Frank Bianco, Copy Editor
Jazz is a music genre that many people have a tough time getting into. Whether it’s because the songs drone on, the squeaks and squawks of a saxophone get too abrasive or sound like aimless noise or for any other reason, jazz can be seen as something of an acquired taste.
Although, as someone who listens to jazz frequently, once you’ve acquired the taste, you’ll find yourself hooked on something that can quickly become an essential part of your life. What follows is a short list of albums that I believe can get you started down a very rewarding path.
“Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis
Not much more can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said. Most jazz-buffs would point you in the direction of this album as a starting point, and they would not be wrong in doing so.
As the greatest selling-jazz album of all time, it’s an essential record to have in any music collection. The extraordinary line-up of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb guarantees a musical experience unlike any other.
It goes without saying that every song on this record is great from start to finish, but I would personally recommend “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches” as starting points.
“Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet
This album is designed to adjust your mind to other rhythms beside the very common 4/4 rhythm that you’ve listened to your entire life but probably haven’t realized. Back in 1959, this album was a surprise hit, but it continues to entertain and inspire listeners all these years later.
The rocking opener “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and the defiantly catchy “Take Five” are the standout tracks on the album, (the latter being the bestselling jazz-single of all time). The Sunday saunter of “Strange Meadow Lark” and the reclining feeling of “Pick Up Sticks” are other highlights.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
In all seriousness, it’s difficult not to love this album. Of course, you’ve heard the titular “Linus and Lucy” and vocal version of “Christmas Time is Here” plenty of times throughout November and December every year, perhaps ad nauseam. But there is much more to the music than one might expect if one takes the time to listen to the album in its entirety.
One un-interrupted listen of the instrumental six-minute version of “Christmas Time is Here” is likely enough to convince you that this album is something special. Other recommended tracks would be the playfully jumping “O, Tanenbaum,” the smiling blizzard of “Skating” and the exciting urgency of “Christmas is Coming.”
“The Grim Fandango Soundtrack” by Peter McConnell
Grim Fandango is an adventure game created by Tim Schafer that was originally released in 1998 on PC before receiving a remaster in 2015. Aside from the stellar characters, exceptional story and unique art-direction, the game is further enhanced by an amazing soundtrack.
Personally, the music from this soundtrack was the impetus that sparked my love for jazz. I believe that the main reason had to do with the fact that there is such a great variety of musical styles in this soundtrack that every song sounds unique and distinct.
With big-band tracks like “Casino Calavera” and “Nuevo Marrow,” somber small-group tracks like “Mr. Frustration Man” and “Lost Souls Alliance,” Latin-influenced tracks like “Compañeros” and “Ninth Heaven,” there’s a lot to keep your attention. If you’re still skeptical about giving classical music an honest listen, “Manny and Meche” is another track that might change your mind.
“Himself” by Thelonious Monk
In my personal opinion, Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest musicians of all time, regardless of genre. Save for the last track which features John Coltrane on tenor saxophone and Wilbur Ware on bass, this album consists of unaccompanied piano. What you have on this record is Monk the Man, barring his mind and soul on the piano.
The album consists mostly of Monk’s interpretations of popular standards, such as “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance” and “I Should Care.” The album is also notable for containing what I believe to be the definitive version of “’Round Midnight,” one of Monk’s greatest compositions.
If you can get through the eccentricities of Monk’s sound, you can pretty much tackle any other jazz album out there.