Friday, February 27, 2009

OPINION: Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time - Top 10

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Best Jazz Albums of All Time - My Top 10 List by Bradford Alderman

1) Kind of Blue - Miles Davis

Yes this is probably the number one selling jazz album of all time. Some say it IS the best jazz album of all time. Did you know that the musicians didn't even rehearse for the recording session? Miles just showed up to the Blue Note session with some melodies and chords and proceeded to record each song in one take... that's how Miles liked to do it... he wanted everything to be spontaneous. Needless to say, everyone played brilliantly. There was so much talent and feeling that there was just no need for many takes. The songs consist of simple melodies and there is so much space yet also deep emotion. It is a pleasure to listen to and feel this album.

2) A Love Supreme - John Coltrane

This album completely changed the jazz world in 1965 and even today it's effects can be found in many musical styles, not just jazz. Coltrane evolves from the extremely complex and dense harmonic language he had mastered with Miles Davis and Monk and just played with pure, raw passion. The four songs on this album are simultaneously filled emotions of anger, joy, sadness, ecstasy, tragedy and triumph. I know of many different types of artists such as writers or painters who use this album to inspire energy and passion from within themselves for their own personal art. This album also inspired a revolution in Coltrane's playing as he played with this same organic raw intensity for the rest of his life.

3) Time Out - Dave Brubeck

This was the first instrumental jazz album to sell over a 1,000,000 copies. 'Take 5' was even a number one hit on Billboard's charts which is a serious feat for any jazz song (and any song in 5/4!). Brubeck uses rhythmic influences from Eastern Europe to create a very new sound in the jazz style. The complex rhythms he uses sound very natural and are easy to listen to, probably the reason for his success. This one is guaranteed to please and intrigue it's listeners.

4) Ellington at Newport - Duke Ellington

Here's a historic concert that has a wonderful background story... It was 1956 and many big bands were failing because of the rise of bebop and modern small group jazz. So at the 3rd annual Newport Jazz Festival, Ellington tried hard to please the crowd with new suites and new arrangements, but the crowd was very sedated as usual. Then finally on a two section song, Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue, Duke had the two sections connect with a sax solo by Paul Gonzalves and him told to play the solo as long as wanted to. He usually only took a couple choruses but this time Gonzalves took a 27 chorus solo that eventually had the crowd off it's feet and dancing! This changed the face of jazz solos and as well as gave Duke some new found success. Duke's band continued in this popularity for 18 more years.

5) Jazz at Massey Hall - Charlie Parker

This album often appears reissued under the name "The Greatest Concert Ever". It is an all star lineup of Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. These guys were all involved in the creation of bebop about 15 years before this concert date (1953) and thus were all seasoned veterans by the time of the concert. Also this was the only time these five would record together and everyone plays amazingly. A lot of earlier bebop recordings suffered from sound quality but this one sounds very good for a live concert.

6) Headhunters - Herbie Hancock

When I first heard this album I felt I had finally found that perfect "sound" I had been searching for my whole life. Some critics and pure acoustic jazz-heads say this album is not jazz, but I must disagree. Others do too, this album was so popular that it quickly sold over a million copies after it's release in 1973. It's simple, funky, extremely enjoyable, and AMAZING! Listen to it over and over for maximum satisfaction.

7) Blue Train - John Coltrane

Recorded in 1957, this album was Coltrane's first album as a leader. It's very interesting to hear how Coltrane was playing before he started heading to the freer, passionate playing that he evolved to in the 60's. Did you know that ten years earlier, Coltrane was considered just a mediocre player? He studied with others and performed SO MUCH with Miles. He was known to constantly practice after gigs late into the night to become the player he was on this album... and he continually improved after this recording! I love this album because it has such a solid, classic jazz sound with great musicians and great originals by Coltrane himself.

8) Getz/Gilberto - Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto

So Herbie Hancock won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2008, the last jazz album to win the award was this one in 1965. It created the Bossa Nova craze in the United States and is one of the best selling jazz records of all time. Stan Getz, Joao and Astrud Gilberto are extremely graceful and intimate as they float along through this wonderful material composed by the famous Antonio Carlos Jobim. I think the best word to describe this album is relaxing.

9) Mingus Ah Um - Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus had a way of making his bands sound lush, original, and of course swing like crazy. This album features many tribute songs to former jazz legends that are guaranteed to get your foot tapping and your fingers snapping! Also there are some amazing ballads filled with highly colorful and emotional horn arrangements. I love to listen to and jam the song Fables of Faubus, a track dedicated to the infamous former governor of Arkansas who took a stand against integration in schools in 1957, the music says it just right.

10) Concert by the Sea - Errol Garner

Errol Garner is a beast. This may be because he can't read a note of written music and therefore must rely on his hearing to guide him to what sounds good. Well he certainly knows what that is because this album is incredibly interesting both harmonically and rhythmically. His left hand swings so hard that it really is on another level of most all pianists. He is technically fluent and plays extremely extravagant arrangements of many well-loved standards like Autumn Leaves and I'll Remember April.

Brad Alderman is a jazz pianist and teacher. He authors the jazz information website,

Also, videos of his playing can be found at

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