A note from Henry: I’m no expert on Jazz, but I am quite a fan. Here’s the thing about Jazz lists, though: if you don’t make it the size of a book, you will have left out SO MANY great musicians and titles. For instance, these artists don't appear among the ten below, but just so you know I’m thinking of them: Lee Morgan, Booker Ervin, Max Roach, Dizzy, Parker, Gil Evans, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk (!!!!!), Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Matthew Shipp, Sam Rivers, Oliver Nelson, Archie Shepp, Quincy Jones, Eddie Gale, Pharoah Sanders -- you see what I mean? If I made this list ten times longer, I would still be leaving off a ton of amazing musicians. Jazz should be taught in every school and Jazz records should be in every home. Here are ten of my favorite Jazz albums -- if you want to dig in but aren't sure where to start, this might be useful.
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
Just my opinion, there is no Coltrane record not worth hearing. He was not only that good but that real. Find a session where he wasn’t giving it all he had. A Love Supreme marks a monumental leap in the man’s relentless quest for the next thing. From this album, released in 1965, to his passing in 1967 at 40, it’s all supreme. One of the best albums you’ll ever own.
Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue
A huge title for the great Miles Davis. He was more than a Jazz player, more than a musician. Miles Davis was a universe of music. We could easily do a list of ten Miles records to listen to right now. You never know, we might just get around to that. Kind Of Blue is like a lot of Miles albums, a masterpiece.
Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch
So much to say about Mr. Dolphy. An astounding talent. He did a lot of shows with Coltrane, but it’s fair to say that Coltrane did a lot of shows with him. This is perhaps his most well-known title, but the rest of his work is quite worth exploring. Talk about original!
Wayne Shorter - JuJu
What a player! On this outing, he’s got McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, one half of the mighty Coltrane Quartet, and even sometimes Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman is on the session. Wayne Shorter is one of the greatest musicians, ever. Juju is a great place to start with his incredible catalog.
Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
That’s not a typo, that’s the title. There are a lot of amazing Mingus records. All those live sets with Eric Dolphy. Wow! Mingus was nonstop. This is from 1964, with the production of the great Bob Thiele, Coltrane’s producer during his Impulse period. This record is a only small part of this man’s mountain of a catalog.
Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus
What a sound. He’s a big man and can push a lot of air. He plays with a lot of authority, yet at all times, remains a humble servant of Music. I interviewed him once. He told me, “You know, today I was practicing, and it occurred to me that I’m starting to get the hang of it.” Come on! Like Coltrane and Shorter, a true giant of Jazz. Another guy to check out all through his multi-decade career. East Broadway Run Down is another great Sonny title.
Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage
If there is a better musician and composer than Herbie Hancock, they have not made their presence known. He’s that great. Come think of it, here’s a point: the word “genius” gets used a lot in music. Where it fits with most adequately and with the most frequency, is in the genre of Jazz. The greatest examples of Jazz are coming from a higher level of EVERYTHING. Herbie Hancock proves my point on this record. Wait until you hear all the albums he did with Miles and Wayne Shorter. A monster lineup on this record. Anthony Williams on drums. Need I say more?!
Andrew Hill - Black Fire
Find every Record by Andrew Hill and listen to it! Like Tyner, Hancock, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans, Hill is a piano player’s piano player. Innovative, curious and unique. Discovering his music many years ago was one of the best things that ever happened to my record collection. Also check out his album Compulsion.
Sun Ra - The Antique Blacks
Out of the literally hundreds of Sun Ra albums out there, I have only several dozen. I’m not even a novice, and it would take years for me to even get within miles of the Halls of Ra, but I have been a fan for many years, and thanks to being around “those who know” I’ve been steered to many of the man’s great albums. I like The Antique Blacks because Sun Ra talks a lot on the record and whenever he spoke, it was always deep, mysterious and from somewhere else. Another guy who, like Miles and Duke Ellington, was a world of music.
Art Blakey - Indestructible
The thing with Mr. Blakey is that it doesn’t really matter what title of his you put on, if he’s on it, it’s going to knock you out. He’s like the hardest working man in Jazz! Not only are his own records a who’s who of Jazz, but he’s on so many other sessions, it’s as if the man never slept. It’s hard to think of a Rock band who could have kept up with Art Blakey.