Special Guest: Ron Carter (Part 1 of 2) is part of Jazz royalty. Carter is so versatile on the Bass and Cello, in both Jazz and Classical styles that he has been compared to Duke Ellington. He is known for his rich sound, a strong sense of counter-melody, great harmonic knowledge, and an innate ability to catch his audience off-guard without shaking the foundation. He is among the greatest accompanists ever, having played on some of the most important Jazz albums in history and was, along with Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams, a key player in what has been called “possibly the greatest rhythm sections of all time."
In this podcast, Ron Carter and I talk about his latest album, Cocktails at the Cotton Club, working with Eric Dolphy, he catches me off guard with his response to my question about why he chose not to use the electric bass for most of his career, he talks about playing with Thelonius Monk, and we finish off talking about the "Live at the Plugged Nickel" recordings.
The Greatest Recordings Of All Time
When talking about music, or even culture as a whole, the saying “all men/women are created equal” just doesn't hold water. It’s true that Einstein wasn't the only significant scientist, nor that Socrates the only important philosopher, nor was Michelangelo the only renaissance master, but to exclude them from history would be wrong on a cosmic scale. Through my years of reading and studying music, I have come across some albums or recordings that are truly cosmic and stand out from all the other great albums that surround them; albums which are referenced excessively by music critics and talked about endlessly by musicians--recordings where every music critic who knows what they are talking about put the battle ax down and admit that there isn't any arguing.
To clarify, I am going back to the beginning of recorded sound compiling this historic recordings list, and so, when I say "historic" understand that there is also an element of being one of the first on the scene and that scarcity of the recorded sound in the early days of recorded sound does play a factor in deciding its value. I say this more from an observational view point rather than to say that it is was a factor in my choice of albums. But it does go show that a musician's reach and impact is going to be more profound if they are first, as well as just one of a handful of people lucky enough to get recorded. How often I’ve seen it referenced as the greatest by critics, studied by historians, and a little of my own judgment are the main factors in compiling this list. Did I leave a few major historically important recordings out and include some of my particular notion? Yep. Are these the only recordings that matter or the best recordings of all time? Nope. But they are all fantastic, hugely historically significant, and are all definitely worth listening to.
Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Singers
If you are of the opinion that rock music was the biggest or most important movement in shaping the musical landscape today then this recording could be seen as the most important recording in recorded history - the impact that these 29 songs that were sung and played by this twenty-seven year old Delta blues singer (just before he died) has had on the musicians after the recording is truly immeasurable, and still continues. Some of the biggest names in music like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and millions of others treat these recordings the way Priests and Rabis might study the Bible – listening to every nuance and chord, debating guitar technique and even the position that he sat while recording these historic recordings.
If capturing some of the most incredible music known to man wasn’t enough to grab your attention, then maybe learning that the recordings and the man himself are shrouded mystery and mythology. Whether it be the mysterious way he died (was he poisoned by a jealous husband?) leaving behind a massive hole where he is presumably buried, and even whether or not he made a pact with the devil to play guitar as well as he did are all parts of his mystery. In fact, people literally make pilgrimages to US 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi because of the mythology surrounding the song “Cross Road Blues” that he sung which is supposedly meant as a reference to this Faustian inspired story. The story of how the only known recordings of Robert Johnson came about happened because of H.C. Speir (a talent scout and general store owner) brought Johnson to the first of two recording sessions and Ernie Oertle recorded Robert Johnson in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas in 1936. The second recording session took place in 1937 on the third floor of the Vitagraph Building in Dallas Texas and every note has been studied to death.
Other Artists and Historic recordings along the same vain are: Bessie Smith, Charlie Patton, Son House, Lead Belly and Mississippi John Hurt.
Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
Quite possibly the most important Jazz recording session of all time. This recording session was a game changer, and in many ways helped make Jazz what it is today. Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in the birthplace of Jazz--New Orleans. Armstrong started playing the trumpet at an early age playing in marching bands and learned his trade from some of the greats including Sidney Bechet, Freddie Keppard, and King Oliver. Pretty much every note of this 68 song cluster of records from 1926-28 are significant in the Jazz circle; take for example two of the standout tracks that were both recorded on February 26 1926 “Cornet Chop Suey” and “Heebie Jeebie.” Ken Burns in his book Jazz: A history of American music calls “Cornet Chop Suey” “… his [Armstrong's] first virtuoso masterpiece” and “Heebie Jeebie” could very well be the most influential scat recording of all time. Though the story is highly disputed, “Heebie Jeebie” has been called the first improv singing record, which came about from Armstrong’s ability to improvise words to a song that he hadn't memorized after accidentally dropping the music sheet while recording and improvised using scat instead of wasting valuable tape. Other notable songs include “Potato Head Blues,” "West End Blues," "Basin Street Blues", and well as I said all of them . . .
Other Artists and Historic recordings along the same vain are: Duke Ellington’s Okeh Recordings and Jelly Roll Morton Complete recordings.
Charlie Parker Dial Sessions
Recorded between March 28, 1946, and December 17, 1947, these 89 songs are some of the most sublime and historically important Jazz notes ever committed to tape. Part of their significance lies in the fact that they are so raw, have some of Jazz' greatest musicians all at different transitional points in their careers, and maybe most importantly, the songs themselves are multi-dimensional--telling a story within a story. Take the song “Relaxin' at Camarillo” – after spending 10 days in jail and charged with indecent exposure, resisting arrest as well as being suspected of arson. Parker, who after getting clean from heroin, wrote this upbeat and positive song about spending six months in the Camarillo State Hospital. The song beams with positive energy. In contrast, “Lover Man” is a song that may be one of the most heart-wrenching and painfully beautiful song you are likely to hear, but when you find out that Ross Russell (the owner of Dial records) who was recording Parker and seeing Parker at the beginning stages of O.D. right in front of him and not wanting to chance capturing “the last recording of this great” kept the tape rolling and refused to take Parker to the hospital until he finished the song. Parker almost died and was later angry to find out that Russell released the song without Parker's consent. If that weren't enough when you include fact that Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach were all there at the height of their creativity as well as a young Miles Davis that you hear just starting to spread his wings and you have a masterpiece that pretty much trumps all masterpieces.
Other Artists and Historic recordings along the same vein are: Billie Holiday- Lady in Satin, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli-Quintette du Hot Club de France, Benny Goodman- Live at Carnegie Hall.
Coming up Part two of the "Greatest Recordings Of All Time"
John Scofield Interview (Part 2 of 2) [Listen 18:00] Having A Jazz Thing To Say With John Scofield S04 Ep09
Special Guest: John Scofield (Part 2 of 2) is one of the most influential Jazz guitarist to come out of the 1970’s. His style of playing combines a distinctive rock oriented jazz sound mixed with elements of fusion, soul, and post-bop creating a sound and tone that is truly unique. If I had to describe the John Scofield sound I would use words like funky, upbeat, fluid, and adventurous. And like with all the greats, the command and facility Scofield (or “Sco” as he is often affectionately called) has with his instrument allows him the ability to make music seem smooth, unforced, and with a heavy dose of some intangible quality that makes it just downright cool.
This week I talk with guitar great John Scofield about recording with Charles Mingus, getting asked to play with Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Ron Carter and others at Carnegie Hall, playing with Miles Davis and much more.
Considering the interest we at the Going Thru Vinyl wbsite have with promoting the musicians who have pushed the frontiers of music beyond their popular and comfortable bounds, and the influence John Scofield has had on the face of the jazz world, below is a short intro and homage to the great jazz guitar players who pushed and progressed the guitar in jazz.
It is largely due to Charlie Christian who brought the guitar out from the accompanying rhythm instrument to an improvisational, harmonic and melodic device. Also one of the first to go electric, not necessarily to go agains the greain, but out of necessity to hear his style of playing. Christian became such a phenomenon that almost all guitarists switched to amplified instruments.
Django Reinhardt. No list of jazz guitar greats is complete without him. The non-formally educated Roma man in Europe made music and developed a style that changed--actually shattered and forged new concepts of jazz, as well as where and how, and who could play jazz. To many, everything was wrong about him, but his energy and creativity, and brilliance commanded anyone in music unable to disregard him.
Once again, we have to pay homage to Les Paul, who innovated and invented techniques for the guitar. Paul was so ahead of his time, even jazz aficionados of the age, people who considered themselves advanced and intelligent, considered his new techniques and manipulation of sound wasn't "music."
Tal Farlow often gets mentioned for the use of his extremely large hands allowing him to play tight clusters of single notes, and too often his description starts and ends there, and perhaps out of spite and jealousy fostered from other guitarists; not enough credit is given to him for the ingenuity and boldness to develop and perform his innovative style. He pushed style further away from the simple rhythmic accompanying instrument, and with a unique style. And clearly, his hands are not inhumanly large, for they're attached to the ends of his wrists like normal.
Wes Montgomery. Aside from his fluid speed and octave technique, he played without a pick, and developed a corn on his thumb that he could employ for a greater degree of control of tone. Said to be the greatest thing to guitar since Charlie Christian, Montgomery essentially influenced everyone who came after him.
Benson was a child prodigy, can play a multitude of styles effortlessly, and mimic his heroes impeccably, but clearly has his own style and brought string bending back to jazz, something at the time had been removed by modern jazz guitarists, all in the search for the common notion of jazz guitar--the clearest line. Besides being virtuostic, in the seventies he was the best selling jazz musician along with Herbie Hancock.
John McLaughlin. The styles that McLaughlin has adopted has taken him around the world and into the most diverse kinds of music; all which he brought back to jazz in a new, enriching, and fascinating manifestation. We've been honored to get a recent interiew with him that you can listen to here: http://goingthruvinyl.com/?artist=John%20McLaughlin
And, of course John Scofield whose complex, contemporary style has influenced several other notable musicians. To hear his interview, and to better understand his style and technique, press play above.
N.B. This is only a short intro and homage, and not meant to infuriate those who have not been mentioned out of brevity. I would like to thank and acknowledge Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann for their book, "The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century" which I found an extremely entertaining read and upon which I drew heavily.
Ted Gioia (written) Interview & John Scofield (audio) Interview (Part 1 of 2) [Listen 15:00] Listening And Trying To Figure It Out With John Scofield S04 Ep09
Special Guest: John Scofield (Part 1 of 2) is one of the most influential Jazz guitarist to come out of the 1970’s. His style of playing combines a distinctive rock oriented jazz sound mixed with elements of fusion, soul, and post-bop creating a sound and tone that is truly unique. If I had to describe the John Scofield sound I would use words like funky, upbeat, fluid, and adventurous. And like with all the greats, the command and facility Scofield (or “Sco” as he is often affectionately called) has with his instrument allows him the ability to make music seem smooth, unforced, and with a heavy dose of some intangible quality that makes it just downright cool.
This week I’m interviewing guitar great John Scofield about his fantastic new album Uberjam Deux; he breaks down some of the tracks for us as well as discusses the inception of his amazing guitar tone and technique.
Ted Gioia Interview
Special Guest: Ted Gioia (Part 1 of 1) is a musician, author, jazz critic, and a leading expert on American music. His books include: “The History of Jazz,” “Delta Blues,” “The Jazz Standards,” “West Coast Jazz,” “The Imperfect Art,” “Work Songs,” “Healing Songs,” and “The Birth (and Death) of the Cool.” He is held in high regard by The Washington Post (twenty best books of the year), The New York Times (notable Book of the Year) and The Economist (picked as one of the best books of the year). He is one of the best music writers and historians on the shelf, and we are excited to have a written interview with Ted Gioia.
GTV - Jazz and jazz records are rare for a reason; the earliest jazz records came out before most people could afford records or record players. Even at the height of Bebop, most households would only have a handful of records if they were lucky. How important are records when telling the story of Jazz?
TG - Without recordings, jazz could never have evolved as an art form. The first generation of jazz musicians in New Orleans had little influence beyond the small group of people who saw them perform in person. But with the rise of the record industry, jazz could now be disseminated, studied, and imitated all over the world. After 1923, the history of jazz is well preserved on record and we can follow the milestones in the music’s evolution long after the artists who made that music have passed away.
GTV - One of the fascinating things when reading your book “The History of Jazz” was learning the connection between New Orleans and Chicago. Would you explain for our readers why New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz people like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet felt the need to go to Chicago?
TG - There are many peculiarities in the history of jazz, but the geography of the music is especially confusing. People are puzzled when I say that many of the most important events in New Orleans jazz took place in Chicago, just as decisive developments in Chicago jazz took place in New York. But the explanation is fairly simple: musicians follow the money. They can’t live on music alone, and need to be in the places where they can earn a living. For this reason, most major musicians in the US gravitated to a few key cities during the course of the 20th century—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and a few others. So New Orleans may have created jazz, but it was unable to keep it.
GTV -Your books are filled with stories about the interesting lives of culturally important figures – their struggles, accomplishments, short-comings, and what kind of people they really were. Some of my favorite parts was the side stories of people like Mutt Carey, Buddy Petit and Emmett Hardy. Musicians who were said to have been on par with the greats (or better) than some of the people we have come to know like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. Is the story of history forgetting musicians a common story one and were there any side stories left out of the book that you would like to talk about here?
TG - There are many gaps in our understanding of early jazz. The biggest mystery is Buddy Bolden, the cornetist who is reportedly the “inventor” of jazz, but left behind no recordings. After the early 1920s, almost every musician of note left behind recordings. Yet even here we encounter intriguing jazz players who left behind a very small body of work, either because they died young or other circumstance intervened. Here are a few of these almost-forgotten artists who, under slightly different circumstances, might be far better known today: Dupree Bolton, Tony Fruscella, Fats Navarro, Richard Twardzik, Booker Little, Scott LaFaro, Chick Webb, Kenny Kirkland and Emily Remler.
By the way, we just added another name to this list—the amazing young jazz pianist Austin Peralta, who died last year at the age of 22. I believe that he could have been a major jazz star, but now we will never know what he might have achieved.
GTV - Jazz and blues music have very similar histories in that both originated and developed just after the turn of the 20th Century in poor southern African-American communities. In your opinion, what are some important conditions in the development of a musical or cultural movement?
TG - Jazz and blues spring from very different social circumstances. Jazz arose from the fervor and interplay of a large city—New Orleans—as do most innovative artistic movements. Blues follows a different pattern of dissemination, and arose in more isolated rural areas, especially in Mississippi and Texas. In other words, the blues does not look like an innovation, but more like a preservation of an older cultural tradition, probably African in origin. Most historians of American music take these geographical discrepancies for granted, but I believe it is very revealing that the blues arose in the parts of the United States that were more the most insulated from outside influence. Mississippi, during the period when its first great blues singers emerged, had the lowest per capita penetration of radio, telephone and automobiles of any of the states. Is this coincidence? Definitely not. The kind of urban hustle and bustle that spurred on jazz was not conducive to the blues. As a continuation of a very old tradition it needed to be protected from big city influences.
GTV - I've never collected 78's but many of the historical jazz and blues records of the past are of that speed. Do you mostly collect 78's?
TG - I am not really a record collector, and I have adapted my own listening habits as technology has changed. I listened to albums, when albums were easy to get. When they were replaced by compact disks, I moved on to CDs. Nowadays I listen to most of my music in digital format. As for 78s, I’ve never taken much interest in them—especially since almost all of the important music on 78 rpm records was later released in other formats.
GTV - Which of those formats do you believe was best?
TG - When digital music arrived, I thought it was a great advance. But more recently I have changed my mind. I now believe that analog music sounds better than digital music. I continue to listen to digital music, because it is easier to access. But if the music industry ever shifted back to analog, I would applaud the move.
GTV - Rock ’n’ Roll as an art form came from a combination of Gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Little Richard), Blues (Arthur Crudup), Country (Gene Vincent), and Jazz (Louis Jordan); Do you have an opinion on what, specifically, was the first Rock and Roll record?
TG - When I was younger, I was told that “Rock Around the Clock” was the first rock song, but clearly there were earlier blues, jazz and R&B albums that anticipated rock-and-roll. Check out, for example, “Rocket 88,” a 1951 track from Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston, or Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” from 1952. But I have a candidate for ‘first rock record’ that almost nobody knows about: Big Joe Williams’s “She Left Me a Mule” recorded for the Trumpet label back in 1951. This track, which clearly sounds like a rock song, deserves to be far better known.
Ahmad Jamal Interview (Part 1 of 1) [Listen 34:00] – Reading The Stop Signs With Ahmad Jamal S03 Ep09
Special Guest: Ahmad Jamal - is without question one of the greatest names in jazz living today. His lyrical and minimal approach combined with his otherworldly sense of timing and innovative use of silence set him apart in the jazz world (or as he prefers to call it - American classical music). Ironically, it was a left-field hit in 1958 with “Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me”; a live album that reached number three in the pop charts which set his career spinning in diverse and broad directions. First, by making some of the hardcore jazz critics question his loyalty to the jazz world because charting in the pop charts was frowned upon and secondly, and more importantly, it changed his career because the album grabbed the attention of a trumpet player by the name of Miles Davis. In fact, Davis openly talked about borrowing heavily from Jamal and his unique use of silence within his playing. He often covered Jamal's repertoire like “New Rumba” and standards from his set like “Autumn Leaves” and “But Not For Me.” Jamal’s career has alway remained strong and consistent. In fact, at age 81 he has released his strongest albums in years, harking back to his time with Chess and Impulse Records. His latest album, Blue Moon, won second place for the best jazz album of 2012 in the readers' poll choice for DownBeat magazine and is widely considered a modern masterpiece.
12 cheap and easy tips to instantly improve your record collection
1. Putting dust cover jackets on your records
Nothing says I care more than a guy who has his collection all wrapped up.* Taking records in and out from storage can be quite harsh to a collection when not stored in plastic. The plastic record cover sleeves avoid cover damage, the spread of any mildew or dust and allow you to try tip 3.
2. Protective paper or plastic record covers
This is the best way to avoid scuffs on the outside and/or worse undesirables from getting into the grooves. You will often come across cheap records where the protective inner cover is missing. My advice is inspect before buying, consider cleaning it before exposing it to your turntable, and invest a buck to protect that record. I know you may have got it for a buck, but you need to consider your record needle as well.
3. Combine tip 1 and 2
Store the vinyl record outside the dust cover but still inside the vinyl covers – Ever noticed the first place to have damage is the bottom or sides of the cardboard record cover. When your record moves, the sharp hard vinyl record moves inside the cardboard sleeve, cutting into it. I avoid this by storing the vinyl records and cardboard sleeves separately. I still put the sleeve, record, and any artwork that the record has inside the dust cover jacket side by side. I still have the record sleeve covers protecting the vinyl from dust and finger prints.
4. Store them vertically
The more severe the angle, the more damage you are causing to your records. Like most everything else in life, time is not your friend, and storing your records on an angle will eventually cause your records to warp. Laying them flat like a pizza is also damaging and can also cause warps.
5. Don’t over crowd your shelf
I know I’ve done it in the past. You are trying to squeeze that record in an overcrowded space and you end up bending the cardboard. The best way to avoid this as well as avoiding putting a record imprint from another record into on the record cover.
6. Buy yourself a nice Cleaning brush
I always clean the surface of a record before I drop the needle. Another tip is to be sure not to touch the cleaning brush bristles (no matter how soft and luxurious they feel) otherwise, you risk transferring the oils from your fingers onto your records.
7. Get yourself a nice tiny brush to clean off the dust that eventually builds up on the needle
Most high end stereo stores will have one of these specific brushes for cheap.
8. Buy needle cleaning fluid to clean your record needle
No matter how clean or new the records you play you will accumulate grime and dirt where the needle runs along the record. The liquid doesn't cost much and will probably last you the rest of your life. One note, be sure that you only clean the tip and not touch any of the movements further up by the cartridge body itself.
9. Keep records out of direct light
I only say this because I had it happen to me. It sounds obvious, but it can happen to you too. I had a record pulled out getting ready to put it on next; carelessly I set it in direct light by a window thinking that I wouldn't be long. I got distracted and when I came back to the record was a warp in a ripple effect. Sunlight can also cause fading, dulling the records covers as well.
10. Even moisture and Temperature
Garages and sheds are far from ideal and should be avoided whenever possible. Swings in temperature can cause your records to become warped (especially in high heat). Moisture is another thing altogether. Mildew will spread through records like mold in a loaf of bread. Plastic is only a partial solution to quarantining these bad boys the best solution is take it as a learning lesson and throw them out. Cleaning is questionable at best and in my opinion, not worth the risk.
11. Dust and Smoke Free
When I’m buying used records, nothing sets off the alarm more than seeing dust on a record or noticing that the record has an odour. Dust and smoke particles act like sandpaper on your turntable, damaging your needles and potentially all the records after it. Quarantine that puppy and say goodbye..
12. Record Cleaners
To be honest, I haven’t actually tried all types or configurations of record cleaners that are out in the market today. Personally, I’ve had mixed results with cleaning records and recommend it with a caution. When dealing with an obviously dirty record, cleaning really helps; with new records the verdict is still out. If you want to try cleaning a record to test it yourself I have a cheap alternative that you can try. All you need is a broken record player, a tooth brush, Nitty Gritty Cleaner (buy a small amount at first) and a hand-held modified shop vac. You place your dirty record on the table put the Nitty Gritty Cleaner on it, clean the surface and inside the groove with the tooth brush then carefully vacuum the liquid. Place the record on a clean surface to dry then repeat for side two when side one is dry. The downside to cleaning records is that I find the process slow, awkward to dry and that multiple cleanings is required in order for optimal results. That said, official record cleaners seem to be the best and if I had one I would probably clean more often. You also need to put a piece of soft rubber on the hand vac to avoid causing surface scratches.
*Practice safe record collecting and help stop the spread of bad moldy record covers and other RDP’s. (Record Damaging Practices)
I would love to hear back from you about your experience with record cleaning and tips of your own. Please feel free to leave a comment.
John McLaughlin “Now Here This” Interview Part 2 [Listen 28:44] – Sitting in the control room with Teo Macero and John McLaughlin S03 Ep04 (Part 2 of 2)
Special Guest: John McLaughlin: McLaughlin started his career off as a 19 year old trailblazing guitar master, blowing away audiences just as the British blues was exploding on the scene. Bands like Cream and the Yardbirds were just starting to take shape, and guitarists like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix were just starting out and hoping to cut their teeth. My next guest had a different calling, going on a different tangent and taking his sound away from the blues-rock world of guitar hooks and classic rock solos and instead schooling himself on some of the most beautiful but also technically challenging music styles known in music. He delved into playing styles like flamenco guitar with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia; world music with people like Carlos Santana and Trilok Gurtu, and straight ahead jazz with too many jazz legends to mention. John McLaughlin was a major player in helping take jazz on one of most extreme and interesting rides ever with the sub-genre 'jazz fusion.' He is so highly respected that Miles Davis immortalized him in two songs, one of them on his landmark album, Bitches Brew, with the honorarily titled "John McLaughlin." Currently, McLaughlin and his band, The 4th Dimension, have a brand new album out called “Now Here This” an album about which McLaughlin has been quoted as saying “It’s the best thing I ever did, from the beginning until today.” In this podcast we talk about the elder blues statesman Alexis Korner and his effect on the British Blues world, John McLaughlin's days with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce previous to the formation of their band Cream, we also get into anecdotes with Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, the album Emergency!, Tony Williams, Larry Young, Joey DeFrancesco, Elvin Jones, John Mayall and finish off with the story of how Miles Davis came to write the song titled "John McLaughlin."
Going Thru a Miles Davis collection
Getting into Miles Davis' music for the first time can be a daunting undertaking. First off, he released many records, and many of them groundbreaking. He also changed his style quite dramatically at different time periods in his career, so where to start, and what to look for can be a little overwhelming. Of course, there are the albums that must be in the collection which are well known and loved by everyone and need to be there to say that they're into Miles Davis, according to aficionados. Then there are albums that are not necessarily must-haves but come down to being just as good, or very close to just as good, and ones that the neophyte would do better to try after they've gained some familiarity into his music. Of course, it can all come down to a matter of opinion, but take the advice from those who have gone through it and are willing to impart what they've found.
For those who get it in their blood, rich appreciation takes hold, it gets to be a hunger, and later, after having spent hours upon hours savouring every nuance and note, the albums get to be second nature and fans couldn't imagine being without the albums in their collection. For the music fan, it truly becomes a thing of beauty. But for the beginner, all these different albums and musical periods can be hard to sort through. The good news is, that for those starting out, Davis may be the most accessible jazz artist – easier to get into than later period John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy or say Ornette Coleman.
For myself, I have never come across a Miles Davis record that I didn’t like.
Here is a small sample of Davis albums. Though most fans categorize Davis’ collection according to time periods; I personally separate Davis’ playing into tempos to put on according to my mood. I have sorted this list with both categorizations in mind. If you're new to it, try it out; I hope it broadens your horizon.
Generally Davis’ playing during this period tends to be of a quick and agile straight ahead jazz. All of it is pretty accessible and sound like “Jazz” in a traditional sense.
Birth of Cool (Released in 1957) (Tempo : Mid-slow)
This is Miles Davis in a big band setting and is notable for among other things, one being the first time he worked with arranger Gil Evans. Though released in 1957, the recordings themselves actually date from 1949 and 1950. This pivotal album was Miles Davis’ first big change to the jazz world – ushering in the switch from Bebop Jazz, playing with Charlie Parker in these years, to what became to be known as “cool jazz" (in no small part because of this monumental album.) In short, a great album that goes well with any occasion.
'Round About Midnight (Released in 1957) (Tempo: mixed - Slow and Quick tracks)
A phenomenal record. After recording for smaller labels like Prestige, Davis decided to move to Columbia Records to record ‘Round About Midnight (his first album in a long career with the label). Considered his first great quintet, the album has John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. They really clicked on this album.
Bags Groove (1957) (Tempo: Mid to Quick)
Although this it a lot of people’s favourite record; I personally just put this record on when I feel like changing it up and listen to a Miles Davis record I haven’t heard in a while. The players on this album are an all-star roster playing at their best.
Milestones (1958) (Tempo: Quick)
Another straight ahead jazz style record and one that I reach for more often than any other of this time period; in short one of his best.
Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud (1958) (Tempo: Very slow)
This has to be one of Davis' easiest records to listen to, and one that gets frequent play. While touring Europe, Davis decided to record a soundtrack (Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud) – it doesn’t have any star players on it apart from Davis himself, but it's a great album. It has a cool minimalist quality to it. The only problem with this record is that it’s hard to find. Get it if you see it.
Generally marked by his work with Gil Evans; these are some of his most loved and sought after records.
Kind of Blue (1959) (Tempo: Mid)
Maybe the most loved Jazz record of all time. For me what differentiates this from his other records is the inclusion of Bill Evans. Not to say that Evans was the star, but I just think that he mixed really well with Davis, John Coltrane and the rest of the band.
Sketches of Spain (1960) (Tempo: Low to Mid)
A great collaboration between Gil Evans and Miles Davis that is set to Spanish folk tunes; a much loved Miles Davis record. Although I rarely put it on myself.
At Carnegie Hall (1961) (Tempo: Quick)
Having heard Kind of Blue so often, it took me a while to get into the rendition of “So What” and the other classic tunes that Davis plays with orchestration. If you find you have the same difficulty, my advice is to not give up on it; you will most likely fall in love with it after some time.
This album rings in his second great quintet and consists of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Each member of this band have gone on to change jazz in their own unique way.
Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965) (Tempo: Quick and Agile)
Recorded at a club called Plugged Nickel in Chicago 1965; this stuff is legendary. I play this a lot.
For some, this was where jazz stopped being jazz and turned into a free-for-all with musicians focused only onto what they were doing individually. I think less people hold this opinion in general these days; that said, this stuff isn't for everyone. Miles Davis was one of the first to plug in and has some of the most extreme examples of "Jazz-Fusion."
In a Silent Way (1969) (Tempo: Ultra slow)
Albums don`t come any better than this one. The first record that John McLaughlin played on – this record is one of the most relaxing and awe-inspiring records in my collection.
Bitches Brew (1970) (Tempo: Slow to Mid)
This is where the rubber hits the road as far as electric instruments and jazz being combined. This is a record that I didn't originally warm up to but is now one of my favorite albums of all time. If I had one complaint it would be that the `Complete Bitches Brew` needs to be easier to find and cost much less on vinyl.
Post Retirement Period
After releasing "On the Corner," Davis called it quits (for five years). After reading his autobiography, I think this wasn't the healthiest move on his part. Luckily, he released some stuff from the vaults during this time period and eventually came out of retirement. Though he didn't bring out any career changing albums, for me, he still brought out some good stuff.
Agharta (1975) (Tempo: Funky/Crazy)
Recorded February 1, 1975 in Japan, Agharta (the afternoon set) was part of a two part live release (the evening set was also released; called Pangaea). Davis has never been more crazy, wild or unapologetically funky than he was here. In fact, he was so wild that critics at the time were accusing him of not acting his age and borrowing too much from Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown. What do critics know. On this album, the band is absolutely stellar and the music is totally moving. Although it's definitely not the album to start with. Not for a gentle immersion anyway.
Tutu (1986) (Tempo: Mellow/Smooth with an 80's flair)
Once you get past the dated 80’s drum machines and synthesizers sounds and settle into what's being played, you will realize that this is a great record. No, this is not as good as “In a Silent Way” or “Kind of Blue,” but it's still a great Miles Davis record.
-- Jason Hoffer
Next week: Steve Albini
Plus a bonus interview with Brett Anderson (of the Stripminers and the Donnas)