Inspired by a lady-friend jazz-fan (who found Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music captivating upon first listen!), I decided it was time I ventured further into the world of jazz. Until now I had steeped comfortably in my hot kettle of Miles Davis’ electric period and Sun Ra’s psychedelic avant-garde trips like Space is the Place. I was ushered into this flavor of fusion by Herbie Hancock and his electro-funk jazz classics like Headhunters, Thrust and Sextant.
But I knew full-well that the 50 years which led up to these electric freak-out albums were rich with milestone recordings which demand to be heard. Every “must-hear” jazz list is brimming with albums from 1922 to 1970, so I went to work compiling a list of albums to introduce me to classic jazz.
I constructed a starter-set of 65 essential jazz records from 1925 to the 1970 and have been experiencing them one record at a time.
I explored resources such as r/jazz’s sidebar of essential jazz, I conducted an RYM search for highly-rated LPs in the jazz genre from 1920-1965, and at the recommendation of some friends I ordered a copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette. I was delighted to find a first-edition available for $1, so I ordered it right away.
Beginning chronologically, I sampled The Hall of Fame 5-disc collection of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens (1925-1930), The 24-disc Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (1927-1943), and the undeniable jazz classic – Ellington at Newport (1956).
I enjoyed the fast-paced bebop stylings of Dizzy Gillespie. It had a similar energy to what I would soon hear on Coltrane’s Giant Steps (1960). Blue Train (1957) and A Love Supreme (1965) followed shortly thereafter in my first-listen journey.
Next on the recommended list was The Quintet: Dizzy Gillespie / Charles Mingus / Charlie Parker / Bud Powell / Max Roach – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953). The album is clearly one of the finest examples of a live jazz recording – a collaboration of the biggest names in jazz at the time of the session. It adds a great energy to the room when it’s played, and I’m certain that I’ll be revisiting this disc often.
From there I picked up four of Charles Mingus’ most memorable recordings – Blues & Roots (1959), Mingus Ah Um (1959), Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963) and the classic – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, also from 1963.
But what really grabbed me at first-listen was a strong fascination with the more experimental free jazz LPs like Ornette Coleman’s boldly-titled releases including The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Free Jazz (recorded in one single take in 1960), Change of the Century (also from 1960) the spacey Science Fiction (1971) and Body Meta (1978). From Coleman I branched out further and listened to Eric Dolphy’s 1964 classic, Out To Lunch. As avant-garde as it is, the album has quite a mellow feel and I left it on repeat for three full plays through.
I already have 75 Sun Ra albums ripped from vinyl in my library, but I have yet to really explore them beyond The Heliocentric World and Space is the Place. Now that I’m really getting into jazz it seems appropriate that I add his library to my listening list as well.
Bill Evans’ albums between 1958 and 1961 were next on my list, along with Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else (1958), the Complete Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington Sessions, Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto’s 1963 classic, Getz & Gilberto, and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane from 1961 (recorded in 1957).
That disc secured my certainty that I needed to hear more from the biggest names in jazz, so I was very happy to find a 54-disc archive of Ornette Coleman, and three 24-bit vinyl rip discographies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and of Thelonious Monk.
I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy the Ornette Coleman library, and I will wait a few days to receive my copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz… before sinking my teeth into the 24 bit vinyl archives of Coltrane, Ellington and Monk. (A fella could get lost in there without some direction.)
The autumn season has two paid weeks of vacation in store for me, and I plan to spend them reading, researching, and listening to these ~250 new records and will have a blast picking out a handful of titles for which I’ll order original pressings to finally expand the jazz section of my library.
Fall is coming – warm your home with beautiful music!