6 Essential Jazz Albums
Posted on: 18/05/2015
Looking for the perfect soundtrack to our upcoming Jazz on Film season? The man behind this blissful and blistering program, resident jazz expert Spiro Economopoulos offers this primer for the uninitiated and obsessed.
The Essential Jo Jones (1977)
Jo Jones is considered by some jazz historians as the inventor of classic jazz drumming. Why Jones? Long story short, in a pointed anecdote during the sensational Whiplash, J.K.Simmons brutal jazz teacher recounts a legend/myth that the great Charlie Parker in his youth joined in on a jam session with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra (Jones was the drummer). Parker played so badly that the enraged Jones threw a drum cymbal at his head, nearly decapitating him. The story serves as a justification for Simmons drill sergeant like teaching practices. Start with The Essential Jo Jones and go from there.
Mingus Ah Um (1959)
Manfred Kirchheimer’s seminal grafitti documentary Stations of the Elevated stands out for many reasons, aside from the hypnotic visuals of derelict train lines and the crumbling decay of 80s urban New York City, the most remarkable element is the unexpected jazz score featuring Charles Mingus. Essentially a hip-hop film with no hip-hop music in it, the blistering score surprisingly works perfectly alongside the staccato like editing rhythm of the film. Have a listen to Mungus Ah Um which came out during a legendary year for classic jazz albums that included the likes of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Take Five and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.
In The World: From Natchez to New York (1998)
The documentary Nas: Time is Illmatic traces the genesis of his seminal hip-hop album, Illmatic, shaped by the fertile grounds of his childhood amongst the impoverished housing projects in Queensbridge New York and the stories and sounds that bled into the soul of this fine album. Amongst the syncopated rhymes and beats you can hear the towering influence of Nas' father Olu Dara, an accomplished jazz musician in his own right, who also played clarinet on the album's searing track, "Life’s a Bitch". Have a listen to his album In the World: From Natchez to New York, an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, funk and reggae. And it goes without saying; Nas’ Illmatic is also essential listening.
The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color (1975)
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a force of nature, a blind multi-instrumentalist, who changed his name from Ronald Theodore Kirk after it came to him in a dream. Kirk turned everything into a musical instrument and developed a unique way of playing sax, three at once, using a circular breathing technique. Everyone loves a concept album so I’ll go with The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color, a double LP whose fourth side is blank but 12 minutes in features two secret answering machine messages recorded by Kirk. The rest of the album is a mind-bending mix of found sounds, tape loops played backwards and snippets of Billie Holiday singing.
Frank Morgan (1955)
Rebel rouser and ex-San Quentin prison resident Frank Morgan got his music tutelage in some of the most infamous jazz clubs in LA’s Central Avenue. Being mentored by the likes of Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday pretty much guaranteed that Morgan would eventually be dabbling in jazz’s wilder side. When it came to recording his self-titled debut, Morgan was already being touted as the new Bird (Parker’s nickname); right down to the crippling heroin addiction, leading him into his inevitable crime spree and incarceration. The album was recorded in 1955, a few years after a brief stint in prison and remains one of his most enduring works. Soon after he descended into a self-destructive pattern of drug use and criminality and it wouldn’t be until 1985 that Morgan recorded his follow up solo album, Easy Living.
Colour Changes (1960)
Clark Terry may or may not be a familiar name to you when it comes to jazz greats but this remarkable artist has mentored the likes of Quincy Jones, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and has appeared on over 900 recordings, making him one of the most recorded jazz musicians ever. The respect and outpouring of love this man receives from musicians is most evident in the wonderful and inspirational documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, where the enduring 83-year-old Terry (who sadly passed away in February) guides a young blind prodigy through debilitating stage fright as he prepares for a career defining competition. Jazz scholars consider Colour Changes his finest moment, an album where Terry had artistic control over the mostly original material.
- Spiro Economopoulos
In celebration of Melbourne International Jazz Festival, our Jazz on Film season runs from 29 May - 7 June.comments powered by Disqus