Music lists

5 Best Jazz records 1954 to 1964

So obviously this is going to be a very small selection. I should preface this by saying that my own taste is for the small groups rather than the full on orchestras, and for the more soul-inflected releases rather than full on hard bebop. All the following are available for about a fiver on CD or as part of budget compilations (the Avid ‘4 Classic Albums’ are particularly good) – it’s a golden age for buying jazz, usually remastered and sounding terrific:

Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige.  I could fill up all my choices just with Miles Davis records as I’m a huge fan – choosing this rather than the more obvious Kind Of Blue (which  is of course sublime) This was the first of the 5 Miles Davis Prestige album with the Coltrane quintet like Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ , which are available in various budget compilation packages. “I’ll play it and tell you what it is later,” as Miles memorably begins one session with the group (Prestige were too mean to afford any rehearsal time so it was straight in with every recording, and perhaps all the better for it).

Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else – which sneaks in more Miles Davis as he plays on the session and is a fabulous feelgood album.

As is Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue, more available than his also very good All Night Long and finger tapping, finger popping music.

Well I would like Charles Mingus’s Tijuana Moods which is wild and out there and a lot of fun – with a fab cover of a Mexican girl showing a bit of stocking by a jukebox. And of course his Ah Um, his first for prestigious Columbia so he was trying even harder. I only understood the title 30 years after I started listening to it.

Jimmy Smith’s Back At The Chicken Shack, a great record to drive to.  Move on to Midnight Special, The Sermon and Crazy! Baby if it’s a long journey…

Honourable mentions to Horace Silver’s Songs For My Father, Miles Davis’s  Someday My Prince Will Come, Know What I Mean?  – another good outing for Cannonball – and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (though I admire the last one more than I listen to it). And Illinois Jacquet for his raw honking style.


5 favourite Bob Dylan albums

OK no Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, or the early 60s stuff – all of which of course I respect – but these are the albums I listen to.  Note that most recorded after Bob fell off his motorcycle, went to Nashville etc…:

Highway 61 Revisited

John Wesley Harding

The Basement Tapes (as originally released, not the original versions later issued as one of the Bootleg compilations)

 Oh Mercy

 Time Out Of Mind

 With honourable mentions to Nashville Skyline, and also to the excellent Modern Times and Together Through Life from his late period. Best of the Bootleg series are Another Self Portrait and Tell Tale Signs, along withLive 1966′ (see 5 best live albums below).


5 best covers

 Wonderwall,  Ryan Adams  [Original – Oasis]

 Powderfinger, Cowboy Junkies [Original – Neil Young]

Wild is the Wind, David Bowie [Original – Johnny Mathis /Nina Simone]

 My Funny Valentine,   Miles Davis, in Cookin’ [Original – Rodgers &  Hart]

 Jealous Guy, Bryan Ferry [Original – John Lennon]

Honourable mention to Nouvelle Vague for Guns of Brixton and indeed their whole album of unexpected covers.  Also Chrissie Hynde does some mean versions of Dylan, as does Emma Swift.


5 Best live albums

The following are in my view not just the best live albums by each artist, they are – with the exception of Dylan – the best albums by each artist. The Leonard Cohen in particular manages finally to get the balance absolutely right between the asperity of his voice and the lushness of his arrangements, a balance that The Ladies’ Man has veered all over the place in the studio to achieve.  Neil Young lets loose, as does Van; neither has ever been better.  You can hear the microphone swinging around Daltrey’s head at ‘Leeds’ (actually some songs recorded elsewhere), dispelling all those dismal later concept albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia.


Live in London, Leonard Cohen

Ragged Glory, Neil Young

Too Late to Stop Now, Van Morrison (NB the original double album – there is an extended version for completists)

Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert [The Bootleg Series Vol.4], Bob Dylan 

Live at Leeds, The Who

Honourable mentions to Bob Marley Live At The Roxy (rather than the more famous Lyceum outing) and James Brown’s incredible Love, Power, Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971.


5 best Jazz vocalists.

Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown), from 1954 and with a just wonderful version of ‘Lullaby Of Birdlandto kick off  proceedings is best paired with the Swing Easy album she did (the compilation Four Classic Albums includes them both, along with a live outing in Chicago). For my money, Sarah has the best scat phrasing and the most fun with any jazz song possible.  Shulie-A-Bop the night away…

Although she obviously faces opposition from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Ella and Louis (which you can and should easily buy with the sequel, the arguably even more uninhibited Ella And Louis Again, as a double package) pairs the two up against each other in some great recordings. Satch sounds even more agreeably growly when heard against Ella’s soaraway vocals. Like so many of the best jazz records, there was no time to rehearse.

Nina Simone at The Village Gate.  There are a lot of Nina Simone live albums, for good reason as she brought a wonderful intensity to performance. I like this early one because it has the feel of a small jazz club – you can almost hear the waitresses taking the orders.

Frank Sinatra Songs for Swingin’ Lovers.  Of course there are many Frank albums to choose from – but this one always comes to the top of my pile – fabulous Nelson Riddle arrangements, and Frank’s phrasing makes it sound so effortless.  The sequel, A Swingin’ Affair, is also sublime. For Frank making a rare recording with a small jazz group, not an orchestra, try Live in Australia with Red Norvo of 1959, if you can find a copy.

Billie Holliday.  Live at Monterrey 1958. This is almost her last recording, made after the Lady in Satin LP. As critics at the time noted (like the churlish Leonard Feather), it is technically inferior to many she made in her prime, both in her vocal range and in the recording (at one point a plane roars overhead!). But that is more than made up for by the emotion that comes through  – hard to think of a singer who had lived and loved and lost so much until Amy Winehouse came along. Despite the song she sings here, Billie was never someone ‘Travellin Light’. Hard to listen to without feeling the emotion. And Gerry Mulligan and others offer fine support.

Honourable mentions to Aretha Franklin who is not normally thought of as a jazz vocalist but showed on Hey Now Hey that she could do it beautifully, and to Dinah Washington, whose Dinah Jams – again with Clifford Brown who clearly had an empathy for the ladies – is  an intoxicating live album where she really lets rip. And to Dinah also for the funniest jazz song of all, ‘TV is The Thing This Year’, collected on her excellent The Best In Blues.

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