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25 Years of Collecting Jazz
10 jazz records that raised this jazz buff
Recently, I reached a bit of a milestone related to being a music collector. I’ll explain.
For my 18th birthday, I had received some cash to spend however I wished. I decided to head to the local HMV to purchase some CDs—back in 1996, the idea of a vinyl revival would have been considered almost straight out of science-fiction.
For quite a while, I had been fascinated by jazz. Part of it was fostered by the occasional concert from the Montreal Jazz Festival that was broadcast on TFO, a French education TV station in Canada. An even bigger part was listening to the jazz programming on CJRT-FM and in particular, Ted O’Reilly. Nowadays, CJRT is JAZZ-FM and O’Reilly’s role as arguably Canada’s foremost jazz broadcaster and producer has been glossed over and largely forgotten, except, of course, by those who listened to him over the years.
O’Reilly’s program, The Jazz Scene, which broadcast weeknights at 10:00 p.m. as well as Saturday mornings and evenings, was a deeply immersive education into the music that was uncompromising in its integrity and impervious to trends and fads. It was the real deal. As an example, in the winter of 1994, when I was still very much a novice jazz listener whose primary exposure to the music was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, O’Reilly featured over the course of six consecutive Saturday nights John Coltrane’s 1966 recordings from Japan—one of the most intimidating documents of free jazz there is, both in terms of the energy of the music and duration (every piece was at least 25 minutes with the version of Coltrane’s signature ‘My Favourite Things’ topping 57 minutes!). It was a bracing and even frightening initiation into the outer edges of the music. Thankfully, it did not deter me from exploring further.
In terms of jazz musicians that I knew before that fateful day heading into HMV, I knew Miles, Coltrane and Oscar Peterson and not much more.
In perusing the selections, I eventually decided to purchase Miles’ Milestones and Coltrane’s My Favourite Things: two recordings I knew were among the most famous of jazz albums. I took them home, listened to them again and again, and before long, was back to the stores to buy more, and so on and so on. Fast forward to last Tuesday—a full 25 years since I had bought those first two albums.
To mark the occasion as well as to reflect on where my collecting and listening has taken me over the years and how my understanding of jazz has shifted over time, I thought I would select 10 recordings that really shaped how I feel about jazz today.
In a Silent Way
I remember staring back in wonder at the back of Miles’ classic 1969 album and seeing only two tracks listed—for someone used to songs being only a few minutes long and albums containing 10 tracks at the very least, In a Silent Way seemed like it would be new, wondrous and entirely different to anything I had heard before. When I finally bought it in the summer of 1996, it far exceeded anything I could have conceived. It fundamentally changed how I felt about music.
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
I bought this legendary collaboration between Coltrane and Johnny Hartman late in the fall of 1996. Hearing it when I was 18, it was an introduction to the adult world of love and romance—Hartman’s rich baritone cushioned by the lush backing of Coltrane’s Classic Quartet singing songs at the outer edge of the Great American Songbook. It remains to these ears one of the finest ballad albums ever recorded.
Everybody Digs Bill Evans
One of the sounds that struck me the first time I heard Kind of Blue was the piano of Bill Evans—such a rich, melodic, lyrical and above all, romantic sound. The first recording by Evans that I purchased was his Portraits in Jazz, which I loved, but his album before that—with Sam Jones on bass and “Philly” Joe Jones on drums—was the one that really caught my ear. The most famous recording on the album is ‘Peace Piece,’ but for me it’s Evans’ ballad playing on standards like ‘Young and Foolish’ and ‘What is There to Say?’ that truly struck a deep chord.
Blue Note, 1965
I first heard the title track of Herbie Hancock’s seminal Blue Note recording on Ted O’Reilly’s show and think I bought the CD the next day, or at the very least, very soon afterwards. It was one of the first Blue Note’s I bought and made it clear that a jazz collection of any substance needs to have Blue Note in it, and a whole lot of it.
Know What I Mean?
Adderley became an obsession of mine shortly after I became a jazz collector. His approach to the jazz small group was churchy, soulful yet unafraid to branch out—Yusef Lateef’s stint in the Adderley band from 1962-63 played a huge role in that. Yet, it was his session with Bill Evans that cast a major spell on me. The combination of Adderley’s extroverted alto, Evans’ dreamy piano with the solid support of Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums results in one of the great quartet records of the early-60s.
Johnny Hodges with Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra
I bought my first Duke Ellington record in the winter of 2000 (Such Sweet Thunder) and was hooked. And when you listen to Ellington, you are also listening to the members of his orchestra—Duke and Billy Strayhorn often wrote specifically for a soloist and not an instrument—so it was inevitable that I almost immediately became an ardent fan of altoist Johnny Hodges. This album, with as non-descript a title as possible, was one of the first I bought to immerse myself in the world of Ellington. It’s Hodges with Duke’s orchestra (Jimmy Jones is on piano in place of Duke) and Strayhorn’s arrangements of a program mostly of tried-and-true Ellingtonia. It’s a perfect, pristine big band recording with Hodges playing at the height of his powers and the added bonus of trombonist Lawrence Brown offering Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Star Dust’ as the album’s concluding statement.
The Far East Suite
RCA Victor, 1966
My soundtrack during the summer of 2000 was this evocative suite by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn—the last work they collaborated on before Strayhorn’s passing in May 1967—of tone poems of various cities in the Middle and Far East that Ellington’s orchestra visited in 1963 and 1964. The sense of atmosphere, the profound quality of the writing and the genius of soloists like tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton and trumpeter Cootie Williams furthered and cemented my immersion in the world of Ellingtonia.
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
One of the towering album-length statements in jazz and Mingus’ masterpiece. An often intense, emotional and wrenching experience that combines Mingus’ volcanic writing, his deep love of Ellington and sheer sonic intensity not to mention Charlie Mariano on alto—a performance for the ages. I still think my jaw is stuck firmly on the ground from the first time I heard it during the summer of 2000.
Sonny Meets Hawk
RCA Victor, 1963
There’s a point in ‘Lover Man’ on Rollins’ 1963 encounter with Coleman Hawkins that exclaimed that something truly special was taking place. During Rollins’ solo, he begins to play a high-pitch squeal on the tenor, setting up a truly abstract and eerie entrance for Hawkins to begin restating the melody of one of the most beloved of standards. It’s a vivid sonic representation that the old and the new guard of jazz—different as they may be—can co-exist. It’s a stunning moment from an album full of them.
I remember hearing on the radio the opening track, Chick Corea’s ‘Litha,’ of Getz’s landmark 1967 album. I was mesmerized by the partially modal construction of the tune and hearing both Getz and Corea progress through the song’s scales during their solos. I bought the album soon afterwards and it has remained a favourite ever since. Here is the sound of Getz engaging with the changes of jazz in the Sixties that transpired during his excursions into bossa nova, adapting his beautiful tone and interacting with an all-star rhythm section: Corea, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate.
The Summer of Soul: For 52 years, the Harlem Cultural Festival was a closely-kept secret held mostly by those who were lucky to attend or who performed at any of the Festival’s six Sunday concerts in the summer of 1969. Thanks to Questlove, that’s about to change with the release of his directorial debut, Summer of Soul, which documents this incredible series of concerts featuring everyone from the Fifth Dimension to Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach. It rescues from obscurity the countless hours of footage that has sat unseen and unknown for over a half-century.
It is impossible to understate the importance of this act of cultural archaeology. While I haven’t seen it, and not sure when I will be able to, I am confident that Summer of Soul will be a vital document of an important event in Black music and Black history. All thanks to Questlove.
Randy Newman & Friends: Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Randy Newman. For whatever reason, these days, I’ve been taking comfort in Newman’s sardonic, askew and off-centre views of the world. As part of my travels in the Newman-verse, I stumbled upon this clip of ‘I Love L.A.’ from his induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
I think I’ve watched it about 15 or 20 times in the past few weeks. What a fantastic joining for forces: Newman with Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty. By the time they all sing “Just another perfect day,” I am filled with one wish: that after this performance, all four, in a moment of euphoria, form a supergroup, and write, record and release an album. The presence of Petty here (aka Charles T. Wilbury Jr.) must have something to do with this dream. It never happened, but it’s a noble thought.
A great podcast on the studio magic of George Martin & the Beatles: The first book I ever read about the Beatles as a youngster was Mark Lewisohn’s chronicle of the Beatles’ recordings sessions—a behind-the-scenes document of the band and their producer, George Martin, at Abbey Road and other studios. Discovering the book at such a young age instilled in me an lifelong fascination into the craft of recording and I am happy to say that a recent podcast taps into this obsession.
Created by Jason Krupa, a scholar on the work and legacy of George Martin, Producing the Beatles takes an insightful and detailed look into how Martin collaborated with the Beatles to create their many musical masterpieces. Taking individual songs (When I’m Sixty-Four, for example) and techniques (overdubbing, variable tape speed, tape loops, just to name a few), the podcast is a painstaking and addictive examination of the Beatles that is unique and offers something new to say about why their music is so important and enduring. That is an achievement in and of itself, and Producing the Beatles is well worth a listen wherever you like to catch your podcasts.