In Celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month

written by Mark Pignagrande, Finance Manager

It’s time to celebrate Jazz History Month, and it appears that the vinyl community has been celebrating all year long. What goes around comes around, and this time its vinyl records, specifically Jazz recordings. US vinyl sales reached a record high in 2020, according to a new report by the RIAA. Vinyl sales in 2020 grew by 28.7% from the previous year (2019) – outselling CDs for the first time since 1986. Blue Note Records has released its wildly successful Tone Poet Series, which includes many classic titles from its iconic catalog. The series is produced by Joe Harley and features all-analog, 180g audiophile vinyl reissues mastered from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio. Verve Label Group and Universal Music Enterprises’ new audiophile Acoustic Sounds vinyl reissue series has also been a significant success. Here are four essential jazz recordings to consider for those who are discovering jazz music.  

1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. It’s hard to articulate just how great this album is. Recorded in 1959, this album remains the best-selling album jazz album of all time. The personnel on this album includes a who’s who of jazz musicians. Bill Evans’ playing on “Blue in Green” is sublime. He produces a devastatingly subtle sound, which Miles and Coltrane solo over in a whisper. Rochester’s very own Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis borrowed heavily from the horn riff on “So What,” the album’s opening track. Ellis was a saxophone player and arranger for James Brown. Listen to “Cold Sweat” to hear the influence.

2. Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue. Recorded in 1957 and released in 1959, her debut album remains one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful releases of all time. Simone was a classically trained concert pianist (Julliard). Still, because of the overt discrimination at the time, her career was derailed. She began playing jazz in New York clubs and recorded this album at age twenty-five. The music is simply beautiful. Nina expresses so much delicacy, discipline, and passion in her music. Simone’s voice is a perfect match for the melancholy nature of her selections. Her piano playing is just as significant as her voice, if not more so. Nowhere is this more evident than on the instrumental “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

3. The Horace Silver Quintet – Songs for My Father. This album was recorded throughout 1963 and 1964 and released in 1965 for Blue Note Records. The title track is an immortal standard and deservedly so. Joe Henderson’s soulful tenor solo is one of my favorites ever recorded. The rest of the album is superb and straight ahead, hard bop in Silver’s stripped-down, funky style with touches of Latin and African influences. Silver’s way with a melody is evident throughout. The music on this album has been endlessly sampled by contemporary hip-hop and pop artists.

4. Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings. Chet was a master trumpeter and a truly endearing vocalist. He was quite a unique case. His career started in the 1950s, during which Chet received critical praise and became quite the heartthrob for the young teenage girls at the time. Playing with the likes of jazz saxophone legend Charlie Parker and first achieving massive success with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, he quickly made quite the name for himself. Chet Baker Sings was the album that brought his fame together. Although it was not his debut, it was the first album to feature his vocals and horn playing.

Music should always be approached with an open mind. Without the open minds of the 1920s, we would have never arrived at the society we are in now. Jazz has an immeasurable amount of influence on our culture. It advanced music, music theory, dance, politics, and, most importantly, people’s views. That is the type of music we need today to sustain progress. 

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simon, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Hancock. As far as I am concerned, their place is assured among the most revered artists of all time. The artists that affect change are so far and few between. They have contributed so much to the culture. They will never be replaced. 

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