15 January 2009

List: 1959: Before and After

Being that 1959 saw the release of so many landmark jazz albums (Kind of Blue, Time Out, Giant Steps, The Shape of Jazz to Come, etc.), plenty of writers will be profiling the golden jubilees of all these albums throughout the year. But focusing on 1959 misses the point of that era. While 1959 was certainly a great year for jazz, the years surrounding 1959 all created their fair share of classics canonized in The Jazz Tradition. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s were a veritable golden age for jazz, when young lions like Coltrane and Coleman were reshaping the music while older stars like Ellington and Hawkins were still thriving, lets not limit ourselves to remembering 1959 as a watershed moment. Below are some great albums from 1958 and 1960 which are sometimes overshadowed by the weight of 1959.

A quick note: I am classifying these albums by the date they were recorded. Some were released the year after they were recorded, but the way things were changing in the jazz world at this time, a musician could sound much different over the space of a year (such is the case especially with John Coltrane).

  1. Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. Featuring an interesting album cover, Everybody Digs Bill Evans effectively introduced Evans to the jazz world just as he was to join Miles Davis' quintet at the piano chair.
  2. Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' Else. One of the classic hard bop records, Cannonball was joined by a veritable all-star band featuring Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Hank Jones, and Sam Jones. Adderley firmly established his reputation as a prominent figure in jazz with this record.
  3. Ornette Coleman, Something Else!!!!. One of the few albums in which Coleman used a piano player (Paul Bley in this case), Something Else introduced the world to Coleman before his infamous residency at New York's The Five Spot in 1959.
  4. Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess and Milestones. Porgy and Bess reinforced Miles' image as the biggest star in jazz, selling countless copies, while Milestones set the stage for 1959's Kind of Blue.
  5. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Moanin'. The title track was, in my estimation, the quintessential hard bop tune, the definitive example of the style I play when trying to explain what hard bop was.
  6. John Coltrane, Blue Train. Hard to believe Blue Note Records only got Coltrane in the studio as a leader once in his life.
  7. Sonny Rollins, Freedom Suite. Some say this is Rollins' best studio album. Hard to argue against that, but the album is also important for the brief liner notes written by Rollins which draw light to the status of African Americans in the land of the free.
  1. Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain. Though plenty of people will tell you that this is not really a jazz record, it nonetheless introduced jazz to a lot of people over the past five decades. I remember when I bought this album eight years at a music store in Toronto. When I paid for it, the cashier, a guy in a Slayer t-shirt with multiple piercings, simply said to me, "great album." This was not the kind of person you'd expect to make that comment.
  2. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things and Olé Coltrane. While My Favorite Things propelled Coltrane into stardom, Olé Coltrane is an underrated album in the Coltrane canon, featuring a young Freddie Hubbard in addition to the dueling basses of Reggie Workman and Art Davis.
  3. Ornette Coleman, Free Jazz. In which Ornette ups the ante and firmly opens Pandora's Box, cementing the enfant terrible reputation he began to earn with Something Else.
  4. Charles Mingus, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. The opening track, "Folk Forms No. 1," perfectly fuses the blues with improvised contrapuntal composition, while "Original Faubus Fables" unleashes Mingus' contempt for a segregationist Arkansas Govern0r Orval Faubus.
  5. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, A Night in Tunisia and Roots & Herbs. Featuring one of the best editions of the Messengers (Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Jymie Merritt, and Bobby Timmons), Blakey recorded a lot of albums in 1960. These two are my favorites of the bunch.
  6. Max Roach, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. Featuring a photo of black college students at a sit-in, Roach's Freedom Now Suite presented a musical history of African Americans, featuring the vocals of Abbey Lincoln.
  7. Wes Montgomery, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery. Montgomery lays down some choice hard bop and shows all who care to listen that he is the guitar boss of the jazz community. His version of Airegin is my favorite recording of the Sonny Rollins standard.
UPDATE 1: The lists have already begun. Here's one from acompleteunknown at The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown. They've made some good choices, though I would replace Mingus' Ah Um with Blues and Roots, and would not have left off Giant Steps...

UPDATE 2: Kevin Kniestedt offers his thoughts on 1959 at Groove Notes.

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