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THELONIOUS MONK Monk's Music Album Cover Monk's Music
THELONIOUS MONK
4.90 | 10 ratings
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FRANK SINATRA Come Dance With Me! (with Billy May And His Orchestra) Album Cover Come Dance With Me! (with Billy May And His Orchestra)
FRANK SINATRA
4.91 | 6 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall Album Cover With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
THELONIOUS MONK
4.98 | 4 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners Album Cover Brilliant Corners
THELONIOUS MONK
4.87 | 7 ratings
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STAN KENTON Adventures in Jazz Album Cover Adventures in Jazz
STAN KENTON
4.99 | 3 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Monk's Dream Album Cover Monk's Dream
THELONIOUS MONK
4.81 | 8 ratings
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STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI Album Cover Kenton in HI-FI
STAN KENTON
4.98 | 3 ratings
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FRANK SINATRA Watertown Album Cover Watertown
FRANK SINATRA
4.91 | 4 ratings
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LOUIS ARMSTRONG Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy Album Cover Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy
LOUIS ARMSTRONG
4.95 | 3 ratings
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JOE PASS Virtuoso Album Cover Virtuoso
JOE PASS
4.93 | 3 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Miles Davis All Star Sextet (aka Walkin') Album Cover Miles Davis All Star Sextet (aka Walkin')
MILES DAVIS
4.77 | 7 ratings
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STAN KENTON Standards in Silhouette Album Cover Standards in Silhouette
STAN KENTON
5.00 | 2 ratings
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traditional jazz Music Reviews

COLEMAN HAWKINS At Ease With Coleman Hawkins

Album · 1960 · Swing
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js
Mood music was a phenomena that arose in the 50s with the arrival of the long playing album and was designed to provide a ‘relaxing atmosphere’ for people during times of leisure. Often these albums consisted of rather faceless orchestras playing classic ballads in a rather bland and unobtrusive manner, but a not uncommon alternative to the generic orchestra would involve having a well known jazz musician play the ballads instead. Big stars from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane have recorded such albums and these sides can range from cheezy and forget-able to decent sets of jazz, albeit a bit laid back. Fortunately, Coleman Hawkins’, “At Ease with Coleman Hawkins”, falls into that latter group.

If you had to pick the nicest tone in saxophone history, Hawkins would rate at the top along side fellow reed men like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. For those unfamiliar with his history, Hawkins, pretty much by himself, invited modern saxophone playing in the late 20s and made the saxophone a competitive solo instrument with his virtuoso solos and smooth tone that is still hard to match today. Coleman brings all that virtuosity to “at Ease”, but keeps things in a relaxed manner as required by the mood music setting.

In comparison to other jazz albums that double as easy listening, “at Ease” rates very well. One big plus on here is that there are no background strings weighting down the sound, often a big problem with other jazz mood albums. Instead, the only instruments you get on “at Ease” are a simple four piece combo with the great Tommy Flanagan on piano. A second big plus is the choice of tunes. Easy listening albums are notorious for featuring songs that have been played to death, not so on this one, apparently Hawkins picked the tunes himself, and his choices are thoughtful and unique. Fans of Coleman Hawkins don’t need to be afraid of this one, Hawkins keeps it mellow, but he doesn’t necessarily check his genius at the door, there is a lot of great playing on here, inventive and unique as always.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS The Smithsonian Collection Of Classic Jazz

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Swing
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js
This review is written using the original Smithsonian Collection of Jazz issued on 6 LPs that came in a box with an excellent 46 page booklet. If you are looking for a good way to get an overview of jazz history from New Orleans up to the early 60s, you couldn’t do much better than this one. Almost all of the important players are here and arranged in very logical chronological order, or sometimes grouped by genre and/or instrument. Much effort was made in assembling this package to present jazz as it grew and changed over the years. There are a few omissions and those will be covered later in this review.

This collection starts where it should, in New Orleans in the early 20s, and finally ends with John Coltrane’s “Alabama”. In between you get several cuts by major innovators like Ellington, Parker and Armstrong, and at least one cut from anyone else who was important. A top highlight of this collection comes early on when Scott Joplin’s version of “Maple Leaf Rag” is followed by Jelly Roll Morton’s, and it becomes clear what this new “jass” was all about. From the beginning jazz was a nuanced musical language whereby “hipsters” could transform pop tunes and make them personal creations in a way that was difficult to imitate and in a manner that left “squares” clueless. It’s this attempt to always stay one step ahead of the imitators that has fueled most of jazz’s innovations. Another similar juxtaposition comes when the collection follow’s Benny Goodman’s version of “Body and Soul” with Coleman Hawkin’s version. No doubt Goodman was a major talent, but no one could transform a melody like Hawkins.

Another highlight in the chronology occurs when Ellington makes his first appearance. The Basie cuts preceding Ellington are great energetic rockin swingin numbers, but when the first couple bars of Ellington’s “East St Louis Toodle-Oo” come slinking into the picture, its obvious we have entered a whole new universe. Actually the first couple bars of that tune almost sound like a ‘Knitting Factory’ band in NYC’s 21st Century, but when the tune proper kicks in, there is no doubt that this is Ellington in the late 20s, a couple centuries ahead of his time, and still so today. This whole new universe effect happens again when Parker and Gillespie show up, and once more when Cecil Taylor unveils “Enter Evening”.

This is an excellent collection, but there are some omissions. The most glaring is that nothing is included from Coltrane’s hard bop years, particularly the groundbreaking album “Giant Steps” and even more particularly, the hugely influential title track. Possibly still the most influential tune in modern jazz, the fast moving and difficult chord changes to “Giant Steps” continue to be a holy grail for young saxophone players who want to prove their skills. It was probably hard to include every major player, but if I had to pick the one most missed it would be Eric Dolphy, one of the few musicians who seemed capable of expanding on what Parker had established. Although there is an attempt to show the roots of jazz with one ragtime tune and a couple early blues numbers, it would have been nice to hear even earlier music that demonstrates the relationship between traditional African music and pre-jazz brass bands. Recordings of rural Louisiana brass bands, as late as the 1950s, playing in a very African style that preceded jazz, do exist.

There is a CD re-issue of this collection that corrects a few other omissions, particularly the Bill Evans Trio and Wes Montgomery. The CD collection also quite slyly jumps a decade and a half at the very end to feature one cut from 1979 by The World Saxophone Quartet. The implication being that the fusion/smooth jazz years were merely a diversion, the real innovations in jazz will be coming from guys like Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Hamie Bluiett and David Murray.

QUINCY JONES This Is How I Feel About Jazz

Album · 1957 · Big Band
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“This is How I Feel About Jazz” was Quicy Jones’ debut LP way back in 1957. It may be hard for some to believe that this eventual king of pop was once totally immersed in the world of jazz, but listening to any of his modern pop albums will reveal the techniques he learned while he was one of the top jazz arrangers. This is an excellent album, especially for being someone’s initial effort. Choosing to open with Miles’ “Walkin” sets the tone for the LP, east coast sophisticated urban blues meets west coast laid back cool. Jones’ big band sound is rooted in the soul of Ellington and Basie, but modernized with a smart economical approach that favors light and slightly odd instrumental mixtures. It was, and in many ways still is, the essence of sophisticated hip. This sound that Jones will develop alongside fellow arrangers, such as Henry Mancicni and Lalo Schifrin, will become the sound of better TV and movie soundtracks for several decades to come. Its interesting to note that at this time in history, the role of the jazz big band had changed from dancing and entertainment to being a sort of colorful orchestra for the arranger‘s creativity, which led to the big band’s new career as a supplier for many a Hollywood soundtrack, especially in the brand new world of TV.

One of the big pluses on “How I Feel About Jazz” is the all-star cast of musicians, Mingus or Paul Chambers on bass, Art Farmer on trumpet, Zoot Sims and Phil Woods on sax and Herbie Mann on flute, plus many more. There are plenty of great solos on here, plus its interesting to listen to Herbie Mann and Mingus duet on the opening of “A Sleeping Bee”. Overall this is a fairly laid back album with no particular stand out tracks, later Jones albums will sometimes work up more of a sweat. If there is one drawback, it is the brevity of this LP. Still, this is recommended for fans of late 50s-60s jazz big bands, as well as fans of soundtrack work from that same era.

MILES DAVIS Bags' Groove

Album · 1957 · Bop
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siLLy puPPy
BAGS GROOVE was recorded way back in 1954 but wasn't released until 1957. This is considered his “Birth Of The Cool” phase in his career. As with many releases this one is a handful of selections that were strewn together after being recorded from various sessions. 54' was a fruitful year of session recordings since other tracks from the same period led to the album “Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants” as well as there being enough material to throw on Thelonious Monk albums. BAGS was the nickname of vibraphonist Milt Jackson who, despite having the album named after him, only plays on the first two tracks which are different versions of the title track.

Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Percy Heath on bass, Kenny Clarke on drums and of course Miles himself on trumpet all conspire to make an outstanding album of classic jazz that is satisfying from beginning to end. The music is good enough to merit a much higher rating but there is one thing keeping this album from being a huge classic and that is the fact that two tracks here, namely the title track “Bags Groove” and “But Not For Me” appear here twice each showcasing two different takes of each piece.

Although I have no preference of one take over another, the fact is that this makes listening to this as an album from beginning to end a bit of chore especially when the title track takes are over 11 and 9 minutes and also that the takes don't differ significantly from each other. So this basically makes it feel like a leftovers package and since the album came out three years after it was recorded that very well may be exactly what this is. Recently this has in fact been considered by some to be a compilation album.

DIZZY GILLESPIE At Newport (50th anniversary edition)

Boxset / Compilation · 2007 · Big Band
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The 50th Anniversary edition of “Dizzy Gillespie at Newport” is another one of those CD re-issues that adds enough new material to make it a significant improvement over the original. The original version of “At Newport” did not include the songs that Gillespie’s band performed with Mary Lou Williams that day, those songs instead showed up on a split EP with Count Basie. This 50th Anniversary edition brings all the songs together and you can now hear the entire show, although the songs are not in the right order as they happened that day.

This CD opens up with the six tunes that comprised the original LP and contain some of the hottest playing you will ever hear from Dizzy and his band, or anyone else for that matter. Unlike the swing based bands of Ellington, Basie and others, Dizzy’s band was the be-bop big band; their tempos were fast, their unison lines a blur of speed and their solos displayed a new formidable modern technique. The opening tune “Dizzy’s Blues” busts out of the gate with Dizzy leading the charge with an incredible fiery hot solo relentlessly pushing the beat forward. Wynton Kelly’s jagged piano backup adds to the beautiful chaos. Dizzy tended to gear his shows towards the general public, not just die hard jazz fans, so there is always an upbeat easy going crowd pleasing nature to his shows, along with a good dose of humor. Whether or not Gillespie’s humor gets to be too silly or over done sometimes is a matter of taste.

The rest of the five tunes from the original LP are all good with “School Days” being a sure crowd pleaser with Dizzy doing silly school boy raps over a jump blues/rock-n-roll beat. “Manteca” is intense Latin jazz and “Cool Breeze” brings back the fast energy of the opener. The following tunes on this CD feature the cuts with Mary Lou Williams that were originally released as a separate EP back in the 50s. Apparently these were actually the opening tunes at the concert and present a totally different side of the band. William’s set opens with her ambitious three part “Zodiac Suite” which has the band digging into difficult and exotic 3rd stream type arrangements. This era of early big band experimentation produced some very interesting, almost naïve at times, creations and William’s odd “Suite” is no exception. The rest of this CD is made up of two more well known Latin flavored numbers.

What a great idea to bring the two original separate records of this concert together onto one CD. You get some excellent variety on here with the high brow and ambitious “Zodiac Suite” contrasting with the good times rockin energy of the other cuts. Besides Dizzy, some other great soloists on here include Al Grey on trombone, Pee Wee Moore and Benny Golson on sax, and Lee Morgan on trumpet.

On an interesting side note, Gillespie's 57 appearance at Newport came one year after Ellington’s big band smash success at the festival in 1956. No doubt Ellington’s success was an influence on Gillespie’s presentation as there are some interesting similarities including a three part suite followed by some crowd pleasing bluesy early rock-n-roll back beat.

traditional jazz movie reviews

JONI MITCHELL Shadows And Light

Movie · 1980 · Vocal Jazz
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Joni Mitchell meets The Pat Metheny Group.

What can I say? This was my real introduction into the music of Joni and what a place to start! She had really entered a new phase and the tracks offered span from Court And Spark up to Mingus (and of course, the song Shadows And Light, exclusive to the live album).

The concert was an outdoors affair at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. The liner notes say that "this concert catches Joni at the height of her artistic excellence." Having explored her albums after and before this era, I can wholeheartedly agree with that. Jaco Pastorius, who had a reputation at that point of being erratic in live situations, seems to be in a good mode. The camera work is good and the concert is now available on DVD with 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio all of which make for a show worthy of revisiting from time to time.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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Albums with 30 ratings and more
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