Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blanchard's Top One, Ten, and Twenty-Five Best Jazz Albums

I had originally intended this blog as a guide to novice jazz collectors.  I have no idea whether it is serving that purpose.  Most of my comments are from folks who have pretty decent collections already.  But I am a classical thinker by training, so making lists is something I do like dogs chew bones.  As Christmas approaches, a top fifty jazz recordings list might do someone some good, and it is fun to think about it.

I have assembled a top twenty five list.  Here is my top ten:

Kind of Blue
The Shape of Jazz to Come
Giant Steps
Far Cry
Sunday at the Village Vanguard
The State of the Tenor
Mingus Ah Um
Brilliant Corners
Saxophone Collosus
Speak No Evil

You may notice that, while KOB is first, the rest of the nine are in alphabetical order.  KOB comes first as I hold that it is the most perfect jazz recording I have ever heard.  I alphabetized the rest of the list to avoid any suggestion that number six is a little better than seven but not quite so good as number five.  It seems silly to me to cut it that fine.  The reader should bear in mind that I am not claiming these are the ten best jazz recordings of all.  My focus is rather narrow: hard bop to avant garde jazz, mostly recorded in the fifties and sixties. 

I am sticking here to single disc recordings that have had a major impact on me and that show up on a lot of similar lists.  I avoided repeating artists.  Someone who had just these ten, and listened attentively and with devotion, would have a pretty good idea what the jazz idea is.  Many Coltrane fans will object that A Love Supreme ought to come before Giant Steps.  That may be so, but ALS is a rather unrepresentative recording, and I think that GS had much more influence on the history of the music.  Likewise my choice of Far Cry to represent Dolphy is somewhat idiosyncratic.  Brilliant Corners might be the most questionable choice, but if you had one Monk recording, that would be it.  All of Monk's genius is in it.  Or maybe Henderson's State of the Tenor looks most out of place.  I admit that it is actually a two disc recording, but I plead that one can fit it on one CD.  I really think that this belongs in the top ten, and I am sure that Joe deserves a place there. 

Here is the rest of the top twenty-five on my list. 

Something Else
Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
Time Out
Midnight Blue
A Love Supreme
Our Man in Paris
Maiden Voyage
Point of Departure
Let Freedom Ring
Blues and the Abstract Truth
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
New York Contemporary Five
Jazz Advance
The Real McCoy

Here I allowed myself some repeat artists, and so got ALS in.  Miles may be said to have made it in twice, as Adderley's Something Else might really have been a Davis recording.  With Davis, the problem I have is that I think his best documents are the multi-disc live recordings at the Plugged Nickel, the Black Hawk, and the Stockholm recordings.  But I honestly think that ESP is Mile's second best single disc recording.  His second great quintet, and the pervasive influence of Wayne Shorter makes it an immortal recording.

Well, I expect to be returning to this theme in coming days or weeks.  Completing a list of fifty will be a challenge.  I am open to suggestions. 


  1. Hi Ken,
    Apart from thinking up 'best of' lists, I presume in your spare time you walk blindfold through mine fields. A great list of post 1956 recordings, but surely you must feel uncomfortable including Dave Brubeck and leaving out anything from Charles Parker Jr. Stretch your time frame a few years to 1953, and you could have included the Massey Hall concert when bebop was still alive.


  2. MrD: Into the mindfield I go. I have very deliberately left out the principle beboppers, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. I just don't know that bit of jazz well enough. I have to confess that I am addicted to stereo recordings, among other things. I would have including the Massey Hall concert if I had gone back that far.

    Anyway, the list is just for fun. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I'D CERTAINLY ADD TONY WILLIAMS'S 'SPRING' (1965) TO YOUR TOP TEN LIST FOR THAT PERIOD, FOR BEING A FASCINATING EXAMPLE OF ORGANIC MUSIC (everybody playing their own thing, but they sound as one organism).
    Cheers, Bartek

  4. Great job on the list. I racked my brain thinking how I'd improve it. You certainly have the right artists represented. In a few cases I'd pick a different album. I'd like to see either Davis's Bitches Brew or In A Silent Way up there too. Rollin's The Bridge would be a good selection. But you did good.

  5. Bartek: You expose me as the pretender I am. I don't know the albums you mention. I only have Tony Williams 'Life Time', which I have blogged about and I think is very fine. I will look into the others. I do have some MJQ, and I was a little concerned that I didn't put one of their magnificent works onto my list.

    KL: I am not a big fan of Bitche's Brew, or In a Silent Way, though I think the latter is a very serious work. I will have to listen to both of them again, on your recommendation. Rollin's The Bridge is indeed a priceless recording, but I would have to put it after his Village Vangard recording.

    I am going to continue the list, despite Derick's prudent warning, at least to 50. I will include some multi-cd recordings on it. Stay tuned!

    And thanks to all for the comments.

  6. I have been an avid modern jazz listener since around 1954. I love the earlier work of Miles Davis but he lost me somewhere along the way.

    Like the boy who told everyone that the emperor had no clothes, I am going to stick my neck out and say that Kind of Blue is repetitive, noisy, boring, totally unmusical and for me just plain unlistenable.

    I fail to see its importance in recorded jazz history - but that’s only my opinion. I’d like to hear from anyone else who may feel that same way.

  7. Mel: One of us is wrong. It's okay to not like what everyone else likes, or think that something is great even though you seem to be the only one who listens to it. Jazz only exists between the artists and the listener.

    But Kind of Blue has managed to connect with a lot of souls, including mine. On the other hand, I'd rather go to the dentist than listen to Coltrane's Ascension, and a good friend of mine thinks it's the greatest jazz recording. Go figure.

  8. It goes without saying that each of us is entitled to his own opinion.

    But it seems you didn’t get my analogy:

    Now Saturday came and the streets were just
    lined with thousands and thousands and thousands of people.
    And they all were cheering as the artillery came by, the infantry marched by,
    the cavalry galloped by. And everybody was cheering like mad,
    except one little boy. You see, he hadn't heard about
    the magic suit and didn't know what he was supposed to see.
    Well, as the King came by the little boy looked and, horrified, said:

    "Look at the King! Look at the King! Look at the King, the King, the King!
    The King is in the altogether, but altogether, the altogether
    He's altogether as naked as the day that he was born
    The King is in the altogether, but altogether, the altogether
    It's altogether the very least the King has ever worn!

    Summon the court physician! Call an intermission!
    His majesty is wide open to ridicule and scorn.

    (Lyrics by Frank Loesser, “The King’s New Clothes”)
    (after The Emperor’s New Clothes - but what are you going to rhyme with “emperor”?

  9. Mel: I think that I did get your analogy. Somethings are famous just because they are famous. I think Jackson Pollock in art is a good example. But I think that that rarely works for very long with music. A lot of people may buy an album because everyone says its great, but they won't listen to it if it doesn't connect. Sooner or later the last copies end up in the remainder bins.

    Kind of Blue is by far and away the best selling album in the history of jazz fifty years after its recording. That isn't because there are any large, adoring crowds shouting down doubters. It's because people hear it and fall in love with it. I can see how you think it is repetitive, but "unmusical"?

    Again, I sympathize with your position. Miles lost me somewhere along the way, but I gather that it was much later than he lost you. I remain unconvinced by Bitche's Brew or the Jack Johnson recording. Just out of curiosity, when did Miles lose you? Do you like the recordings of his second quintet, for example, ESP?

    Thanks for the comment and the lyrics. They are a useful reminder to all would be connoiseurs.

  10. Thanks for sympathizing. I found Stockhausen unlistenable too. It all has to do with personal likes and tastes. I wouldn't call myself an aspiring connoisseur - it's all a matter of what sounds good to the ear.

    Loved ESP. I don't remember exactly but I think that was probably close to the end for me. It was probably Bitch's Brew that turned me off his subsequent stuff - it certainly wasn't Kind Of Blue because except for that I love everything of his before BB.

    Thanks for listening.

  11. You're welcome, Mel. Thanks for reading and posting. Please keep it up. I get lonely here.

  12. Thanks very much for this, and the follow up. I discovered jazz on my own in pre-internet days in a place where jazz was generally juvenile jazz marching bands. So there are quite a few classic albums missing from my collection.

    Kind of Blue was the second jazz album I bought and I still love it. One of its strengths for me is that I can play it when I have friends who claim not to like jazz round and we can all enjoy it. Although I prefer Ascension that's more an album to play when I want people to leave!

    Anyway, thanks again for the great lists.