10 More Essential Jazz Albums

News | Oct, 20th 2016

Now that you've had ample time to explore our first batch of 10 Essential Jazz Albums, we thought we'd provide a second handful of classics for your listening pleasure. This is not a definitive list, but rather a second sampling of classic albums that are among the many, many must-buys for serious jazz collectors. We hope you enjoy!

Mingus Ah Um

Artist: Charles Mingus | Release Year: 1959

Personnel: Charles Mingus (bass), John Handy (reeds), Booker Ervin (tenor sax), Shafi Hadi (saxophones), Willie Dennis (trombone), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Horace Parlan (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums)

Why You Need This Album: The album title suggests this as a defining moment for the bassist, and while it's true that Mingus Ah Umfunctions as a soulful survey of Mingus’s colorful world, it also serves as a Rosetta Stone for the influences that shaped his music. There are the homages to recently deceased masters Lester Young and Charlie Parker ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "Bird Calls," respectively); the gospel-infused swing of "Better Git Hit In Your Soul" that harks back to Mingus's childhood in the church; and even the charged politics of "Fables of Faubus," which thumbed its nose at Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus and his segregationist policies (though this instrumental recording of the song was not as barbed as later versions, which included lyrics). Mingus Ah Umreveals Mingus's prodigious compositional breadth, moving from joyous to mournful and back and making the most out of this small group palette.

Purchase: iTunes

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

Artist: Wes Montgomery | Release Year: 1960

Personnel: Wes Montgomery (guitar), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Percy Health (bass), Albert “Tootie” Heath (drums)

Why You Need This Album: The title says it all. Along with Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, Montgomery defined the jazz guitar's sound and status as a modern, soloing instrument. His chops are on full display throughout this 1960 Riverside date, which helped make him a household name. The stellar rhythm section provides a supple foundation for Montgomery's pyrotechnics, including his trademark use of octaves and tuneful thumb-picking. 

Purchase: iTunes

Speak No Evil

Artist: Wayne Shorter | Release Year: 1964

Personnel: Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Elvin Jones (drums)

Why You Need This Album: Recorded only a few months after the also-classic JuJu,Shorter's Speak No Evilwas the saxophonist's third record for Blue Note. Shorter gathered together two fellow inductees into Miles Davis's newest band, John Coltrane's regular drummer, and his frontline partner from the Jazz Messengers and made a haunting, deeply atmospheric album. The record's six new Shorter compositions all hint at a submerged darkness, skillfully building tension, and the subtle interplay between the members of this all-star lineup make Speak No Evila moody masterpiece.

Purchase: iTunes

The Audience With Betty Carter

Artist: Betty Carter | Release Year: 1980

Personnel: Betty Carter (vocals), John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Kenny Washington (drums)

Why You Need This Album: Carter is no longer with us, but luckily this jam-packed double album captures for posterity just how riotously entertaining her electric live shows could be. Opener "Sounds (Moving On)" is 25 minutes long but flies by (thanks in large part to the double-time passage during her sprawling scat solo). The setlist is a mix of Carter originals (including her masterwork "Tight") and well-chosen standards, including a deeply felt rendition of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," and the ever-tasteful rhythm section helps Carter keep the audience enraptured. It's only a recording, but this is the next-best thing to being there.

Purchase: iTunes

The Atomic Mr. Basie

Artist: Count Basie Orchestra | Release Year: 1958

Personnel: Wendell Culley (trumpet), Snooky Young (trumpet), Thad Jones (trumpet), Joe Newman (trumpet), Henry Coker (trombone), Al Grey — (trombone), Benny Powell (trombone), Marshal Royal (reeds), Frank Wess (reeds), Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (reeds), Frank Foster (reeds), Charles Fowlkes (reeds), Count Basie (piano), Eddie Jones (bass), Freddie Green (guitar), Sonny Payne (drums)

Why You Need This Album: Look "pocket" up in the dictionary and you'll be greeted with that iconic explosion of a cover. This is the Basie band at its tightest and most dynamically sensitive: the quiet parts are played feather-light, and the shout choruses paste you back against the wall. All of the album's slinky charts—including the now-iconic "Splanky" and "Lil' Darlin'"—were contributed by longtime collaborator Neal Hefti, making this one of the signature albums of Basie's "New Testament Band."

Purchase: iTunes

Out to Lunch!

Artist: Eric Dolphy | Release Year: 1964

Personnel: Eric Dolphy (reeds), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass), Tony Williams (drums)

Why You Need This Album: For those seeking to venture a little out of their jazz comfort zone, Out to Lunch!is the perfect place to start. Widely regarded as Dolphy's best album, it was his only record for Blue Note, and it came out just a few months before his tragic death caused by complications from diabetes. His angular, oddly-timed compositions give the album's talented personnel plenty of latitude to explore, but—free as it is—the album's outré inclinations are still couched within a swinging, tuneful sensibility that won't turn off jazz traditionalists.

Purchase: iTunes

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley

Artist: Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley | Release Year: 1961

Personnel: Nancy Wilson (vocals), Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet), Joe Zawinul (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Why You Need This Album: Sometimes, recording a great album is really as simple as getting a couple of superb, sweet-toned musicians together in the same studio. That's not to say Wilson and Adderley had no prior history—they'd actually performed together in Ohio, where Cannonball encouraged the singer to try her luck in New York—but this was their first recording date together. Nevertheless, the chemistry is evident, especially on the jaunty "Little Unhappy Boy."

Purchase: iTunes

Brilliant Corners

Artist: Thelonious Monk | Release Year: 1957

Personnel: Thelonious Monk (piano), Ernie Henry (alto saxophone), Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Clark Terry (trumpet), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Paul Chambers (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Why You Need This Album: Picking the best Monk album is no easy task, but few would quibble with the assertion that Brilliant Cornersfinds the pianist at the height of his powers. From the staggering swagger of the ebullient title track to the woozily sweet "Pannonica," the album's a perfect encapsulation of what made Monk such a unique composer and improviser, and the supporting cast is one of the strongest with which Monk ever recorded. Plus, that cover!

Purchase: iTunes

Live at the Cookery

Artist: Mary Lou Williams | Release Year: 1976

Personnel: Mary Lou Williams (piano), Brian Torff (bass)

Why You Need This Album: Captured more than four decades after she made her recorded debut, this live set lays bare everything that made Williams a master: her ability to synthesize every era of jazz piano, her fiery blues licks, her sensitive use of space, and more. Bassist Torff is a delicate accompanist, egging Williams on at times and getting out of her way at others. The record's a remarkable document of Williams's prowess and an instructional look at the full range of jazz piano's evolution over the course of the 20th century.

Purchase: iTunes

Conference of the Birds

Artist: Dave Holland | Release Year: 1972

Personnel: Dave Holland (bass), Sam Rivers (reeds), Anthony Braxton (reeds), Barry Altschul (percussion, marimba)

Why You Need This Album: Don't let this record's spare instrumentation fool you: there's a lot going on. Holland gathered up the personnel of Circle (sans founding member Chick Corea) plus Sam Rivers, with whom he'd enjoy a long collaboration. The bassist's muscular lines power the group's six avant-garde excursions into wide-open space. The compositions are generally quite free but, despite the winding roads they offer the listener, they all arrive at fascinating destinations. Like Out to Lunch!, this record is a good place for those uninitiated in free jazz to start: it swings hard from start to finish.

Purchase: iTunes

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