Bix Festival that went virtual last year. – Scott Wenzel

Half Nelson: Cool Perfection

Marc Myers has written a tribute to Miles Davis’s “Half Nelson” as an early example of East Coast cool, citing the original versions by Charlie Parker and the Miles Davis All Stars as recorded evidence. He’s also included a rare video of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh performing the tune with an all-star ensemble. – Michael Cuscuna

The Mosaic Records booklets, produced for over 170 sets, have included session-by-session analysis by leading experts and essays by writers with either first-hand knowledge or known authorities regarding the particular musician or period of jazz.

Excerpts from these liner notes, session analysis and other material including contributions by Gary Giddins, Mike Peters, Scott Yanow, John McDonough, Loren Schoenberg and Doug Ramsey are featured on these artist pages:

Duke Ellington

© William P. Gottlieb Library of Congress

Django Reinhardt

© William P. Gottlieb Library of Congress

Artie Shaw

Woody Herman

Wayne Shorter Quartet – Masqualero

I’ve seen the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade many times over the past 15 or so years. But one night at the Montreal Jazz Festival stands out in my mind as an especially focused and inspired set by the group. This wonderful clip of Masqualero seems to support my memory. -Michael Cuscuna

The Secret Music Of Herbie Nichols

Between 1996 and 2001, The Herbie Nichols Project (a superb band with Ron Horton, Ted Nash, Frank Kimbrough and Ben Allison) researched and recorded three albums of Herbie Nichols’s innovative  compositions, some of which were recorded nowhere else. David Brent Johnson’s “Night Lights” devotes an hour to these recordings.

Listen to broadcast

Don Byas Returns
Documentary

JazzWax sends an intriguing documentary our way about the great Don Byas and his return to New York from Europe to perform at the Village Vanguard in 1970. This Dutch film called “Homecoming” is a wonderful close-up on Byas’s life and music. – Scott Wenzel

Watch documentary

Duke Ellington Meets
Coleman Hawkins & John Coltrane

In this excerpt from his book on Impulse Records “The House That Trane Built” Ashley Khan writes about two of the most unusual and musically successful album projects: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, both done in 1963. Despite their long careers, it’s amazing that Duke and Hawk never made music together before this session. Hawk is in great form and fits comfortably with the Ellington small group on the album. The summit meeting of Ellington and Coltrane defies category and contains many moments of genius, especially on Duke’s “Take The Coltrane” and “In a sentimental Mood.” – Michael Cuscuna

Read & listen

Satchmo Summerfest

Even though we are not totally out of the woods yet with this pandemic there have been signs of life…and life to many means the Satchmo Summerfest! The festival returns with two days of some outstanding live music plus seminars including Ricky Riccardi devoting one of his seminars to our new Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Sessions and It’s streaming live on the Satchmo Summerfest Facebook page. – Scott Wenzel

More info at Satchmo Summerfest

NEA Names Its 2022 Jazz Masters

Drummer Billy Hart made his mark with his compelling playing for the likes of Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, as an anchor for the Cookers, and and now, at age 80, as leader of one of the most intriguing ensembles in the art form.  His colleague in the Cookers, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., has been recognized or his advocacy, campaigning tirelessly for the music and young musicians of his native New Orleans.  Bassist Stanley Clarke led a generation of bassists as a leader and collaborator with Chick Corea in both acoustic and electric music.  And Cassandra Wilson, a bona fide vocalistic original, has fashioned a potent amalgam of jazz, blues and folk and country forms. Congratulations to all the recipients of this year’s awards, which must seem especially welcome to these musicians, however celebrated, as they navigate the peculiar challenges posed by these times.- Nick Moy

Read more at WBGO

Bix Beiderbecke
“ain’t none of them play like him yet”

Back in the 1980s when video taping was new and the rage, I was ecstatic to record off of cable television a documentary I heard was being shown: “Bix: Ain’t None Of Them Play Like Him Yet”. It remains to this day one of the greatest of all jazz documentaries as it is one thing to document someone who is in the present, but this was of a true LEGEND and remarkable interviews with family members, fellow musicians from the 1920s was all brought together in meticulous fashion. Directed by writer-director Brigitte Berman, this magnificent documentary is being presented at the Film Forum (209 West Houston St. in NYC) that will include a conversation with Berman after the screening along with jazz critic/historian Will Friedwald and Film Forum repertory director Bruce Goldstein.  – Scott Wenzel

Film Forum ticket information

A Selection of Big Band Albums

The best big band jazz albums are a testament to the durability and growth of the genre from swing masters like Count Basie and Duke Ellington to the expanded big band efforts of Stan Kenton and Don Ellis to the electrifying freedom of Mingus’s large ensemble. The body of work created by the masters of the big band is one of rich textures, driving rhythms and the sound of surprise.

Check out our short description and listen to featured tracks for 50 selections

1960s Modern Jazz Classics

The ‘60s in jazz was a crystallization of so many streams in the music. Hard bop reached its heights with composers like Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton. The freedom principal was shaped by ensembles like the Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus quartets. Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Randy Weston were among the pioneers who constantly evolved. What a period!

Check out our short description and listen to featured tracks for 50 selections

Jazz Album of the Week
WRTI – Temple University

One of Mosaic’s most recent offerings is the Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor recordings he made in the studios from 1946-1966. The detail and research that went into this release was truly overwhelming, but four dedicated souls and Armstrong fanatics serving as co-producers made it all possible. This set was recently highlighted on public radio station WRTI out of Temple University by Matt Silver and they injected the knowledge, passion and even some humor of Ricky Riccardi in a series of videos explaining and reliving the painstaking but ultimately divine outcome of this package.  – Scott Wenzel

Review and video clips at WRTI

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints
‘Other Worlds’

Despite their hectic  solo careers, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas found time in 2013 to form their challenging quintet Sound Prints with Lawrence Fields, Linda Oh and Joey Baron.  Their third album Other Worlds was just reviewed very favorably in London Jazz News.

Read review and listen to a clip

Benny Goodman vs Chick Webb
Savoy Ballroom

Recollections from swing dancers Norma Miller and Frankie Manning on the famous battle of the bands with Benny Goodman and Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom.

The Fertile Mind of Andrew Hill

In August 1986, I produced the first Mt. Fuji/Blue Note Jazz Festival outside of Tokyo. The affair was mostly all-star bands playing music from Blue Note recordings of the fifties and sixties. I invited Andrew and put together an ensemble of Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. Don Sickler transcribed a set’s worth of Andrew’s tunes that Andrew and I had agreed upon.

Of course, he arrived in Tokyo with a suitcase of new music, all of it gorgeous, and all of it intricate. We managed a couple of rehearsals before the outdoor festival began. The winds were high that first day because a typhoon was heading straight for us. So all of Bobby Hutcherson’s parts blew away three minutes into the set. He winged it as best he could. Andrew kept getting up during tunes, running around to everyone’s music stands. Finally, Joe and Woody came over to me in the wings and said, “This music is hard enough to play. Can you get him to stop rewriting it while we’re playing it?”  – Michael Cuscuna

Read article, listen to key recordings & watch a beautiful 11 minute solo piece.

15 Unique Voices of the Avant-Garde

The so-called avant-garde began to emerge in the mid ‘50s with work by Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra among others. What united these artists along with John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and others was the desire to take the jazz aesthetic and move the music beyond the rules of be-bop and hard bop. They were unified more by purpose than by style. In the intervening decades, fresh, original artists have added their voices to this unique quest and we’ve compiled a list of these artists and featured tracks.

Check out our list and recordings

Benny Goodman
DownBeat Archives 1964

One of the ways to describe Benny Goodman’s persona is that jazz and the clarinet was of paramount importance and foremost in his mind. To back this up, this article, from a 1964 Down Beat written by Marian McPartland, is a most insightful and thoughtful expose of The King of Swing. There are quotes from many of Benny’s sidemen with examples of his quirky personality.

Read article at DownBeat

Bill Savory
An Unissued Gem

Here’s a taste of what (because of contractual reasons) is not on our Mosaic set of Bill Savory recordings. This clip has a dream gathering of Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson and Roy Eldridge. It comes from the outstanding jam sessions put together by DJ Martin Block of WNEW in NY.

Blue Note Records
The Biography

National Public Radio has an interview by Liane Hansen’s in 2003  with the late Richard Cook upon the publication of his book “Blue Note Records – The Biography.” Richard’s title was the first book devoted entirely to Blue Note Records and its unique story.

Listen to Liane Hansen's interview with Richard Cook at NPR.

Live Music Is Back!
Charles Mingus Big Band

The Mingus Big Band celebrates the music of composer/bassist Charles Mingus. Stocked with many alumni of Charles Mingus’s various groups, this ensemble brings new life to the bassist’s volatile yet beautiful compositions. On July 29, they reconvene at Drom in the lower East Side for their fist live performance since the Covid 19 outbreak.

More Info & Tickets

Small Group Swing

The Complete CBS Buck Clayton Jam Sessions

George Avakian created and produced the Buck Clayton jam sessions for Columbia in the mid ‘50s. The recording ensembles are full of great swing musicians. Jam sessions? – yes. Wasted notes – not at all. Dan Morgenstern’s annotations cover this music accurately and vividly.

Read Dan Morgenstern article and analysis listen to Moten Swing

50 Small Group Swing Albums

The big band defined the style and economics of swing. But the all-star sextets and septets that drove small group swing were not scaled down big bands; they were their own genre with a new sound and a new orthodoxy. Here we’ve assembled and commented on 50  Small Group Swing gems.

Discover or revisit 50 great Small Group Swing albums

Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions 1953 – 62

Small group swing was an outgrowth of the big band era and hard financial times.  Independent labels like Commodore, Blue Note and HRS documented the music and dozen of clubs on 52nd Street brought it to life. By the ‘50s, modern jazz had become the standard and small group swing had less recording opportunities. Columbia Records was the largest American record label. Many of its executives were full-blown jazz fans, resulting in choice small group sessions being recorded from time to time.

Read about a golden age of Jazz and listen to Ben Webster & "Sweets" Edison

Freddie Hubbard
Bolivia

This is an amazing clip of Freddie Hubbard at his fluent and volcanic best from the Blue Note Club in Tokyo in 1990. He’s playing Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” with a powerful band that includes tenor saxophonist Don Braden, pianist Benny Green, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Carl Allen. -Michael Cuscuna

Charles Mingus
Live At Carnegie Hall – 1974

Originally recorded in January 19, 1974, Mingus At Carnegie Hall was released as an LP that only featured 2 long tracks. Yet the original concert in January of 74’ included 2 hours of performances, but nearly 70+ minutes were left on the cutting room floor.  After 47 years Rhino has issued the complete 1974 Mingus At Carnegie Hall album with over 72 minutes of unreleased material and is available at Amazon. Michael Cuscuna provided liner notes.

Read liner note excerpt and listen to featured track "Alice"

Duke Ellington:
New York in the 1920s

The United States in general and New York in particular have often been idealistically described as melting pots and to some degree, that rings true. In the case of the jazz world, New York has been its hub and its mecca for the last hundred years. Neighborhoods of all ethnicities have shifted and blended over the decades and Jazz has always been the beneficiary of these blended cultures. The essay “Duke Ellington – New York in the 1920s” from JAZZ by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux details the beginnings of New York as the jazz capitol. – Michael Cuscuna

Read book excerpt & watch amazing 1900s footage

Steve Swallow Remembers Pete La Roca
Unsung Great on Drums

Ethan Iverson reached out to Steve Swallow for his April 7, 2021 Jazz Times column on Pete La Roca. Steve and Pete were inseparable in the early to mid ’60s. Pete was one of the unsung greats on the drums. Swallow’s memories and observations are priceless. – Michael Cuscuna

Read article at Jazz Times

What Thelonious Monk’s Most Famous Composition
Owes to Dizzy Gillespie

Pianist-author-historian Lewis Porter tackles the evolving history of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight.” There were plenty of claims and variations of Monk’s most famous composition. I think my favorite story is Miles Davis getting off the bandstand at the 1955 Newport festival, complaining to no one in particular that Monk played the wrong chords on the bridge, to which George Wein responded, “Ah for Chrissake, Miles, it’s his tune!” – Michael Cuscuna

Read article at WBGO

Duke Ellington
Five Masterpieces

Terry Teachout takes an in-depth look at five of Duke Ellington’s’ greatest compositions

Read the excerpts and listen to tracks

Miles Davis
Sketches of Spain

The rapport between the two men was unique and deeply felt. Gil Evans was Miles Davis’s best friend, mentor, and musical alter-ego. He was one of the first musicians who recognized Davis’s unique gifts and was perhaps the only one who could match the trumpeter’s insatiable need for change and growth. – Bill Kirchner

Session analysis and audio by Bill Kirchner

Lester Young & Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday had a small voice but she made every note count, expressing her emotions quite effectively in subtle ways and phrasing behind the beat. Lester Young had a light floating tone and while he could play fast, he preferred to create pretty melodies. They also had complementary viewpoints on life, particularly in the early days. – Scott Yanow

Listen to classic songs and read about the long-lasting special relationship

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington
The Ed Sullivan Show

Both Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were no strangers to the Ed Sullivan Show. Here we get a glimpse of the Sunday, December 17, 1961 “really big shew” with the Armstrong All Stars performing “In A Mellotone” which also features Joe Darensbourg on clarinet. – Scott Wenzel

Anthony Braxton

“In a way I feel like a billionaire”

Anthony Braxton

It should surprise no one that Anthony Braxton I remains vigorously at work giving voice to his brilliant musical vision.  In this delight of an interview with Stewart Smith in The Quietus, Braxton is eager to dispel an image held in some quarters that he’s a dispassionate intellectual.  Many of his lifelong musical proclivities, he tells us, don’t differ so much from those of many more mainstream enthusiasts; and we should keep an eye on his latest small group project exploring standards.  Yet one constant permeates this interview: through it all, Anthony Braxton remains as exploratory as ever.  – Nick Moy

Read interview at The Quietus

John Coltrane
Chasin’ The Train

“I was living in a loft in the East Village in 1962. I heard my neighbor’s record player booming and I knew it was Trane.  – Archie Shepp

John Coltrane’s November 1961 recordings at the Village Vanguard were a road map for various paths that his quartet would take over the next four years. “Chasin’ The Trane” was an exercise in freedom, intensity and the phonics of the saxophone. Coltrane said that it was inspired by the work of John Gilmore. When it was released on “Live At The Village Vanguard,” it was hailed as a brilliant step forward for contemporary jazz and the death knell for jazz itself. Sixty years later, we are still exhilarated by this performance. – Michael Cuscuna

Read Archie Shepp's full commentary and Ashley's Khan book excerpt.

Ornette Coleman
An Outsider Cracks the Egg

View more photos at Mosaic Images

Steve Provizer’s essay on the impact and art of Ornette Coleman is thoughtful and informed. He even delves into the reasons that, as controversial as he was when he arrived on the scene, Ornette proved to be more famous and infamous than Cecil Taylor or Sun Ra. Listening to early works like “Ramblin’” and “Lonely Woman” tell the story. – Michael Cuscuna

Check out article at The Arts Fuse

Jazz Guitar
The Captivating Harlem Swing Rhythms

From AcousticGuitar.com the guitarist Nick Rossi really digs deep in this brilliant essay of early jazz guitar with examples and descriptions of chordal technique and fingerings possessed by these masters

Read and listen to 5 great swing guitar masters at AcousticGuitar

Coleman Hawkins
Hawk’s Variations Solo Session

Harry Lim, a Javanese jazz lover who came to America in 1939, first produced jam sessions in Chicago and New York and then founded Keynote Records, a premier small jazz label. In an article for Metronome magazine in May, 1944, Lim dubbed Hawkins the Picasso of Jazz.

Read full article and listen to Hawk's Variations

Black, Brown And Beige
Duke Ellington’s Historic Jazz Symphony

David Brent Johnson’s “Nightlights” program re-visits the origins and success of Ellington’s extended work “Black, Brown and Beige” that “premiered” at Carnegie Hall in 1943 (it actually premiered at my alma mater Rye High School the night before). Wynton Marsalis, Harvey Cohen and Ellington himself shed light on this important piece. – Scott Wenzel

Read historical review at WFIU Night Lights

Redman, Blade, Mehldau, McBride
Defy Notions Of The Genre

Joshua Redman

The quartet of Josh Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Brian Blade, all rising stars at the time, first came together in 1992 and stayed together for another 6 years.  for Redman’s “MoodSwing” album.  Gary Fukushima at DownBeat delves into their history, 2019 recording reunion and the planned tour that was postponed by the pandemic. – Michael Cuscuna

Read review and listen to track at DownBeat

Earl “Fatha” Hines

Earl “Fatha” Hines was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. His solos were consistently exciting and he had an innovative approach of his own from virtually the start of his career. With his dazzling technique and constant delight at playing the unpredictable even on familiar songs, Hines was always a joy to hear. – Scott Yanow

Read more & feature tracks "Harlem Lament" and "Take it Easy"

Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines

“Teachout delivers a taut and well-paced work that is astute in its critical judgments and gripping in its chronicle of the trumpeter’s life and times.”The Weekly Standard

In this excerpt from his critically acclaimed biography “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout explores the relationship between two of the great jazz pioneers.

Read Pops A Life of Louis Armstrong book excerpt

The Randy Weston Songbook

Randy Weston was a jazz giant in every regards. His compositions are varied and appealing. His pianistic ability used Basie and Ellington as a foundation for his singular, all-encompassing style. He was also one of the most patient and compassionate humans to walk the earth. This episode David Brent Johnson’s Night Lights is a one-hour joyful journey into the remarkable music of a remarkable man.

– Michael Cuscuna

Read article & Listen at WFIU

A Makeover for Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio

Steve Harvey’s article in Prosound about the late Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio and its recent innovation includes an amazing 1959 photograph of the studio under constructions. It was built to Rudy’s specs and design. He even found “cement” blocks made with a special acoustically favorable compound. The blocks were only made in the state of Washington and Rudy paid the railroad charges to bring thousands of them to his New Jersey property. – Michael Cuscuna

Read article at Prosound

Art Blakey

Bob Blumenthal’s essay on the Blue Note albums “Art Blakey Quintet: Live At Birdland” volume  1 & 2 cover their historical significance in pioneering  live  location recording, introducing new jazz giants to the public and setting the hard  bop style in motion. The track “Quicksilver,” is featured and is the first of many Horace Silver compositions to become a jazz standard. The Quintet mix the virtuoso velocity of be-bop with bluesy, earthy attitude and phraseology. – Michael Cuscuna

Check out One Night At Birdland
Read Bob Blumenthals's essays on Art Blakey artist page

Jason Moran Journeys to the Dawn of Jazz Cinema

Pianist-composer Jason Moran has joins the ranks of outstanding jazz artists with a talent for scoring film; he recently wrote the music for “Selma” and “13.thThe Criterion Channel is showing a library of film shorts on jazz made between 1929 and ’39 and talks with Jason about their content and sociological and historical significance in this fascinating interview.  – Michael Cuscuna

Read article at The Criterion

A Presidential Moment: Lester as a Band Leader

Albert “Tootie” Heath, who very early in his career had shared the stage with Lester Young, gives his impression of Pres’s band leading technique. – Scott Wenzel

Impressions Of Art Tatum At The Grand Piano

George Duning, a Down Beat reporter and quite possibly the man with the same name who later became an Oscar winning conductor, gives the reader an idea of what it was like to see and hear Art Tatum in 1935, a breakthrough year for the musician who was taking the jazz world by storm and leaving mouths wide open and jaws dropping. – Scott Wenzel

Read article at DownBeat

Lee Konitz interview on John Coltrane

This 2007 interview is from Andy Hamilton’s “Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art.” Lee was always a creative artist with his own unique perspective on music and art. Beyond his incredibly dry wit, he was always a straight shooter with his opinions. His comments on Trane (and Bird) here are intriguing. – Michael Cuscuna

Read interview at Jazz Profiles

Lionel Hampton

I’m In The Mood For Swing
Track analysis by Loren Schoenberg

Lionel Hampton hits pay dirt for the first time with arrangements and players that are of equal quality. Benny Carter, 30 years old and just back after three years in Europe, announced his return to his native country with brilliant writing and playing. Texas is represented by 22 year-old Benny Goodman trumpeter Harry James and 28 year old Herschel Evans, featured tenor saxophonist with Count Basie…

Listen to track and read analysis

Flying Home
History of this Jazz Classic by Scott Yanow
It was a fairly simple swing tune that in a classic three-minute recording by Lionel Hampton virtually gave birth to rhythm and blues. Quite a few early r&b tenor players based much of their careers off of Illinois Jacquet’s two-chorus solo, and it became a must in virtually every performance by Hampton, Jacquet, and his successor Arnett Cobb…

Checkout the article and audio

Miles Davis Quintet
Gingerbread Boy

This version of Jimmy Heath’s Gingerbread Boy by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in Karlsruhe during their 1967 European tour is not to believed. That mere mortals can achieve this level still amazes me. -Michael Cuscuna

Bud Powell at Birdland: 1953

Bud Powell’s life had many ups and downs, and so did his playing. His trio work in the ‘50s ranged from sublime (the Blue Notes and some of the Verves) to dismal. Marc Myers highlights a 3-CD set of Bud live at Birdland issued on ESP-Disk. I haven’t hear the music but this review makes it incredibly enticing. -Michael Cuscuna

Read review at Jazzwax

Conversation with Richie Beirach & Dave Liebman

One of the latest installments of David Schroeder’s NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies interviews is with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. Dave is well known as one of the great storytellers, but Richie has always been his equal and steps in on this in-depth conversation. -Michael Cuscuna

In Jazz History, 1957 belongs to
Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

Bob Blumenthal provides an in-depth look at the special relationship and extraordinary music they produced. Includes the momentous 2005 discovery by the Library of Congress and analysis of the full Carnegie Hall concert.

“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order I felt I learned from him in every way – through the senses, theoretically, technically.  I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them.  I could watch him play and find out the things that I wanted to know.  Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn’t know about at all.” – John Coltrane, Down Beat 1960

Checkout the article and audio

Chu Berry

Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra
Roy Eldridge (tp), Benny Morton (tb), Chu Berry (ts), Teddy Wilson (p), Dave Barbour (g), John Kirby (b), Cozy Cole (d), Billie Holiday (vcl). NYC, October 25, 1935

There’s no mistaking Chu Berry’s influence on Charlie Parker (who named his first son for Berry) and every other bebopper, John Coltrane, and a host of other saxophonists today who may not even know from whom the ideas originated.

Audio and track analysis by Loren Schoenberg

Spirits, Ghosts, Witches & Devils
The Life and Death of Albert Ayler

Magnet has republished Mitch Myers’ 2004 superb, well-researched story of the life and death of Albert Ayler, a musician who drew his inspirations from the early 1900s and created a unique path into the future. His life and his music remain mysterious and otherworldly.
-Michael Cuscuna

Read at Magnet

Best Jazz Recordings
Louis Armstrong

Hotter Than That
December 13, 1927

By Ricky Riccardi
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. Armstrong had put scat on the map with his 1926 record of “Heebie Jeebies” 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 in the 1930s.

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.

Check out 19 more recordings

Blue Train

“We’re listening to Blue Train, which to me is one of the most beautiful pieces on one of the most beautiful records that Coltrane recorded in the fifties. – Michael Cuscuna, Traneumentary podcast

Listen to the full podcast

Christian McBride: How Jazz Will Return

Before the world went into lockdown, few musicians could match the Christian McBride for the sheer range and ferocity of his activity. Eric Easter of the Washington Post elicited some of McBride’s thoughts on what will happen in jazz, and in particular, live jazz, as the world braces to return to normal — or whatever normal will mean– and what will be different. -Nick Moy
Read from the Washington Post…

Julius Hemphill
A Blues Surrealist

Adam Shatz has researched and written a brilliant essay on the life and music of Julius Hemphill, an extraordinary composer and alto saxophonist who never really attained the level of acceptance that he so richly deserved. -Michael Cuscuna

Donald Byrd
Royal Flush

By Bob Blumenthal
Among its many exceptional qualities, it marks the first Blue Note appearance of the Butch Warren/Billy Higgins rhythm section that would also be heard on the label behind Jackie McLean, Sonny Clark, Hancock, Don Wilkerson and Dexter Gordon.

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Count Basie Kansas City Seven

Lester Leaps In
September 5, 1939

By Loren Schoenberg
Lester Leaps In became the saxophonist’s own signature number for the remaining two decades of his life. It is based on I Got Rhythm a composition that he had already long used as a showcase. Here we get a glimmer of what John Hammond was referring to when he wrote:

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Duke Ellington
La Plus Belle Africaine, 1969

Thanks to Scott Yanow and Jazz on the Tube for bringing this Ellington gem to the forefront: the band’s performance of La Plus Belle Africaine, from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Russell Procope’s clarinet kicks off the solos, Victor Gaskin adds an arco bass solo, Ellington comments and Harry Carney sums it up.  -Nick Moy

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra
At Town Hall

By Bob Blumenthal
Unlike fellow modern pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk did not pay substantial dues in the big bands.  While Monk held the piano chair briefly in Gillespie’s orchestra, and had heard his “Round Midnight” introduced by Cootie Williams’ band, his music seemed resolutely small group oriented.

At the close of 1958, however, with his quartet disbanded and yet another licensing hassle temporarily keeping him out of New York City clubs, Monk embraced his advisors’ idea of presenting a concert featuring both a reorganized quartet and a larger ensemble.

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Lee Morgan
The Rajah Reviewed

LondonJazzCollector does an excellent review of Lee Morgan’s The Rajah, now released on the Blue Note Tone Poet audiophile LP series. Unfortunately, they make one bizarre assumption that the catalog number of its first release in 1985 (BST 84426) was assigned in 1972 when Lee Morgan was killed. Actually we assigned the number in 1985 when we were still able to carry on the BST 84400 series in releases. -Michael Cuscuna

Clifford Brown & Max Roach
Joy Spring

By Michael Cuscuna
Although he had only three years on the national jazz scene before his tragic death in an automobile accident in June, 1956, Clifford Brown managed to cast a large presence as a trumpeter and composer. His originals like “Minor Mood,” “Tiny Capers,” “Daahoud” and “Joy Spring” signified the arrival of a composer of substance with his own identity.

Much like Benny Golson, he had an enormous melodic gift and structural sense. Most of the tunes that he introduced during his all too short recording career have become jazz standards.

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Thelonious Monk

Three of his Greatest Compositions

By Michael Cuscuna
Misterioso has been one of Monk’s most influential recordings, and small wonder. It is a summation of Monk’s work up to that time, and, in both composition and solo, a wondrous example of his artistic maturity and his awareness of the challenge of discipline and economy.

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Count Basie And His Orchestra w/Lester Young

February 4, 1939

This is the Birth of Something New

A musical analysis of Lester Young’s famous solo would include his use of fourths, an unusual choice of interval for the time and one that presages much of later jazz; Gunther Schuller has noted Young’s scalar approach set the stage for what has been called “modal jazz,” as well as for George Russell’s various theories of tonal organization. Furthermore, there is the sheer “coolness” of his sound and general approach to what had been a “hot” art form. – By Loren Schoenberg

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Thelonious Monk

Columbia Records (1962–1968)

By Bob Blumenthal
While Thelonious Monk had not brought a working band into a recording studio since 1959, his current quartet of Charlie Rouse, John Ore and Frankie Dunlop on drums had been together for two years, including a European concert tour. In contrast to the practices of independent jazz labels, where budgets dictated that entire albums be taped in one or two sessions, Columbia employed an approach more to Monk’s liking, scheduling several visits to its famed studios and settling for one or two master takes per visit, with any additional material saved for future release.

This is how Criss-Cross, Monk’s second Columbia album, was assembled from four sessions in November 1962 and February 1963. It became one of Monk’s most popular titles, and remains the best overview of what his music had been about to that point in his career.

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