Top 10 Jazz Albums for People Who Don't Know Shit About Jazz

Thelonious Monk contemplates his next dance move.
Thelonious Monk contemplates his next dance move.

See also:

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*Top 5 Los Angeles Jazz Albums of 2011

Lots of folks know almost nothing about jazz, but condensing the hundred some odd years of the genre into ten albums is not easy, something akin to asking someone to describe the history of baseball in ten games. It also depends on where you're from. A guy in San Francisco is going to have a different opinion from someone in Cincinnati, but either way they'll both agree that the guy in the Yankees hat is full of shit. So here are ten jazz albums that will help to give you an idea of why people dig this stuff. This isn't even close to a definitive history of jazz, but rather the list we would use to convince someone the music is worthwhile.

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10) Sarah Vaughan

Live at Mr. Kelly's (1957)

This album is the essence of jazz vocals. The band is clearly under-rehearsed, searching for keys and lyrics, but they are also having a great time and have Roy Haynes holding down the drum chair. Vaughan is loose and at the top of her game. You can just picture her leaning against the piano as the band takes a few tasteful spins through the chord changes. This album proves that all you need is a great feel and everything else will fall into place. Even if you can't remember the words.

9) Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers

Free For All (1964)

This album proves that jazz can have muscle. Not every jazzbo is sitting in the corner snapping his fingers and smoking a joint. A lot of jazz is downright terrifying and this is a good place to start. This music will and should scare you. A lot of people talk about the importance of Miles Davis' bands but Art Blakey basically ran an academy. Over a span of 35 years Blakey hired at least fifty great musicians for his Jazz Messengers: Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Hank Mobley, even a couple Marsalis brothers. This incarnation, which featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter, is our favorite. Reckless and unrelenting, the band sounds like an 18 wheeler barreling down the far left lane with little regard for human life. We're not even sure if they have their headlights on.

8) Ray Bryant

Alone with the Blues (1958)

Jazz is a pretty good genre for feeling sorry for yourself. Ray Bryant's solo piano album captures a mood of melancholy and solitude better than anybody. His effortless swing and beautiful left hand are the perfect accompaniment to sitting in the dark, drinking bourbon and remembering the good times. Whatever those were.

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