Quite obviously, there’s nowhere to go but up for jazz.
And while I don’t see jazz supplanting mainstream pop anytime soon, its status as the music nobody listens to anymore is bound to give it an appeal to alternative-leaning, rebellious kids. Give it another decade and jazz is going to have a stunning comeback.
I think there’s this idea that in the post-rock era a predominantly instrumental style can never be popular again, but if you look at the recent rise of electronic music it proves otherwise. EDM may well be the force that helps propel jazz back into the public consciousness. The jazz of the next generation probably isn’t going to sound like Ellington, but the genre isn’t going to die out either.
My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.
So after fighting through not one, but two Asia albums in a row and peeking ahead at the next slab of vinyl on the shelf and realizing it’s a record that actually belongs to my wife, I have decided to throw the first curveball and grab an “A” record out of the jazz bin.
I have far fewer jazz albums than rock by a factor of maybe 10. But I grew up listening to jazz, because my dad is a huge jazz expert and has an amazing collection. So I know enough to be dangerous and I certainly have my favorites, which tend more towards the great albums from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, especially the stuff from the ’60s and, in the case of Miles, the ’70s.
I bought Planet Earth in college for not much money, during a confusing time where I was trying to listen to jazz on my own and not really liking it much because I hadn’t yet figured out the whole chronology and evolution of jazz, and couldn’t understand why when I liked, say, John Coltrane on A Love Supreme, I would get bored with some of his earlier, more traditional work. I think what attracted me to this record was as much the hippy dippy cover art as anything, other than a vague notion that “Cannonball” Adderley’s unique name resonated with me as “one of those guys my dad likes, so he has to be good.”
As I found out after bringing it home, as much as Planet Earth is a Cannonball Adderley Sextet album, four of the cuts are Yusef Lateef songs. (The other was written by Joe Zawinul, Adderley’s longtime piano player, and is literally tacked on to the end.) I immediately developed a liking for Lateef, one of those tenor saxophone players that I believe deserves far more respect than he gets outside of hardcore jazz circles, given how much of an influence he was on Coltrane’s later free jazz period. Lateef’s playing here sounds free enough to inspire, but without all the noise that can make listening to later, more atonal free jazz so difficult. He does play oboe on two tracks on Planet Earth, “Brother John,” a wild tribute to Coltrane (who was still very much alive when it was recorded), and “Syn-anthesia.” They are my two favorites on the album, because, well, how often do you hear anyone playing an oboe, let alone wailing on one?
Jazz is about improvisation, and live jazz is really where it’s at when it comes to developing an appreciation for the art form. It’s taken me years to grasp even the most basic ideas behind jazz, but this is one that even rock fans should be able to appreciate: “Live music is better bumper stickers should be issued!” These cuts are all live (save for the Zawinul song at the end) and full of energy and thus contribute to this being an outstanding collection.
Planet Earth is, like so many vintage jazz albums, a reissue of stuff designed to put cash in the record company’s pocket. Released on the “Riverside” label in 1969, roughly six years after the real Riverside Records went under, the album was actually a product of ABC Records, the music division of the TV network. The back cover liner notes, although interesting and written by Down Beat Editor Dan Morgenstern, conveniently don’t mention where any of these tracks appeared earlier. While my personal Cannonball discography is bereft of any other titles, likely sources include live albums released from the Sextet’s 1963 Japanese tour and a live album recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City a year earlier. While I tend to eschew these sorts of compilations when it comes to rock music, the jazz world is so seedy that they’re unavoidable. And I’m just not that much of a purist when it comes to my jazz collection anyway.
Runout Groove: It may be a dodgy reissue, and I may have paid just 50 cents for it, but a compilation of this quality that’s never been released on CD is the best kind of keeper.
Last fall, over several beers, we asked a jazzbo friend of ours for a Top Ten list of the essential jazz albums. The jazz man pretty much refused to cooperate, but we ended up with a good article out of the deal.
To further prove that jazz aficionados are unwilling to unsheathe their pruning shears, David Remnick compiles his list of 100 Essential Jazz Albums for the New Yorker:
These hundred titles are meant to provide a broad sampling of jazz classics and wonders across the music’s century-long history. Early New Orleans jazz, swing, bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz, hard bop, free jazz, third stream, and fusion are all represented, though not equally. We have tried not to overdo it with expensive boxed sets and obscure imports; sometimes it couldn’t be helped. We have also tried to strike a balance between healthy samplings of the innovative giants (Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis, Coltrane, etc.) and the greater range of talents and performances.
Whatever, dude. Just tell us what we need to buy… How long until this whole thing appears as one giant multi-gigabyte torrent on the Pirate Bay? Shit, it’s probably already there.
These innovative hip hop artists and beyond did their part to bring to light some of the gems of the Blue Note catalog. Yet, these tracks deserve to be heard in their entirety; complete with ripping Lonnie Smith organ solos and David Axelrod produced sound-scapes. Blue Note’s aim is to re-introduce these classics to the public and to highlight the innovative ways in which these artists and producers utilized jazz material in their work.
Droppin’ Science is due February 12. Track list and the songs that sampled them after the jump…
So it was like this: I was sitting around the Ten Cat in Chicago with the Glorious Noise posse when someone asked for a little background on a few jazz figures he had heard about. After several pints, they requested a top ten list of essential jazz albums (rock fans love lists), and I agreed to make one. But in the haze of a hangover I realized it just isn’t that simple.
Jazz is America’s classical music, with more genres and sub-groupings than anyone can ever possibly absorb. At about 100 years old, jazz has transitioned through every aspect of modern American music, with each genre being cast off by the fans of the next, while the musicians themselves never lose sight of the originators and the seminal figures that made it what it is.