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Sunday, 13 March 2011


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Any thoughts on Esperanza Spalding? I literally just purchased her most recent album (after intending to ever since I discovered she has an awesome name while reading news reports from the Grammy's). I am not a Jazz aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. Truly, I'm about as uneducated as could be, and a "Jazz for Dummies" article like yours is welcome reading on a Sunday afternoon.

Just wondering if my money was well spent, as any good consumer who takes a leap is bound to. Thanks!

PS: That Coleman Hawkins portrait is stunning.

Please, at least one suggestion for the Jazz Piano Starter Kit ?? Thank you. :-)

(Slightly off topic -- hey, you know about JJ Cale? Thought I was the only one! I must have every CD of his.)

This is an excellent intro to jazz and I am very curious for what comes next.
(I am a late baby boomer myself - '54 - who grew up with very different kinds of music)

Very brave trying to chart a route into Jazz when people come from such different starting points.
As a teenager in the late 60's and early 70's into English "progressive" rock (King Crimson, Hatfield & the North, Soft Machine) and of course Frank Zappa, the route to Jazz was relatively short and easy - especially when fusion came along. A quick step down the Weather Report, Return to Forever route and you are into Miles Davis before you know it (Bitches Brew and On the Corner) and then work back through the 60's to the 50's and beyond.
Of the ones you list, Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue is the only one I know well - and it's brilliant!

Thanks, Michael for the introduction to jazz. I listen to jazz on the radio and wanted to learn more. I got one of those "top 100" lists and hated most of the tunes. I wondered what was wrong. Your explanation about "big ears" makes things clear. I'll get the music you recommend and start listening more carefully.

Thanks Mike. This is exactly what I've needed... advice on what to start with. I've spent my life (61 years) involved in classical and choral music. But, I wanted to get into and understand jazz. I was always turned off because of what you wrote... I jumped into the deep end. I've just purchased and listened to the Harry "Sweets" Edison album you suggested. Loving it!

Mike, all these albums make fine recommendations, but I still like "Kind of Blue" as a starting point for beginners. The songs may not be typical jazz fare, but it gives listeners an opportunity to hear the some of the influential musicians of the second half of the 20th century -- Miles, Cannonball, Trane, and Bill Evans -- all playing on the same tunes, but each in their own particular style.

As a teenager growing up near Cleveland late 50's, there was no Jazz on the AM. The only way you'd ever hear a Jazz piece is if it cracked the top 100. Ahmad Jamal's Poinciana, Dave Brubeck's Take Five, and Eddie Harris' Exodus to Jazz all did just that. And they blew me away - a great introduction to Jazz.

When a child I used to play my dad's set of 45's for the 1939 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert. I loved them and continued on with Gene Krupa's band music. The 90's high point of CD reissues was a great period. If not the American reissues, then it was the gorgeous Japanese CD reissues. Happily, there are still CDs issued. I have yet to buy the JTP box set before they are gone.


I might have mentioned Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage. I've always found this CD pretty much appeals to anybody. I prefer Wayne Shorter's Blue Notes, but they are a bit more challenging.

Your list is good, but nothing by Miles Davis?

There are also some great contemporary jazz CD's. Dave Holland's Big Band What Goes Around, Ben Allison' Buzz or Peace Pipe, or the one I've been playing a lot lately, Roberto Rodriguez's Timba Talmud.

No Waltz for Debbie???????????????????

Or how about a Sonny Clark's Leapin' and Lopin'? :-)

And finally what's wrong with Bitches Brew? While I might prefer In a Silent Way or Jack Johnson, it's really a great record. Seriously you have to at least include one Miles Davis CD. My personal choice would be Neferitti but I'm sure Kind of Blue would suffice for the uninitiated.

Oh, yeah, and Braxton's Standards Quartets are pretty non threatening and they have an electric guitar!!!! :-)

Mike, I was a friend of yours way back in the Compuserve era on the photography forums there. Even swapped some equipment back and forth. Very glad to run into you again here. I agree with your idea on how to learn to like jazz 100%. I've already recommended this post on facebook but I wonder how many folks will be too turned off to hear what you are saying or even follow the link?

Back in the fifties in north London my schooling was most memorable and influential for two after school activities. As a thirteen year old a science teacher showed me how a photographic print was made. That opened my eyes to the world around me as I then got my first decent camera (Agfa Silette). But it was Mr Briault, the Biology teacher who started the school Jazz Club that opened my ears to a world so much more rich than the vacuous pop of the time. I think of him as I look over my cd collection. I owe him an enormous debt!

Some sound advice (pun intended) Mike. It occurs to me that one has to be of sufficient maturity to really appreciate jazz (or classical for that matter).

Like you, I'm too young to be a boomer, too old to be a gen-Xer, and "grew up" (meaning high school) listening to rock of the 1970s - music that was as offensive to our parents as our children's music is to us.

After suffering through the new-wave/new-age 80s, and grunge/alternative 90s, I finally gave up on popular music about 10 years ago; it having lost all relevance to my life. Only within the past few years have I begun to appreciate jazz.

And although today I greatly enjoy listening to both historic and modern jazz, I'm quite certain I wouldn't have been able to appreciate what jazz has to offer were I 10 years younger. Do you suppose that 10 years from now, I will finally possess the musical maturity to fully appreciate classical music, as many "elderly" people do?


thank you (I think...) for this post. It will bear considered re-reading by me. Given the scale of the subject, it will take me several reads, and listens, to get into what you are trying to say.

I've always had a real problem with jazz. Being born in 1965, it seems a little bit before my time, but my father and uncles loved it. Loved it, without sophistication I'd say. Possibly even loved it only because it was popular in their childhoods (30s-50s). My father's jazz collection on cassette tape all seemed to consist of Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. Good, but all of a certain type.

And then I learned that jazz is "a dynamic conversation" between instruments, and sort of made up as they go along by the real greats. As someone whose own musical talents are so hidden that I find it a triumph to be able to consistently pick out single notes, and who needs a metronome to keep time, this is dispiriting. I don't think I'm ever going to get there.

Still, I do own AND LIKE two pieces that I'm told are quite "advanced" jazz by people who should know. Apasionado, by Stan Getz, and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis. Don't you go telling me publically on t'internet that they are not proper jazz, because I'm only hanging on with my fingertips to the jazz world.

Only Burrell resonated with me. My universe is circumscribed by a single instrument: Pass, Breau, Kessel, Reinhardt, Byrd, Klug, Ellis, Van Eps, .... So much music, so little time!

You say do not start with Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane. I and many others would say these two (and others) exemplify why jazz lost the audience it had and rightly so.

Whatever enthusiasts point to as positive features of what they did, the one thing they did not do was "swing." Put otherwise, they and many that came after them did not have rhythm as a integral part of what the music was. (This was not peculiar to jazz. Philip Glass, as just one example, seems to equate the beat and rhythm. This is also true of much rock and roll. Much r&r did not grow out of the blues but that strain that did was in my mind as it was happening a best available replacement for what was missing in Coleman or Coltrane.) Compare them to the Hawk who always was swinging. Why he is a great example to have and to come back to is that he was so flexible in fitting into whatever was the fashion of the moment while keeping his own voice and never playing with groups that did not swing. Parker swings, Monk swings though they explored chords in new ways and the Hawk was able to fit into what they were doing with chords with an easy smoothness. You mention Dizzy. Many at the time identified him as bebop and thus simply into chordal explorations, etc. What seemed most evident at the time to me and why he is/was so important is that he was exploring new rhythms (from different geographical areas and traditions) that enlarged the vocabulary of what could be felt as swinging. You mention Mingus. He is another great example of a "different" sound (with which some people had trouble getting used to) but he never stopped swinging.

This is not some recent insight on my part. I was there in the Village and 52nd St and Harlem when the change took place. I was outraged then and I remain so.

Thus I have no problem with any of your choices but they might become more accessible to newcomers if you could clarify how they swing and the swinging as something felt in and through the body. Recently you mentioned Janis Joplin. Especially on the last album - Pearl - with a better band I would be puzzled if someone could "listen" to those tracks and not move parts of their body and "feel" what is happening.

You just added Basie to your list. Basie is a great example of not letting his instrument get in the way of what he thought was the main business - the swinging rhythms. He is also a nice "teaching" example since he helps the listener to hear the swing by the throat noises he makes whether big band or "solo."

Many years ago (50+) my father purchased a
long play RCA Victor record entitled "Classical Music For Those Who Hate Classical Music." The piece of vinyl is now lost in annals of time. Maybe Mike could do a similar compact disc "Jazz for People Who Don't Listen to Jazz?"

Now here is a subject near and dear to my heart. Other must haves:

1. Kind Of Blue.

2. Coltrane's Blue Train.

3. Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard.

4. Anything by Oscar Peterson.

5. The Clifford Brown and Max Roach stuff.

One of the bigger regrets in my life is not discovering Max Roach until I left home for college, and then finding out that he had been in the music department at Umass Amherst, where I grew up, all along. Ah well. Live and learn.

Oh, I forgot the Ellington stuff from the 30's and 40's. But, in the spirit of the piece, I think those are actually better left for later. Thelonius Monk too.

If you would like to learn about Jazz, I suggest you listen to Ken Wiley's "The Art of Jazz" on KPLU (on the internet). It's on every Sunday from 3:00 - 6:00 PM PST. I was introduced to Jazz when one Aunt gave me Benny Goodman at the Newport Jazz Festival when I was 18 (1957). I was immediately hooked, and have been a strong listener for the last 54 years.


You hit the nail on the head about jazz's unique ability to capture friends getting together. For me "Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster" is one of the best examples of this, and a great Hawkins record.

I think Mingus "Live in Antibes" is intense as live music gets, but it's accessible. Similarly "Coltrane Plays the Blues" is an easy path to get into Coltrane. For Miles Davis, after the most famous albums, I think "Filles de Kilimanjaro" is really enjoyable listening, easy to remember the hooks after a few listens, and represents the bridge between the acoustic and electric phases. I'm jealous of the new jazz fans, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg!

"I'm jealous of the new jazz fans"

I get that way too. It's so much fun going in.


I'm gonna check this out Mike as I'm curious about Jazz. Like you I grew up with the classic rock that I still listen to on occasion.

I think Jazz is very much like good abstract photography. Not always appreciated and only seen properly by the developed eye. Some never graduate from basic, pleasant but benign nature and travel photography. Not that those two catagories are by any means easy to master (nor is any form of music) but after a while you desire more. You want to pull back and seperate from the masses.

Yes I will check these links out on your recommendations and the fact that B.B. King said and I quote "blues is high school and jazz is college."

I'm saving two things for old age--Alaska, and opera! [g]


That's cool...I've been listening to jazz for a few years, you've been listening since the year I was born!


P.S. Was 1957 a good year for jazz, or what?

Hi there.

When you did your article about record covers (Greatest Covers Ever - http://tinyurl.com/4kcluvm), I initially thought, by the title and first photograph, that it was going to be about the actual cover art on the sleeves of sound recordings.

Around that time, I had been thinking about the jazz photographs of Dennis Stock. I had also just recently watched a documentary on Dave Brubeck (Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way), and I was quite interested in the fact that Brubeck often used leading painters’ work for his covers.

All this had caused me to reflect that an article about great record cover photographs would be very interesting – so I was really excited, for about 10 seconds, when it had appeared you had read my mind.

Great photographs from record covers would, I think, still make a great topic.


I'd recommend any of Dexter Gordon's Blue Note Records from the early 1960's particularly "A Swingin' Affair" and "Go" (Two records culled from the same recording session).

To me Dexter epitomizes jazz from that era: The relaxed swing feel, his assimilation of multiple streams of harmonic and melodic development (swing, bebop, hard bop) his innovative take on standard songs and his ability to tell a "story" with a real structural arc in his solos, really solidifed for me the understanding that jazz musicians are communicating with something like a language during a performance.

On those particular records, Dexter's melodic interplay with Billy Higgins' cymbals has the feel of a hip, free-flowing conversation between two old friends.

Oh, man. When I was a young adult in the early '70s, my father was a bit of a jazzhound. But not bop, he hated bop and all that came after. His thing was the swing, and the big bands and the New Orleans sound and some Dixieland. He gave me two home made 8 track tapes (remember the Wollensak 8 track recorders?): Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall 1938, and a "best of big band jazz" compilation. And holy heck, those both knocked my Deep Purple socks off! Man, Bowie was great, but "Big Noise from Winnetka", WOW! THEY WERE SMOKING THE GOOD STUFF TOO! And I fell in love with all of it. And not just Ellington, and Basie, and The First Herd, and Chick Webb, and those guys, but also the New Orleans stuff, the Hot Fives and Sevens you mentioned, and all the pre-bop. And then... then, because I was a rebellious 20 year old, I started wondering about the stuff my dad didn't like. And I went chronologically. I picked up Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis, the immediate postwar stuff. And I was blown away AGAIN. And then, Miles Davis, and Coltrane, and Mingus, and the 50's guys... Monk. Rollins. And then... COLEMAN. And from him, Dolphy, who kind of straddled. And I finally landed on Albert Ayler, who to me seemed to just emote through his instrument, not playing it but sticking it into his soul and letting whatever came out, come out.
But still, for all that, I could (and still can) sit down with Hawkins, or Parker, or Ellington, or Preservation Hall, or any of those guys. Because it all comes from the same place. It's all music.

You, and probably many other people reading this, probably know more about jazz than I do. I'm just sayin'.


"I was a friend of yours way back in the Compuserve era on the photography forums there."

Hi Glenn! And a big welcome. Glad you stopped by.


I've introduced quite a few people to jazz and fwiw my shortlist of what's worked best would include Clifford Brown (anything with Max Roach), Horace Silver (with Blue Mitchell, or else the album with the Breckers), Cannonball Adderly (say, Somethin' Else), Vince Guaraldi (Black Orpheus), and yes, definitely, Maiden Voyage and Kind of Blue. But I like your list too. And Roy Haynes is the coolest guy in the world.

Mike, finally I know who I am - part of Generation Jones. Not a term I had heard, but now I belong. It's great!

As for Jazz, I grew up on a diet of parisian manouche, afro-cuban and west coast styles depending on whether my father or brother was choosing. I still have just about every record Brubeck released.

I got into bebop a lot later, about when I got into Bourbon. Not sure if the two are related but it was some friends in New York who insisted on dragging my tasted eastward who got me going.

My collection is not massive, I still have more classical music than anything else, but it's pretty tasty, and not all that hard for a neophyte to get into.

But just to show how far I came while standing still, my two favourite jazz albums are Time Out (Dave Brubeck) and Back East (Joshua Redman), one I heard before I turned five and the other I was given at fifty.

Hmmm... I'll disagree with the commenter who said something about jazz and maturity. I got into jazz as a teenager, played countless hours of it on the radio, and barely listen to it anymore, with just a few exceptions.*

But I really think that one's way into jazz should come from the path of the music they are already interested in. People who like soul should start with Cannonball Adderley or Roland Kirk. Into 20th century atonalism? Ornette, Braxton, or the AACM stuff is just right. You can work your way backwards from there. And people into hip-hop, well, there's a gold mine of connections there... Roland Kirk again, or Gil Scott Heron, or 70s Miles perhaps? Maybe they should just buy a Yesterday's New Quintet record. Like noise? Listen to Coltrane live in Japan. All the way through. In one sitting. I did that once, on a bet, and wouldn't ever again.

I just don't think that late 50s jazz is necessarily the way in for everyone–plenty of people, I think, are turned off to jazz because of the cliched and potentially noodley nature of post bop. Like you say, people will find their way to the giants, but the entryway can be quite varied.

Anyway, I'll have to second the Mingus in Antibes mentioned in the comments above, as just a phenomenally energetic record, good for anyone who likes music. I should listen to that, it's probably been eight or ten years since I put it on, but it's playing in my head right now.

*principal among the exceptions being Louis Jordan & Albert Ayler, humorously enough very different artists of two of the first jazz recordings I ever bought, back as a 14 year old.

Mr. J,
I am a rock fan, with a small bit of jazz thrown in over the last few years (particularly some of Charlie Parker's music). One musical discovery I made through your website (which I discovered about a year or so ago and now check daily) was Ben Webster - absolutely love his mellow style and have bought two of his cds in the past few months since I first read about him here. For that, I thank you. Now, I am going to have to look for the Quiet Kenny & Mr. Swing cds as you once again piqued my interest. Funny what one discovers just looking around for things to read about photography!

Of course no jazz intro kit would be complete without Art Tatum if you want to hear how inhumanly good a musician can be. There are so many wonderful players it's a lifetime study to really appreciate them all.

I'm interested in the aptitude test you took - so does that mean if you're crazy enough to be a musician you're so crazy you can't be anything but a musician? Works for me....

Leon Thomas "Live from Berlin"
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis "Consummation"
Les McCann and Eddie Harris "Swiss Movement"
and finally
Dave Brubeck "Take Five"

Oh...and Rasan Roland Kirk "Kirkatron"

Thanks very much for this post.
My first intro to jazz was my dad's album "Live at the Pershing" by Ahmad Jamal. I listened to it on our Rec-O-Cut turntable, Heathkit mono amp and single speaker with the cool silver threads in the cloth grill.
I'm looking forward to listening to your recommendations.

"I'm interested in the aptitude test you took - so does that mean if you're crazy enough to be a musician you're so crazy you can't be anything but a musician? Works for me...."

I think what their research indicated to them--it's been a long time now, so don't hold me to this too closely--was that if you score REALLY high in any particular set of aptitudes, you have to use them in the course of your daily life or you'll feel naggingly unfulfilled and have a sense of something missing. This wasn't just for music but for every group of aptitudes.

As I recall, they claimed their research was all empirical--that is, they followed the people they tested and asked them years later what they had done and how they felt about it. Their conclusions were based on actual cases, not theory.


P.S. I was told that I would do best as a forester, writer, or photographer. Two out of three ain't bad.

Wonderful! I've been struggling with this for years. I want to like jazz, but I don't know how. Thank you so much for the list, and especially for the instructions.

That said, I had the good fortune to live in Portland when Glenn Moore (of Oregon) was playing bass concerts. That was music I could listen to. Wish I could find it again. Thank you. Please write more on this.


Nice job, in addition to being a professional photographer, I teach jazz history and drum set at the University of Washington. You did a nice job laying this out, let me know if I can be of any help.

I'm glad someone mentioned Dave Brubeck and Pittsburgh's own Ahmad Jamal ... Gotta include them in a jazz starter kit!


thank you, mike.

And speaking of jazz and photography, do you have the book "Jazz Memories" by Herman Leonard? Mine is signed by Herman Leonard and by Dave Brubeck. Awesome stuff!

Dear Mike,

"I was told that I would do best as a forester, writer, or photographer. "

"Ohhh, ...

"he's a lumberjack and he's OK, he sleeps all night and he works all day..."


Seriously, this column really made me think. I'd never before contemplated the distinction between good music and good introductions to the genre.

Accordingly, I shan't even make any suggestions, I don't feel competent. I gravitated to jazz early on; it just always seemed to work for me. Makes me a lousy judge of what's a good gateway drug, musically speaking.

Weird thing, though. I only own maybe 300 jazz recordings, but I don't own any of the ones on your list. Now I gotta go buy me a bunch more musics.

Oh well, the next stack of vinyl I take down to Amoeba records, I'll take store credit instead of cash. Got something to use it on!

pax / Ctein

his last records which were contemporaneous with The Mothers of Invention.

This made me smile. It would certainly mean something if everybody here knew who tMoI were and when their era was. :-)

I'm not a fan of jazz and I suspect never will be. I tried it several times and simply bounced off it. I'm a rocker, through and through.

what? No Mingus, no Ellington, no Max Roach or Clifford Brown, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Charlie Haden, Keith Jarrett, Coltrane ??????

Mike, excellent introduction. Just one additional point to add to your comments about needing Big Ears: Some music just has to be experienced live.
In the early 1970's I lived close to Detroit for a year or two and was lucky enough to find my way to Baker's Keyboard Lounge more than a few times. Roland Kirk and Pharaoh Sanders were two artists who really pushed the boundaries of abstract improvisation and were absolutely mesmerizing live. But I could never find any recordings by them that I wanted to hear more than very occasionally.

As someone above said, an introduction to jazz should include something with piano and I would add something by Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner or Oscar Peterson.

Our local Jazz public radio station has taken a poll amongst the leading music reviewers in the Detroit area to honor the hardest working local jazz musicians. I am visiting each of the selected where they play and photographing them: the results will illustrate a calendar to be used as a premium for the station’s fundraising drive. It gets me out to hear jazz a couple times a week (for free). Progress so far: http://02a673c.netsolhost.com/blog1/?page_id=363

I'm almost completely un-knowledgable about jazz, so I might take up a few of these suggestions. Once in the car, though, I had NPR on and they were doing some program about a jazz musician and played some things, and I had a spot of revelation:

That the musicians were playing around a structure that wasn't actually present in the recording at all. Probably something common in their musical backgrounds. That common structure was something so familiar to everyone there (and probably the listenership) that it no longer actually needed to be present in the music at all, because it was in everyone's heads anyway. I realized that I was reading the response without knowing the question -- and that revelation made it make a lot more sense, and much more interesting.

Was that insight up the right alley or a complete dead-end?

I recommend Colemann Hawkins and Horace Silver since my three year old son loves their music. He even insisted on calling him Colemann instead of Nikolas (his real name) and he never goes to bed without listening to "ba-ba-bi-ba-ba" ("Senor Blues" by Horace Silver).

It may interest you to know that Nas's father is Olu Dara, a jazz musician - don't know if you've ran into his byline anywhere in your liners. I'll give a few of these albums a listen if you promise to listen to Illmatic... well, I probably will still check these out anyway! By the way, Smif-n-Wesson haven't been relevant for, oh I don't know, ten years now at least?

Makes a lot of sense to me. Music is a lot about what you expect to hear, not just about what you're hearing--which relates to the impetus of this post, which is to recommend some very accessible portals to an idiom that might be unfamiliar or less familiar to some listeners.

The same thing you're describing happens when rock guitarists do extended virtuoso solos--they're adding a lot of flourish and infill and countermelody to the basic lines, but everybody who's used to listening to rock can still sense the basic blues structure underlying it. I still have trouble picking up melody in more "outside" types of jazz.

Another example that comes to mind is that when Indians listen to American pop and rock, they think it's dissatisfying, because a lot of Indian music has to do with the complexity of the rhythms and beats. But a rock song might just have a drummer going whack, whack, whack. The rhythms are extremely simple, and give Indians little to listen for relative to what they're used to hearing.

An obvious limitation of jazz in this respect is: no words. It's basically instrumental music. This alone can be disorienting for a lot of people who are entirely used to "music" being songs with lyrics. In the '60s a common complaint of older people was that the lyrics in rock songs were hard to understand.

On that head, here's an interesting exercise: Go to iTunes and look for the album "Mingus Ah Um" by Charles Mingus, and download and listen to the song "Fables of Faubus." Then go find the album "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus" and download the song called "Original Faubus Fables" and listen to it. The second version features the words that the record label wouldn't allow to appear on the first album. I think it's quite interesting how it changes the meaning and feel of the piece.

I see I've wandered off your topic, though, sorry.



To take your 'Introduction to Jazz' to its logical (to me, anyway) conclusion, I'd say that the approach you lay out here would suffice for any music genre - until you know 'the rules', you can't get the meaning of 'the game'. (Hmm, maybe that stretches to most human endeavours...) I'd give examples, but suffice to say that over the last couple of years I've learned to appreciate a whole slew of music that I never gave a second's thought to, all through spending time with people who cared enough about their chosen genre to introduce me slowly and carefully to their favourite flavour. This gave me the opportunity to learn the rules as I went, so that I could grow 'big ears'. (Which reminds me of a joke, but never mind.)

I grew up listening to a mad mix of music - The Beatles, Sinatra and Gilbert & Sullivan from my Mum, Richard Tauber and a large assortment of classical composers from my Dad. Then I found hard rock, and pretty well stopped there. Then, I met a few interesting people and learned the rules, and now have expanded musical horizons. I can't play a note, but I sure do like me some different styles. :)

Still struggling with jazz, though. (Your posts of the last few years have been a great help here - I do own a copy of 'Kind of Blue', which I quite like, so given this new list, maybe there's hope for me after all.)

"what? No Mingus, no Ellington, no Max Roach or Clifford Brown, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Charlie Haden, Keith Jarrett, Coltrane ??????"

Key words: starter kit. You're not supposed to stop there.


Great post. My real intro to jazz (actually paying attention)was a live concert by the MJQ, in the garden at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), sometime in the late '50's. I was in high school at the time and was stunned by what I heard. Been hooked ever since. I would suggest some MJQ recordings for those that are classical buffs.

I have a very large collection of jazz recordings, but still found a few items in your list to take a go at. Please let your readers know about the Mosaic list of recordings, which is a wonderful source for those that get into this unique aspect of our musical heritage. I don't have any connection with Mosiac, but think that they perform a real service for jazz fans and want to keep them healthy.

Interesting article & I appreciate that a list of good introductory records is not the same as a greatest recordings list (hence your omissions). I got into jazz in the '90s & the record (CD) that got me in was 'Mingus Ah Um' by Charles Mingus. Has elements of soul, rock & balladry & most tracks swing.

A tip: It can be fun to listen once concentrating on the pianist, say, then follow along with the bassist next, then, on the next listen-through, the sax. Take your time getting through any recording—what, you got a trane to catch?

I smiled wide... ;-)

I think Bitches Brew just scares the daylights out of most people. I think my dad asked once if the record was skipping on A Love Supreme.

Absolutely love the post. As a huge jazz fan and a player, I found your recommendations quirky and fun.

I think there is a huge synergy between being a photographer and being a jazz musician. Both have to be able to improvise, and do so from a point of mastery of their chosen tool.

Wrote about it.

For the piano fans: Horace Silver, based on Clint's comments, Ahmed Jamal "Extensions", Bill Evans "The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings,1961" (maybe too much of a good thing at once). I'm trying to stay with the 'accessible' here.

Tangential: I don't get Dovydas's rant.

Nice rundown, Mike. I came to jazz sideways, tiring of the direction rock was taking in the early 70's. My first clue may have been when I was blown away by Coltrane's Out Of This World and Tunji as a blues-obsessed 17-year-old hanging out at a friend's going through his Dad's records. (Could have been the weed, man.)

From there, a few of us developed an impromptu jazz appreciation society. Our samplings-by-whim and purchases-by-gamble took us all over the jazz map: the Creed Taylor stuff, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cannonball Adderly, Big Bill Broonzy, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Rushing, Monty Alexander and so much more, including some of what has been recommended above. Not a careful introduction, maybe, more a headlong scramble down musical alleys getting knocked over repeatedly, even as we kicked the occasional duds aside, by how intensely rockin' (if I may) good jazz could be, even the slow, quiet stuff. Good times. Still cherish most of it.

OT, slightly...

iTunes apparently wants CC info before they let a person in to look around. I didn't bother, so can anyone tell me: Can you download CD quality when you pay for a tune or do you have to settle for low-grade MP3s?

I'm going to skip to the bottom to comment, so I apologize if this has been covered already. My gateway into jazz was live performances. At the late lamented Kaldi's Coffeeshop in Over the Rhine, and the Blue Wisp jazz club downtown. From there it was the late lamented WNOP, now a Catholic radio station.

I think, like good stand up comedy, one of the best gateways to Jazz is to share it as part of an audience.

PS. Good intro Jazz? Vince Guiraldi's Peanuts themes should be pretty familiar and easy to digest.

"can anyone tell me: Can you download CD quality when you pay for a tune or do you have to settle for low-grade MP3s?"

Sort of in between. You can set the import encoder for several options, inclusing MP3, ACC, or Apple Lossless. The standard is Apple Lossless which is pretty good but not CD quality. Then again, CD quality isn't the pinnacle, either.

High-res downloads are the promised land, and we're starting to catch glimmers of it on the distant horizon. The Rolling Stones catalogue recently showed up on HDtracks, for instance.


I've never liked jazz, and don't particularly want to (and have been known to blame jazz for the degeneration of other forms I used to like, such as the Broadway musical comedy). I strongly suspect some of Mike's original points, and some of the points in comments, are spot-on as to why; I think Jazz disappeared up its own navel back around the time I was born, and now can't really be found -- it's all things so far along the conversation that it's not "there" to anybody not already involved. The availability of older recordings makes it possible for new people to get caught up and become fans -- if they want to.


Thanks for the great sugestions.

For those of you not in the few countries that Spotify currently operates in, you're in for a treat when they get to you...all but one of your recommendations are available through them.

Best wishes

Funny you mention aptitude tests and jazz in the same post. Just last night I was watching the movie Gattaca, a movie in which genetic aptitude plays a big part. In it there's a scene where Stan Getz's First Song (For Ruth) plays in the background. In the spirit of suggesting beginner level jazz, may I recommend Stan Getz's People Time 2-CD set that happens to have a rendition of First Song (For Ruth). I think Getz is extremely listenable while also providing enough meat for intermediate to advanced listeners (I'd put myself in the intermediate range; I can't quite grok Bitches Brew, for example).

My big project lately has been putting my Mom's jazz LPs on digital -- music from the womb, so to speak. Errol Garner, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing -- those could be components for someone's piano jazz starter kit right there. Even listening to jazz this long, though, I still haven't gotten around to your giants. Beiderbecke, Armstrong, Artie Shaw, Basie, North Dakota's own Peggy Lee and the first important tenor player, Lester Young, are more my speed. Easy listening, I know. Fortunately, there are many different paths into this world and they're all accessible these days.

Great article, Mike. The only jazz that I have been able to get into has been precisely the music that you tell people in this article not to start with. I'm a big fan of John Coltrane ('A Love Supreme' was the first of his records that I heard), the later Miles Davis records (including 'Bitches Brew'), and Ornette Coleman's 'The Shape of Jazz to Come'. I especially enjoy Eric Dolphy's 'Out to Lunch'. It took me years of trying different jazz records and not liking them until I finally discovered what I like.

I think this might fit in with the fact that I listen almost exclusively to classical music, and am particularly fond of 20th-century composers (for example, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Bela Bartok), and later composers (such as Harrison Birtwistle).

I don't disagree with you that the music you listed is not usually a good place to start, but it might depend where someone is (musically) coming from.

I followed up your recommendation of Kenny Burrel a while ago and found it so much to my taste that I'm sure it can't be "real Jazz".
As one who entered his teens when the Beatles & Stones started having hits, blues and soul made sense immediately but jazz seemed to be from another planet and another era.
I now own and enjoy CDs of Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Dave Brubeck etc. but my usual reaction to jazz is "well, it's OK but it ain't Rock'n'Roll". A rhythm thing really, my poor brain can't appreciate melody on its own, even in classical music.
As usual however with your music posts I bet within a couple of weeks I'll have followed up some of your links and parted with some money for CDs.
Thanks for opening our eyes & ears Mike.

I may have to look into this list (I only own Atomic from it), as I've enjoyed some of your previous recommendations.

After reading this, last night I played the album that got me going on buying jazz - US3's "Hand on the Torch" of all things. That's a record that, in any logical world, I shouldn't like but really do. A strange mix of NY urban rap, jazz and Blue Note samples. After that, off I went into the Blue Note back-catalogue.

But maybe I'm also a bit of a jazz oddity (maybe music in genral - my tastes are fairly catholic) - I also like the big band music that my father also enjoys (his era), having listened to quite a bit when I was young.

This is for Michael Farrel–our host's response to you is incorrect. Apple Lossless, or any lossless codec (Flac, APE) IS CD quality. 100%–there is no loss, hence why it is called lossless. You cannot, however, download lossless (Cd-quality) tracks from iTunes, only AAC, which is compressed like mp3, but definitely higher quality. Amazon is similar–mp3 only. The import settings in itunes only have to do with how CDs that you import come in.

You can have a poke around Smithsonian Folkways, as their whole catalog is available online for download as mp3 (lossy) or FLAC (lossless, CD quality). They have a jazz section:
And a gigundous (sp?) jazz collection coming out this month:

The nice thing is that once you've bought it, you can download both mp3 and flac right away.

And by the way, here's another record from 1957...

Seems to me my imports in Apple lossess have MPEG-4 tags (.m4a) and so do my downloads from iTunes. Hmm?


From the wikipedia article on Apple Lossless:

"Apple Lossless data is stored within an MP4 container with the filename extension .m4a – this extension is also used by Apple for AAC audio data in an MP4 container (same container, different audio encoding)."


iTunes Plus is what you are downloading now, 256 kbps aac (mp4, extension.m4a)

They sound pretty good, anyway, but oh how I wish you were right...

Mike, m4a's a container format; different things can go inside it.

The phrase "Angels in the Architecture" is from a Paul Simon song, I do believe.

Dan Yao, above, beat me to mentioning Nas's illustrious dad. A lot of the better rappers are jazz fans. You can hear it in their music, and they also make explicit references to it. Mos Def's song "Umi Says" always reminded me of _A Love Supreme_, so I was very gratified to learn that he had that album in mind when he wrote it.

I think jazz beginners might enjoy _Money Jungle_, a trio with Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. I know I like it.

I have more to say on this topic than I can possibly set down here, and so many of these comments deserve long, well considered responses. Whether or not this post of yours gets a lot of traffic, Mike, I think it's one of your all time best, and the care and love that you put into it shine through very clearly. Kudos.

I've only been intermittently into jazz, but some things have stayed with me. Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard is one. Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section another.

You hit a chord. I am going to start all over and try jazz again. Why not make this a recurring post with additional recommendations. No list is ever complete, like all art different strokes for different folks.

I love the fact that my years of jazz listening, now heading towards 40, are not the same as yours, or most of your posters, although just the name of some of the records your readers post makes me squirm with pleasure. I feel like I want to listen to Louis's West End Blues first, then some Duke, then...another evening spoken for.
Second, I'm not sure accessibility is the point. Jazz has always been about 'the know', as well as 'the feel', starting with the musicians themselves. Like Louis said when the woman asked him to define jazz - 'Lady, if you don't know what it is, don't mess with it!'. Like any great art, you have to put some work into unlocking its secrets. This doesn't mean no pleasure - the work is part of the pleasure. Photographers hardly need to be reminded that hard is good.
Finally, Bill Evans is a great way in. The beauty of his playing would move a stone. Not hard, but beautiful.


Glad to see some interested in Jazz on here. I think Jazz has a bit of an unfair reputation. Like many Jazz musicians have said - it's not something that you must study wearing a silk smoking jacket and pipe in mouth. Jazz is music. Listen to it on a sunny day at the beach wearing a lime green banana-hammock if you like. Good music is good music.

Below are some of my favorite albums that I believe are an introduction to great Jazz music. There is a mix of old school and a little bit more contemporary. But all good music.

1. Somethin' Else - Cannonball Alderly
2. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
3. John Coltrane - Blue Train
4. Dexter Gordon (Anything by Dex. Absolute master on the tenor)
5. Horace Silver - Song For My Father
6. Bill Evans - Blue in Green
7. Dave Brubeck - Time Out
8. Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage
9. Joshua Redman - Mood Swing
10. Oliver Nelson - Blues and The Abstract Truth

Great stuff Mike. Jazz fan here from my early twenties, jumped in at the deep end though but mellowing somewhat as I get older. I shall be seeking out your recommendations. Bought Cannonball Adderley Quartet in Chicago recently, Miles's band san Miles. Different and very much magic.

I came to jazz via bands like Gong and Can. I listened to trad and swing on the radio in the late 60's early 70's as a kid but wasn't much taken by it. Then I found ECM and wow. Keith Jarrett, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Pat Metheny. My friends were somewhat bemused, The Clash and Sex Pistol interspersed with piano music. Patti Smith followed with some guys fighting in a studio (as one one person described The Art Ensemble of Chicago).

The genre is so varied I think it has something for people with a variety of tastes. And I'm still discovering stuff I like. Like you should with all good music and art.

Great stuff, although I do quibble at any suggestion to spend money on lossy files when "alternatives" exist.

Anyone who's interested in the sorts of suggestions mentioned here should listen to Jazz Classics with H. Johnson, Saturdays at 9pm: http://www.pba.org/programming/programs/jazz_classics/

(So yeah, for those of you not local to the ATL, the station has an online stream.)

You get a free education from someone who clearly loves it, as he sprinkles commentary throughout and sometimes tells you what to listen for. But it's all in a comfortable conversational style, not an academic treatise that's being lectured.

Here's a newspaper profile: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-music/jazz-classics-dj-spins-552068.html


Thanks for the lovely post -- and the chance for others to add further suggestions!

Suggestions for a Jazz Piano Starter Kit:

The first jazz album that really struck my fancy was Keith Jarrett's "1991 Vienna Concert". I still listen to it regularly.

A second suggestion from my list of favorites would be "The Music of Eric Satie" by the Jacques Loussier Trio.


Just to let you know the results of your recommendations... These things take time.

I rooted around the Amazon site for hours playing samples and finally settled on your recommendations for Kenny Burrell, Kenny Dorham and Coleman Hawkins. The CDs arrived and I have spent a week listening and learning to grow big ears. I'm impressed and in love.

In my previous 57 years I had only heard one Jazz track that I liked. It made a big impression on me, big enough that I can still remember the details 20 years later. I was sitting in my car bored, waiting for my daughter to conclude her piano lesson. I was bored not for the waiting but rather because I couldn't find anything decent to listen to on the car radio. Scanning through the radio bands I happened upon CBC (This is Canada don't you know). A Jazz program was playing, wherein Chet Baker was doing a number that blew me away. I made a mental note of the name of the selection. First chance that came up, I was down to the local CD store, only to find that I couldn't remember the track name. So, after pulling some hair, I bought the most expensive CD they had for Chet Baker. Big mistake, I hated the whole thing. Until two weeks ago it remained my only Jazz CD.

About the same time 20 years ago I decided to get into Classical music. Over the years I had heard many classical performances that I liked and had even bought several LP's. The records didn't turn my crank but I knew there was something to be discovered. So down to the local library (before the internet) and for a couple of days scoured the shelves for a, beginners introduction to Classical music. I wanted someone to tell me what I was going to like. No such luck, it did not exist. There were many books masquerading as beginners guides, but they were really all about the "best" in Classical music. I eventually bought several books, that I had to order (Not popular in book stores) and so began a tortured but enjoyable exploration of classical music. I now have about 120 classical music CDs of which only thirty I listen to and enjoy. With my money, that's a poor batting average. It's not that the relegated CDs are bad , It's that I haven't learned how to appreciate them, haven't "Grown big ears". I don't know if I'll ever graduate to Opera. It just seems so far away from where I'm at, although I can name a couple of opera snippets that really hit the spot.

I'm no expert, but the recording quality of the three CD's you recommended just leapt out at me.

I suspect that I'll never grow big jazz ears, but I will enjoy the beginners stuff. So anytime you want to add more beginner recommendations just have at it.

P.S. Whatever happened to your USB DAC?

Thanks for those recommendations,


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