Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Your Second Jazz Album

So we've established that the first jazz album you should listen to is, clearly and unmistakably, Kind of Blue.  What's the second?

....Here, things get complicated.  Rapidly, and Very.

If there is a really clear answer, and something approaching a consensus, to the number one slot, below that what we have is chaos.

(And, as a forthright warning, I should make it clear that I don't have an answer.  I'm not sure there is an answer, the way that there is for the question of one's first jazz album.  So if you're interested only in a single answer, you might as well bail now.)

Now, while it's chaos, it's not total chaos.  If you look at the dozen lists of introductory jazz albums I linked to last time (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12), you'll see there's a great deal of overlap.  In particular, if you omit the last two (both of which are specifically trying to be different from the consensus), you'll see a lot of overlap.  Here -- I obsess, you benefit -- are the albums that appear on more than one of those ten lists*:
  • Davis, Miles, Kind of Blue (10)
  • Brubeck, Dave, Time Out (4)
  • Coleman, Ornette, The Shape of Jazz to Come (4)
  • Getz, Stan and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (4)
  • Mingus, Charles, Mingus Ah Um (4)
  • Coltrane, John, Blue Train (3)
  • Coltrane, John, A Love Supreme (3)
  • Evans, Bill, Sunday at the Village Vanguard (3)
  • Adderly Cannonball, Somethin’ Else (2)
  • Armstrong, Louis, Best of the Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (2)
  • Davis, Miles , Bitches Brew (2)
  • Evans, Bill, Live at Town Hall (2)
  • Haden, Charlie & Pat Metheny, Beyond The Missouri Sky (2)
  • Jarrett, Keith, Köln Concert (2)
  • Parker, Charlie, Best of the Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (2)
  • Rollins Sonny, The Bridge (2)
The first thing to note is that Kind of Blue is on all ten lists; the next most frequently represented album is on four.  This is why it ought to be your first jazz album.

Apart from that, though, this is a list of fifteen other albums, and probably even makes a pretty decent starter list on its own.  It even has the "one recent album" feature that so many of the lists seem to include, since two of the lists chose the same recent album (Haden and Metheny's Beyond the Missouri Sky).

Oh, and remember how I was saying that 1959 was sort of an annus mirabilis in jazz, with no less than five albums selected for the Library of Congress's list of significant recordings?  Well, four of those albums are in the top five on the list -- Kind of Blue, Time Out, The Shape of Jazz to Come and Mingus Ah Um.  The only album mentioned on as many as four lists that is not from 1959 is Getz/GIlerto (from 1964)**; the only album from the 1959 set not on this list is Coltrane's Giant Steps -- which seems, on these ten lists, to have been overshadowed by his most famous earlier (Blue Train) and later (A Love Supreme) albums.  (Personally, I'd have gone for Giant Steps, not necessarily as the best of those three, but as the most accessible -- certainly more than A Love Supreme, good as the latter is.)

But of course this overemphasizes artists who made one very popular (or very accessible) album, and de-emphasizes those for whom there is no consensus about which album to recommend for beginners.  So here's a list, again drawn from those ten linked above, of just of the performers the lists agree on, giving the performers one point for each album (thus if a list gives two albums, they get two points for it).  Then you get:
  • Miles Davis (14)
  • John Coltrane (8)
  • Bill Evans (6)
  • Ornette Coleman (5)
  • Louis Armstrong (5†)
  • Dave Brubeck (4)
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilbreto (4)
  • Charles Mingus (4)
  • Thelonious Monk (4)
  • Charlie Parker (4)
  • Duke Ellington (3) 
  • Herbie Hancock (3)
  • Sonny Rollins (3)
  • Cannnonball Adderly (2)
  • Art Blakey (2)
  • Ella Fitzgerald (2†)
  • Carlie Haden & Pat Metheny (2)
  • Keith Jarrett (2)
  • Wynton Marsailis (2) 
The ones in itallics are those where each of the lists mentioning them mention the same album.  (Miles Davis is a special case here: all mentioned Kind of Blue, four others added a second album.)  The daggers (†) are because I've credited both Fitzgerald and Armstrong separately for the listing of their joint album (Ella and Louis).  But I credited Haden & Metheny as a team, despite the fact that one list also mentioned a Metheny solo album (it was one of the two that listed the collaboration -- presumably a big Metheny fan).

Coltrane's place here is more clearly representative of his importance (and accessibility); there's just no agreement about which album to start with.  The same holds true in other cases.  More than half the lists think that you should try some live Bill Evans; they just can't agree on which (and whether to recommend Sunday at the Village Vanguard or the complete recordings that were released from that same set of performances).  Minugs and Monk get the same number of votes, but everyone plugs Mingus Ah Um, while the lists that mentioned Thelonious Monk mentioned four different albums (Brilliant Corners, Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1, Misterioso, Monk's Dream).  Herbie Hancock too was represented by three different albums (Empyrean Isles, Gershwin's World, Head Hunters).  This is true too for Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, but it's less surprising in their cases because they had such long and storied carriers, and their work is usually considered by the song not the album (there was a switch at some point).

But if you put these two lists together, you get a sense of some of the places to go -- after, of course, Kind of Blue.  Now, obviously, these are just ten "start here" lists I pulled off a few Google searches.  (And I'm working with the short ones here -- there are a lot of longer lists I'm ignoring because obsession only goes so far.)  But it does show you some of the suggestions people make.

Have I followed these lists?  Somewhat.  I've been listening to a lot of things, including most (but not all) of the albums on the first list (and the artists on the second), but a bunch of other stuff too.  For me, however, the single most important consideration has been whether it's been available at my local public library***.  I'll try almost anything that I can get there; otherwise, my degree of selectivity goes way up.  I have bought a few things the library either didn't have or didn't have playable copies of (one example: Coltrane's A Love Supreme ****).  But my budget is limited, so albums I can listen to for free are prioritized.  -- And this is the way these things usually work, I presume: the lists are then integrated with other considerations, and a new list generated.

Still, those are some albums and artists some people have suggested you might like to listen to, if you'd like to listen to some jazz.  A list to consider with the rest.

...except that all this is assuming that albums are the right category to be looking for.  My next post (if and when I get to it) will consider another possibility entirely -- one that some people, at least, might find more to their liking.  Stay tuned.

* Actually, these are also the albums that appear on all twelve lists more than once, since the last two have no overlaps with either each other or the other ten.  This doesn't hold when it comes to artists -- if I integrated the other two lists into the artist list, it'd change -- but, as we Jews say around this season, diyanu.

** The whole album Getz/GIlerto isn't on the L of C list, but its most famous track, "The Girl from Ipanema", is.

***  And whether the disk then works -- our library's CDs have a fail rate of about 10%, based on my not at all random sampling.  I'm not complaining, mind -- I love hearing the music for free, and kvetching that some of it doesn't work would be petty.  But I have found that just because something's listed in the catalog doesn't mean that it's actually available for hearing.  (There are also a fair number of disks which are, seemingly indefinitely, 'out for repair'.)

**** Yes, the library had it, but it was hopelessly scratched.

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