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5 Jazz Albums Everyone Should Own
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.
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.
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.
Also check out the excellent book by Ashley Kahn on the making of Kind of Blue.
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
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 JoÃ£o 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.
Astrud Gilberto - vocals
Stan Getz - tenor saxophone
JoÃ£o Gilberto - guitar, vocals
Antonio Carlos Jobim - piano
SebastiÃ£o Neto - bass
Milton Banana - drums
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.
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.
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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