One of the more interesting, for me anyway, side effects of my recent commitment to writing is my new-found love of Jazz.
I had a short-lived flirtation with Jazz back in my high school days. I was a member of my school’s concert band (don’t laugh – it got me to Vancouver, New York and Paris) and several of my friends were a part of that and the school’s much smaller jazz style band. I remember that our teachers pointed us to a jazz concert series that would be taking place at the local University one year and a couple friends and I were the only ones I knew who decided to take advantage of it. I really enjoyed the music I heard going to those shows but I didn’t really stick with Jazz any further than that. At the time exploring music wasn’t quite so easy or cheap as it is now.
Fast forward to a few months ago and I decided that I wanted some music I could listen to while writing. The problem I quickly found was that I can’t write when I’m listening to music with lyrics. Other people’s words coming in my ears when I’m trying to get my own words out of my head just doesn’t work well. There are some modern albums with vocals, such as Bon Iver’s Bon Iver or Radiohead’s Kid A that I can listen to when writing. On albums like those the lyrics are just another part of the overall sound and easy to block out. There are also some classic rock albums, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Happy Trails that are pretty much just instrumental pieces, but I’m going to leave off with the non-jazz albums there. That can be a post for another day.
So I was looking for writing music and decided to try jazz. I had no idea where to start, so I popped over to Rolling Stone and checked out their greatest albums of all time list and looked for jazz. What I found was some John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and I knew those names, so I started there. After listening to them for awhile I popped over to last.fm to see what it might recommend based on the small amount of jazz I’d listened to. That led me to Sonny Rollins. This was a perfect call by last.fm because I’ve loved the Sonny Rollins I’ve tried.
From there I moved on to some not-quite-as-well-knowns (to me anyway): Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. Art Blakey – now there was a real revelation.
The newest additions to my jazz library are Ornette Coleman, Cannonball Aderly, and Herbie Hancock. I quite enjoy them all.
So here’s the thing – I don’t know much about any of this music or these artists at all. I’ve picked up some bare-bones knowledge. For example, it seems most of these musicians come from the hard-bop and post-bop eras, or perhaps styles would be a better descriptor. The problem is, I don’t really know what that means, but I want to find out.
Up till now jazz has just been convenient music for me to listen to while writing, but I’ve enjoyed it so much for its own sake that I’m setting myself a little quest to improve my understanding and appreciation of the music, and I’m inviting you to come along with me. So please, pull up a chair and join the conversation. If you know jazz then feel free to share your knowledge; if you’re like me and really don’t know anything then feel free to learn along with me. To start the conversation I’ve ranked my jazz collection in a list. Now I know some people disdain lists, but I like them. They’re good conversation starters and easy shorthand. As long as you understand that this list is simply based on my own limited experience and personal tastes and not meant to make claims as to any album or artists worth versus another then we shouldn’t have any problems.
I’m thinking of doing in-depth album exploration posts where I’ll pick an album and study up on it and then share what I learn and my personal feelings about it. I’m not sure yet if I’ll start at the top, or start at the bottom, or go chronologically, or choose randomly, or what. Any suggestions are welcome.
Anyway, this post is long enough so I’ll give you the list and sign off. But first a couple quick notes about it. First – I like all these albums. Just because Dexter Gordon’s Doin’ Alright is at the bottom doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Second – I’ll be continuing to expand my jazz library going forward, so the jazz album ranking list will be expanded and shuffled as I do.
The Jazz Album Ranking List
- John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
- Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
- Art Blakey: Orgy in Rhythm, Volume 1+2
- John Coltrane: Giant Steps
- Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
- Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness
- Cannonball Aderlly: Deep Grooves
- Sonny Rollins: Sonny Meets Hawk!
- Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions
- Art Blakey: A Night in Tunisia
- Charles Mingus: The Clown
- Dexter Gordon: Dexter Calling
- Charles Mingus: Pithecanthropus Erectus
- Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
- Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come
- Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage
- Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles
- Dexter Gordon: Doin’ Allright