10 JAZZ ALBUMS FOR THE LOVE OF THE "SWING"Nov 2, 2004 Write an essay on this topic.
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Okay, you have probably guessed by now that it's hard for anyone to narrow down their favorite albums to a list of ten. To cope with this, I have made this list with a purpose in mind.
With so many people today turned off to jazz by it's experimental nature, I have compiled a list of ten albums (and five honourable mention) that exemplify the aspect of Jazz that everyone can relate to, the rhythm or "swing". It's what made the bands of the 30's and 40's so popular and continues to drive the music to this day. As Duke Ellington said "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing".
To make things easier for you, I have also done a couple of other things....
1. If you've ever read another list like this, you've certainly been told that Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and a few other albums are great. Well, they are. But everyone knows that and I don't need to to tell you again. So I won't. I want to open your eyes to some new things you may not have heard yet.
2. Although many people have a favorite period of jazz, there have been swinging albums throughout it's history. That said, if there seems to be bias (Byas?) in my opinion, it's only natural and you can take it with a grain of salt. But I've tried to make a list spanning a number of years.
3. All these albums are easy to find (save for one or two), so you don't have to worry about calling up a small retailer in Copenhagen for an out-of-print copy of a live date by Dexter Gordon, you can find it online easily.
4. I'm a musician myself on the New York jazz scene , so I am also adding to some instances where I know these albums have been loved by musicians and they were missed by the media.
5. The whole album has to be good. There are many albums that have one or two really swinging tracks nowadays but it's rare to find a disc in which they all do. For the purposes of this list, it all has to.
Now, for the music................
#10. Mulgrew Miller "Hand In Hand"---This is the most subtle of the albums on this list. It is also one of the classic albums of the 1990's and, sadly, on Miller's few efforts as a leader. But it contains an amazing band (with Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Kenny Garrett on alto sax, Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Lewis Nash on drums, and Christian McBride on bass) and some of the most beautiful writing in the straight-ahead jazz context. Joe Henderson swings hard and showed why he was the master he was, and the rhythm section shows why it is the most popular of it's day. A little hard to find, but worth it.
#9. Wynton Marsalis "Crescent City Christmas Card"---I know, I know. You may hate Wynton, and you may hate Christmas (I happen to love both, and I like Dave Douglas too), but this album swings as hard as any made in the last 15 years. It features his septet along with a few guests on arrangements of Christmas songs. But after you hear this album (in particular the versions of "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland"), you'll forever change your opinion of both. Marsalis' writing has never sounded better than this and his band is in top form. You can usually find it, especially online.
#8. Gerry Mulligan Quartet w/ Chet Baker "Best of the Pacific Years"---For my money, this band swung as hard as any. Unfortunately, so much of their music was issued as singles originally that this time period is only available on compilation CD's. This album collects all of their "best" tracks onto one and when you listen to it you will understand why they were so loved. For all the talk of their "piano-less" approach, their music was above all about melody and swing. And there may never have been a more melodic trumpet player than Chet Baker. Easy to find.
#7. Donald Byrd "A New Perspective"---With so many "church" cliches in the 1960's, none used it as soulfully or skillfully as this album. With a band including Hank Mobley on tenor, Kenny Burrell on guitar and a choir arranged by Duke Pearson (a vastly underrated figure), Byrd made one of the classic recordings of the Blue Note Era. Worth the price for the track "Cristo Redentor" alone. Easy to find.
#6. Eric Reed "It's Alright to Swing"---Of all the musicians to emerge in the 1990's, none has been as steeped in the sound of the church and the blues as pianist Eric Reed. This was his second album as a leader on the now defunct "Mojazz" label and it is still probably his best. It is primarily a trio album with Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) and Wessell Anderson (alto sax) guesting on a few tracks. His version of the traditional "Wade In the Water" is one of the best single tracks of the last 15 years. It is also a good example of the style of swing today. Great playing by all involved. This is hard to find in stores, but easy online. Worth every penny.
#5. Hank Mobley "Dippin'"---Okay, Hank Mobley is my favorite musician ever. I admit it. But that said, the combination of him and Lee Morgan on trumpet is among the very best partnerships jazz ever produced, right along side Miles and Trane and Bird and Diz. If you don't believe it, listen to this album. Like all Blue Notes of the time, it has the obligatory "funky" tune and "latin" tune, yet it transcends it's formulaic nature largely due to the hard swinging of Billy Higgins on drums. This is later Hank, more rhythmic and vocal than on his classic "Soul Station" and others of the period, and Lee swings as hard as ever. Buy this now. Easy to find.
#4. Joe Henderson "Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn"---The first of his "rediscovery" albums on Verve from the 1990's. It features Joe with various formations of a trio of Stephen Scott on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Greg Hutchinson on drums (also the drummer on Eric Reed's album) along with Wynton Marsalis guesting on a few tracks. Even the most sublime and subtle tracks on here (the classics "Isfahan" and "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing") swing hard, and the young rhythm section provides him with a base that seems to inspire him. If I were buying cd's for someone who had never heard it, I would buy this first. Easy to find, now available as a "Super-Audio" CD.
#3. Cannonball Adderley "Somethin' Else"---You can't have a jazz list without including Miles Davis, so here you go. Although Miles himself was never a purveyor of foot-tappin', head-boppin' music too much, Cannonball was more than that and then some. This is perhaps just as an effective "mood" album as the ubiquitous "Kind of Blue". This album is filled with a deep groove from the opening bass line of "Autumn Leaves" to the very end. If you love music, you just can't go wrong. Easy to find.
#2. Art Blakey "Moanin'"---I would be remiss if I didn't include my favorite band on here. This is probably the most classic Blue Note album ever. Every song on here is a classic that is now a jazz standard. Musicians and fans can sing every one of Lee Morgan's (at the tender age of 20), Benny Golson's, and Bobby Timmons' solos by memory. People who care about swing know this is THE album. What can you say, if you don't own it, you don't have a jazz collection, and if you don't feel it, you must be dead. Easy to find.
#1. Duke Ellington "Blues In Orbit"---I know, I know. There hasn't been any Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane on this list. And now I name a Duke album and it's not even the big band. Well yeah. One of the points to this list is to open your ears to something you may have overlooked before. So while the 20th person tells you to buy Duke's "Live at Newport" album, which you should, YOU NEED TO GET THIS. Duke was the one of the best composers the world has ever known, in any style of music. And his mastery of the small group was no less than that of the big band. Combine that with various members of his 50's band (Hodges, Gonsalves, Hamilton) along with classic compositions you rarely if ever heard for the big band, and you have the maybe the best album he ever made in terms of pure swing. Yes, Duke always swings, but rarely like this. Easy to find.
And now for 5 that didn't make the list, but they all include at least a couple of tracks of deep swing, in no particular order.........
1. Art Blakey "At the Jazz Corner of the World"---Not "MEET YOU AT THE JAZZ CORNER OF THE WORLD", that's a different album. This stars the Lee Morgan/Hank Mobley unit from 1958. It really captures the energy of what it was like to listen to them live, and Hank plays one of his best solos on record on Ray Bryant's "Chicken and Dumplings".
2. Oscar Peterson w/ Clark Terry "Plus One"---Clark and Oscar are two of the hardest swingers ever, and on the first track of this album "Brotherhood of Man", they play some of the meanest swing ever. Buy it just for that track.
3. Count Basie "Chairman of the Board"---I love big bands, and I've played in many. But like liver, canned cheese, and horror movies, they are an acquired taste. This album swings from beginning to end and features some classic arrangements like "Blues In Hoss's Flat" that have become standards. This the 50's edition band with the two Franks on tenor and Thad Jones in the trumpet section. Buy this, trust me.
4. Nicholas Payton "Gumbo Nouveau"---Rarely does an album take over an entire generation of jazz musicians by storm, but this did when it hit in the late 90's. Along with a band that features some of the brightest stars of the current scene, Payton tackles a repertoire of New Orleans standards. Rarely does modern jazz swing this hard.
5. Branford Marsalis "Crazy People Music"---When this came out in 1990 it set the stage for a whole line of musicians that followed. It isn't swinging the whole way through in the traditional sense, but the first track "Spartacus", is perhaps the best track any of the Marsalises ever recorded and it swings as much as anything on this list.
Again, this list is about the swing. They are not necessary ground-breaking, "innovating", or the like. They feel good...no, they feel great, and once you start to like that, you'll just want it more and more. I could make a list about other albums with other virtues, but that's for another time. And i'm not saying these are the ONLY swinging albums out there, there are many. These are just some of my favorites. I hope this helps and I hope you enjoy.
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