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Oct 16, 2017

The 25 Essential Jazz Records Every Man Should Know

created at: 04/16/2015

You've built the bookshelf, covered it with great books, but it needs a little something more. Some classic records perhaps? Why not treat yourself to this essential guide to the greatest collection of jazz albums in the history of recorded time – bar none?

Ok that claim may be a little strong, but for those of you who have never ventured into the exquisite world of Jazz (or for those needing affirmation on their collection) we at ManMade have put together this list of the all-time greats, plus a guide on why and how to enjoy them. Buckle up.

 

THE STANDARDS:

These are the ones you simply cannot miss. These are the 2001: A Space Odysseys and Goodfellas and Ghostbusters. Start here and see what strikes your fancy.

 

1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

The most influential jazz album there is. Period. 

2. Time Out – Dave Brubeck Quartet

The soundtrack of New York City's bachelor pads in the 60's.

3. Blue Train – John Coltrane

Coltrane's first album as band leader and the album that first demonstrated Coltrane Changes

4. Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus 

The coalescence of Mingus' influences: driving Hard Bop and old-timey Gospel, plus a little Third Stream, Free Jazz, and classical music.

5. The Shape of Jazz to Come – Ornette Coleman

The birth of Free Jazz and the groundwork for Avant-Garde Jazz.

6. The Complete Savoy and Dial Sessions – Charlie Parker

No list of jazz albums would be complete without the word from Bird. Get your Bebop fix here.

7. The Complete Hot 5 and Hot 7 Recordings – Louis Armstrong

 The first true standard for jazz soloists.

 

NEXT STEPS:

You've dabbled about now, you have a good sense of the groundwork, and you're ready for something a bit meatier. 

8. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

Nearly a gospel album, Coltrane is the only horn in the quartet and gets all the freedom he needs. As essential as they come.

9. Ellington at Newport – Duke Ellington

At a time when big-bands were dwindling, this concert revitalized Ellington's career and literally changed the course of music in 20th century. 

10. Moanin' – Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers

The essential hard bop album, with traces of gospel and blues.

11. Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis

Literally the birth of Cool Jazz and one of Davis' many and defining rebirths.

12. Somethin' Else – Cannonball Adderley

Adderley brings the Bebop, Art Blakely the Hard-Bop, Sam Jones the bass, Hank Jones the Swing, and Miles Davis the Cool.

13. Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1 – Thelonious Monk

Monk is second only to Duke Ellington as most recorded jazz composer, which says something since Ellington composed more than 1,000 songs, while Monk had only about 70.

 

DEEPER CUTS

Now that you've developed your taste, here are the good ol' deep cuts for those who are ready – plus some lesser known, but highly regarded, game-changing albums. 

14. Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins

Only five soulful songs and every one became a hit. Don't miss it. 

15. Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown – Sarah Vaughan

 All Music calls it "one of the most important jazz-meets-vocal sessions ever recorded."

16. Concert By The Sea – Erroll Garner

 A janky recording of one of the all time great pianists who couldn't read a lick of music.

17. Out To Lunch – Eric Dolphy

The high point in 60's avant-garde jazz.

18. The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery – Wes Montgomery

Trademark thumb-picking and octaves-employed, this record established Montgomery as "the most formidable modern guitarist of the era."

19. The Blues and Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson

This post-bop classic explores the structure of the blues with a killer lineup and great subtlety a la Kind of Blue.

 

THE FAR OUT STUFF (MIXED GENRES AND GREAT HITS)

Kopi Luwak is to coffee, what these albums are to jazz.

20. Head Hunters – Herbie Hancock

The defining moment for Jazz Funk and the one of the best-selling jazz fusion albums of all time. 

21. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

An older Davis rejects typical jazz rhythms and experiments with electric instruments and freer, rock-inspired style.

22. Speak No Evil – Wayne Shorter

Describing the album, Shorter said, "I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes — the kind of place where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witch burning too."

 

BONUS: DINNER PARTY SOUNDTRACKS

Disclaimer: All of these are truly great albums and should be given a properly focused listen... that said, they'll be a perfect soundtrack for your next dinner party.

23. Go! – Dexter Gordon 

You'll feel the nightclub surround you in all the best ways.

24. Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz & João Gilberto

Lilting, intimate, and relaxing, it spawned a bossa nova craze and won the 1965 Grammy for Best Album.

25. Clifford Brown and Max Roach - Clifford Brown and Max Roach

The New York Times calls it, "Perhaps the definitive bop group until Mr. Brown's fatal automobile accident in 1956"

26. Sugar in My Bowl: The Best of Nina Simone – Nina Simone

Simone's best from a versatile five year period.  Yes, that's 26. We went for it!

 

If you're looking for some more in-depth jazz reading check out The Every Man's Guide to: Jazz

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Chris on Oct 18, 2017:

@Fred - I think your original comment about not just going out and buying these specific twenty-five records is right on. That's not really the purpose of this post, and not what we're recommending.
What we're hoping is a reader might look at this list and say, "you know, I'd like to know more about jazz. This sounds like a good place to start" and plug in some of these albums to Apple Music or Spotify or borrow them from their local library. Then, once they've experienced a couple favorites, perhaps they'll buy three or four for their own collection.


Fred on Oct 18, 2017:

@Chris But that's the point. It is very unlikely that someone has the time to listen to everything and even more unlikely that the personal preferences exactly match the top XY list of a genre.
Don't get me wrong. The music on the list is great. But everybody should discover a personal top 25. And it is not static, it will change with time. It is far better to find you way through music with your ears and your taste and not with some list from the internet.

When you're invited to someone's house and take a look at the record collection, what do you want to see? The top 25 or some unexpected stuff? What is more interesting to talk about? Everybody knows how great Miles Davis is. But what about an artist you never heard of? You put the record on and talk about the impressions, your feelings and thoughts. Or where, why and when the host bought the record. An individual collection tells you something about the owner and it is something to discover. Nobody needs to listen to (or read) all the classics. Live in the present and not in the past.


Chris on Oct 17, 2017:

@Fred - I'm not sure I totally agree. The truth is, it's easy to discover "new" music these days. There are dozens of digital apps designed to do it. But it's harder, for most people at least, to make time to return to the archives, and determine, for them, what belongs in their library of classics. It's impossible to experience the entire history of even on subgenre of jazz (hard bop, swing, ragtime, etc), let alone the last century of the form.

With only so much available listening time, I am certainly excited to learn about the best jazz records from 2017, but I am more interested in helping others discover what albums have stood the test of time, and are worth seeking out 50 or 60 years after their release, because they still sound fresh and interesting.

This list is designed to do just that.


Fred on Oct 17, 2017:

The other thing is, that most of the music is 'classic' or just call it old. Not that it is not great music. But is there no great music today? Nothing new to discover? I love music from the 60s. But don't tell me that there came nothing good after that. I mean, the Beatles are great. But they were not better than the great bands today. They were just the first to do so many things at such an high level. The same with jazz music. I love Reinhardt, Davis etc. But musicians today are worth listening to. So, why a promoting the classics that everybody knows anyway? Why not promote what's new? Well, maybe because the classics are the save side. Promoting something that is not yet considered great is a risk. You need taste and a real opinion to do that.


Fred on Oct 17, 2017:

Hope nobody buys the full list. What does it say about you when your record shelf only contains a best of and is not a collection of your life.
Even if there is great music on this list. It is not a personal favourites. It is just an artificial collection and not a result of a personal and individual development of what means something to someone, what is of personal value, or what is seen as quality by an individual. Such an artificial list tells nothing about the owner of the collection (or it tells something disappointing) and it will hardly satisfy the owner.


Jeremy on Oct 16, 2017:

Kind of Blue--AKA the album I had to buy multiple times in college b/c girlfriends kept keeping it. I still love that album though.


T on Dec 02, 2016:

Funny how perhaps the most innovative and important jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt is rarely featured in these types of round-ups. Sure, people call it "gypsy jazz" but it is Jazz nonetheless. Django and his approach to jazz and improvisation was way ahead of his time, and paved the way for bebop


Anonymous on Apr 21, 2015:

no sun ra? Add it.


Edgar on Apr 20, 2015:

i thnk stan getz and joao giblerto should be on the top 15 at least. That album is just so good. 


Jacob Crim on Apr 17, 2015:

"Black Saint And The Sinner Lady" is my favorite Mingus album. Its so good.


bruno on Apr 16, 2015:

@Duarte thanks!


bruno on Apr 16, 2015:

Head Hunters was on repeat in my 1984 Honda Civic throughout much of my adolescence. I'll also throw in a word for Medeski Martin & Wood + John Scofield's A Go Go. Just a very fun, awesome, listenable record. 


Duarte on Apr 16, 2015:

I guess I had to do this one too: ManMadeDIY's 25 Essential Jazz Records on Spotify