I grew up playing and listening to punk rock, metal, new wave, and other types of rock music before enrolling in a jazz ensemble at a community college at the age of 20. At that time I knew nothing about jazz and had never listened to it. I had just never been exposed to it growing up in my little West Texas town. The reason that I joined the jazz ensemble was that I figured it was the only outlet in music school for a drum set player. I figured that I should start listening to some jazz if I was going to play in a jazz band so I hit the local music stores! Later I found out that my hometown of Amarillo, TX actually had a rich music history with great local players, some of whom I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play with. They became mentors to me.
Without further adieu, here are some Jazz albums that influenced and informed a younger version of myself.
Unknown Jazz Piano Cassette Tape Compilation
A friend gave me a cassette tape that was a compilation of jazz piano greats. The writing was worn off so I never knew who was on it until years later when I heard the tracks on different albums. Included was Chick Corea's "Matrix", Herbie Hancock's "Riot", Duke Ellington w/Max Roach and Charles Mingus "Caravan", a track from Michel Petrucciani, and others. Needless to say, I wore this tape out and these tracks significantly influenced my conception and aesthetic of jazz.
The Last Time I Committed Suicide (Movie Soundtrack)
I don't remember much about the actual movie but this soundtrack was an early introduction to some heavy hitters for me. The first track on the album was Charles Mingus' "Better Git Hit in Your Soul", and the second was a killer take of "Straight, No Chaser" by a piano-less Max Roach quartet. Also on the album were Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, and more!
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
I didn't know anything about Art Blakey when I picked this album up. When I first started getting into jazz in my early 20's I would buy any album that looked interesting. All I could tell from the album cover was that the drummer looked awesome. As it turns out, he was awesome and album is a classic! My introduction to Horace Silver and tunes like "Nica's Dream"
Thelonius Monk - The Best of Thelonius Monk: The Blue Note Years
It's Monk! My favorite track was "In Walked Bud"
Horace Silver - Song For My Father
The first thing I noticed about this album was the way that space was used and the minimalist chords and modal harmonies that Silver was using. I dug the Latin influence and many of the compositions had a meditative quality to them.
Oscar Peterson - Exclusively For My Friends: Lost Tapes
I probably ran across this album in the clearance bin at the music store. I was absolutely floored by Peterson's playing. Blistering runs, killer harmonies, stride piano, high energy ensemble. Peterson would take tunes to the next level with double time solos accompanied by left hand walking or boogie-woogie bass lines, and of course, his signature octave and block chord solos. Peterson's playing will always inspire and astound me!
Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage
Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter! These guys were a musical factory churning out albums that would be top sellers in their own day and go down in history as Jazz classics. Surprisingly I owned and listened to this album before hearing the Headhunters album.
Guess which album is next on the list...
Herbie Hancock - Headhunters
Judge me if you will, but it took me a second to get into this album. I couldn't appreciate the vintage synths upon the first hearing. It sounded dated and almost cheesy to me which was perhaps due in part to me growing up in the 80's, but when Hancock takes off on his Rhodes and Moog solos and Bennie Maupin kills it on the saxophone I knew my initial impressions needed to be reconsidered. To this day Hancock's solo on Chameleon is one of my favorite of all time and this album will always be one of those at the top of my music list. I just recently found a copy on vinyl!
Pharoah Sanders - Thembi
One of my music teachers passed me a copy of this album. I listened to it a lot.
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
I don't know what to say about this one other than regardless of what type of music you listen to this album should be in your collection. Miles Davis changed the course of music in the 20th century more than a few times and his influence is just as heavy today as it was then and will be felt for at least the next century and most likely beyond.
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
I had a next door neighbor once who had this on vinyl. I asked him if he would be willing to trade another record for it. From my collection he chose a blue colored vinyl copy of Sonic Youth's "Jet Set, White Trash, and No Star" for it. His remark about Bitches Brew was that, "I'm not that into it, there's no melody." I said something along the lines of, "Hmm... well... thanks for the record dude." and went along my way.
There are so many jazz albums that I love and I can only begin to list a few here. The next album on the list is one that I found on cassette tape, also when I was in my early twenties and led me down another musical path that I could never have imagined at the time.
Ravi Shankar - The Genius of Ravi Shankar
This album was my introduction to the music of India. Pandit Ravi Shankar on sitar with Ustad Allah Rakha on tabla. I now have a vinyl copy of this one as well.
Thanks for reading! Comment and share some of your favorite jazz (or otherwise) albums below!