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5 Jazz Albums Everyone Should Own

Updated on June 30, 2011

5 Jazz Albums That Even Non-Jazz Fans Will Love

Jazz is traditionally a very tricky art form to get into. A lot of the music can seem rather noisy, disjointed, and plain weird to the uninitiated. Just randomly turning up at a jazz gig can be more a process of feeling like the odd one out, rather than a pleasure. When everyone seems to understand the music that is going on on stage, but you don't and you are wondering what the hell is going on - that's not a great feeling.

So, to help out a little, I thought I might select 5 albums, that people who have no affinity to jazz will easily like, and are really easy to get into, as they are accessible, universally liked and have also (no surprise there) been commercially hugely successful.

What I did not do, however, is go to a list of the 5 best selling jazz albums, that would be dull - I have a least one selection in there which may be slightly controversial, but read on to find out more.

1. Time Out - The Dave Brubeck Quartet

This album features the classic Take Five - a track actually written by the quartet's alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond (all other tracks, as was usual for the DBQ, were written by Dave himself). The concept of the album was to write pieces in unusual time signatures: most music we listen to is in simple 4/4 time (four beats in a bar - makes it nice and easy to listen to. But Dave Brubeck uses different time signature for the tracks. Take Five itself, the standout track, is in 5/4 time - notoriously difficult to follow and hard to dance to. Yet somehow this track absolutely flows - it is instantly pleasing to the ear with the rhythm section providing the steadying beat for Paul Desmond's floating saxophone melody.

After the album had been cut the label (Columbia Records) did not want to release it, as they thought it too advanced,and that no-one would buy it. Dave Brubeck had to convince them that people would want it, and how right he was.

It is utterly remarkable how an album based on odd time signatures could become so popular: it is one of those great occasions when great artistry is also highly popular and accessible. It is one of the top selling jazz albums of all time. The cover incidentally features a beautiful painting by the Japanese artist Neil Fujita.

The follow up, Time Further Out, is just as good, featuring the finger snapping classic Unsquare Dance.

Year: 1959


Paul Desmond - Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck - Piano

Eugene Wright - Bass

Joe Morello - Drums

If you fancy playing Take Five, check out Take Five sheet music.

All Blues Sheet Music
All Blues Sheet Music

2. Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue

Purists will not be happy that I have this at No.2, but as this article is mostly about highly recognisable and catchy tracks, Time Out has to win by dint of the fact it features the super catchy Take Five. Anyway, in Kind of Blue we have another platinum selling jazz album. In style, very different to Time Out, as it is more ethereal, wistful, yes, simply Blue. The album was released in the same year as Time Out, 1959 (clearly a good year for jazz!), and the stand-out track is in no doubt All Blues. The music on this CD is so mesmerising, that when I put the cd on for my little two year old son, he goes into an incredibly calm and tranquil mood, standing in the middle of our lounge completely spell-bound by the music.

Check out All Blues sheet music, as well as the Miles Davis Solo trumpet transcription, and Flamenco Sketches sheet music.

Also check out the excellent book by Ashley Kahn on the making of Kind of Blue.

Year: 1959


Miles Davis - trumpet

Cannonball Adderley - alto sax

John Coltrane - tenor saxophone

Bill Evans - piano

Wynton Kelly - piano on "Freddie Freeloader" only

Paul Chambers - double bass

Jimmy Cobb - drums

John Coltrane - tenor saxophone

Girl From Ipanema Noten
Girl From Ipanema Noten

3. Getz/Gilberto

This album was released in 1964 and was responsible for announcing jazz bossa nova to the world. The album features the cool sounds of the Brazilian bossa nova (which was still in its infancy) with the cool saxophone playing of Stan Getz. All tracks are brilliant, but The Girl From Ipanema, Desafinado (aka Slightly Out Of Tune) and Corcovado (aka Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) are the most well known tracks on the album, and are still hugely popular on the jazz and bossa nova circuit today.

So what is the music actually like? Well, it's cool, it's charming, it's got a real summer feel to it, it's got soft Brazilian beats gently propelling the music forward, but in the softest possible manner - it's the musical equivalent of having your favourite cold drink on a hot summer's day.

Antonio Carlos Jobim, the pianist on the album, also wrote the majority of the tunes, and became one of the most prolific Bossa Nova composers and performers. In fact the duo of Jobim and João Gilberto would become synonymous with bossa nova.

If you'd like to play some of the music form the album, check out Girl From Ipanema sheet music, Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) sheet music and Desafinado sheet music.

Year: 1964


Astrud Gilberto - vocals

Stan Getz - tenor saxophone

João Gilberto - guitar, vocals

Antonio Carlos Jobim - piano

Sebastião Neto - bass

Milton Banana - drums

Cantaloupe island Noten
Cantaloupe island Noten

4. Cantaloupe Island

This album is a slight cop-out on my behalf (I'll admit it!) as it is actually a compilation album. But, the point of this article is to select albums that any non-jazz listener would actually like. As such, the main track from this compilation which is itself called Cantaloupe Island, is featured on an album called Empyrean Isles, but I fear that the whole album is really not that accessible to no-jazz listeners (some of the tracks would be describe as "far out" by the non-jazz fraternity). So instead I have gone for this compilation, which not only features the cracking Cantaloupe Island, but the similarly groovy Watermelon Man, Driftin' and Blind Man, Blind Man.

The music is groovy, catchy, infectious and great fun (not attributes always associated with jazz).

If you'd like to play this tune, please check out the Cantaloupe Island sheet music.

Modern Day Jazz Stories
Modern Day Jazz Stories

5. Modern Day Jazz Stories

This is the perhaps slightly controversial of my 5 picks. This album (by Coutrney Pine) made quite big waves over here in the United Kigdom when it was released in 1995 (so it is by far the youngest album here). It probably did not cause too many ripples outside of our island in the North Atlantic. But here is a very good reason why I picked this: it is the best example of someone fusing jazz with more modern beats and production techniques, and it actually really, really working. Often such projects can sound contrived and odd, lacking cohesion and logic. Courtney Pine howvere spectacularly succeeds where others have failed, creating a thrilling soundscape full of great grooves, melodic hooks, all underpinned by an "urban" soundscape of beats and samples as well as a normal rhythm section.

The 37th Chamber is the stand-out track for me.

Year: 1995


Courtney Pine - soprano & tenor sax, flute

Cassandra Wilson - vocals

Eddie Henderson - trumpet

Geri Allen piano, organ

Mark Whitfield - guitar

Charnett Moffett - double bass

Ronnie Burrage - drums, percussion

Sparkii - programming [nope - I didn't make that one up!]

DJ Pogo - turntables

The 37th Chamber

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You can get all of the above pix here:

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    • CoolGamesOnline1 profile image

      CoolGamesOnline1 5 years ago

      very good lens!! thank you

    • profile image

      RocklawnArts 6 years ago

      Had to laugh because I've had Time Out for ages.

    • gamecheathub profile image

      gamecheathub 6 years ago

      This lens is DEAD ON. Excellent selections!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I gotta say, as I get older I like this music. If you ever browse lens, venture my way. Its full of poll questions with a educational topic too.

    • Doctone profile image

      Doctone 6 years ago

      @BrassFittings: Never mind - my two year old son loves it :-)!

    • profile image

      BrassFittings 6 years ago

      I have the Miles Davis album; my 27 yr old wife thinks I am old 33 because of it.

    • Doctone profile image

      Doctone 6 years ago

      @VoodooRULEs: Cheers, dude

    • profile image

      VoodooRULEs 6 years ago

      Great selection! This is the kind of lens that'll have me coming back for more. Thank you

    • BFunivcom profile image

      Allan R. Wallace 6 years ago from Wherever Human Rights Reign

      Nice, though I always prefer live jazz -- it can overwhelm.

    • Doctone profile image

      Doctone 6 years ago

      @filmic: Cheers. If it were "10 albums to get you into jazz", Mingus Ah Um, would be there!

    • filmic profile image

      filmic 6 years ago

      good stuff Doctone. Where do you sit with Mingus?

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Nicely done lens. I like Miles Davis' music. Your selections are great.

    • Doctone profile image

      Doctone 6 years ago

      @The Accountant: Cheers, Accountant, I'm glad that someone appreciated the inclusion of a modern album.

    • The Accountant profile image

      The Accountant 6 years ago

      Great lens! I like that you included something more recent to contrast the classics. One of my favourite artists of the last 20 years is the James Carter Quartet.

    • Doctone profile image

      Doctone 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Cheers Mktgru!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The first 4 albums are an excellent introduction to jazz.

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      A.D. Labuschagne 6 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you! I love jazz - although I just recently got into it (after jamming with a few South African Jazz muso's)... Great lens! Keep up the good work!