Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Introduction to Jazz

Louis ArmstrongJazz is a bit of an acquired taste. Though we had a lot of music in my home growing up jazz wasn't part of the menu and not until later did I get enough of a sampling to figure out that I really liked it. If you want to prolong the rather trite food metaphor jazz is like a salad--so many components working together in different ways to create a pleasing whole with a sassy sauce mixed throughout that binds it all together.

So . . . if you've never tried jazz before here's an introduction to some artists that will give you a good start in deciding what you might like. If you're already a fan maybe you'll enjoy hearing some of my favorites.

1. Louis Armstrong. We'll start with Satchmo, who's like the Babe Ruth of Jazz. Besides his skill on the trumpet Armstrong's vocals really paved the way for future musicians' to use their voices in creative ways (have you ever heard him scat?) I know his "What a Wonderful World" has been played into the ground and remade repeatedly--second only to John Lenon's "Imagine" probably--but I never much cared for it. It seems a bit maudlin to me. No, some of my favorites are "Stardust," "Just One of Those Things," and "The Dummy Song" which really highlight his virtuosity with the trumpet.

2. Charlie Parker. His forte was the saxophone--in fact he's probably the greatest saxophonist ever even despite his drug addictions which contributed to his early death. Try "April in Paris" or "Ornithology" (his nickname was Bird and the famous song "Lullaby of Birdland" was written for him). And if none of this means anything maybe you remember Zoot on the Muppet Show saying, "Forgive me Charlie Parker, where ever you are!"

3. Billie Holliday. I can't go much farther without mentioning Lady Day--and her voice is so distinctive even if you've never been one for jazz you'd probably recognize her voice from various places. She had a tough time of it but oh, that voice! Good luck singing along with her because she does things you just can't keep up with, it's like she's avoiding the melody or something because the notes she produces no one else can--in a good way. My favorites of hers are "The Very Thought of You," "You Go to My Head," and "A Fine Romance."

4. Sarah Vaughn. I might as well stick with the ladies for a bit. Surely you've heard Sarah Vaughn's version of "Lullaby of Birdland"? She invented sultry. Her career lasted long into the 70s though you really ought to hear "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Body and Soul."

5. Duke Ellington. So many of these jazz greats worked together and formed various groups here and there together and it seems like they all found Duke Ellington and his band at some point. Big Band jazz is so different from Dixie is so different from modern jazz they're hard to compare but I like his "Diminuendo in Blue" for it's snappy syncopation and there's always his big 30s hits like "Take the A Train," "It Don't Mean a Thing," or "Mood Indigo."

Dinah Washington6. Dinah Washington. Another jazzy lady, one who's earned the official title "Queen of Blues" and had a large influence on the Great Aretha. Her famous "What a Difference a Day Makes" is lovely and "Cold, Cold Heart" is better than the original Hank Williams single. If you've only heard Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" you should hear Dinah's version. And that figure of hers--it's something, no?

7. Dizzie Gillespie. Another great trumpet player and a buddy to Charlie Parker and his famous quartet. Of course he was also a band leader and composer who churned out such great tunes as "Woody 'n You" and "Night in Tunisia." They pretty much invented beebop. And huge cheeks, he invented those too--trumpet cheeks of monster proportions.

8. Stan Getz. Here's a different flavor of jazz for you--they called him "The Sound" because he was so smooth on his sax. I know it's nearly a cliche but I still love his "Girl from Ipanema," probably because it reminds me of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Audrey Hepburn for some strange reason (it's not in the movie or anything, I'm well aware, it just mentally fits).

Miles Davis9. Miles Davis. Lots of sax, lots of sax. I guess that means I'm rather partial to those nice mellow tones and Davis is the one to listen to if that's what you like. He's rather odd looking (you may want to listen with your eyes closed) kind of a Sammy Davis Jr. with big buggy glasses and medusa hair--at least in his later years. He did a lot with fusing rock and jazz and worked well into the 80s. Favorite of his? "It Never Entered My Mind." Hands down.

10. Count Basie. Another great band leader and composer with another great version of "April in Paris," probably my favorite version.

11. Nina Simone. She wasn't just an amazing classically-trained pianist she was also a civil rights activist and composer and . . . and . . . and she's my favorite. I love her meld of classical and jazz and I can listen to "Love Me or Leave Me" over and over again until it's worn out on the ipod. Just check out those piano improvisations. "Sinner Man" is also a favorite that you might like.

12. Ella. No last name necessary--if you haven't at least heard of Ms. Fitzgerald I don't know that I can offer much help to you. That clear, lilting voice, that melodic drama--ah, great, just great. I have a hard time picking just one or two of my favorites from her prolific career but I'm especially partial to her versions of Cole Porter's work. "Someone to Watch Over Me" has been sung by so many but she does it the very best of the best. "Everything I've Got" is also terrific, love the lyrics.

13. Norah Jones. I'm going to include this as one of the more recent additions to my jazz favorites--and though she's called "adult contemporary" Norah still sings jazz at times. That's probably the greatest thing about the genre, it takes in so many forms that the boundaries are a little hazy--she kind of does a country-jazz blend. She does covers of Hoagie Carmichael ("The Nearness of You") and he's as jazz as they come. So there.

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47 comments:

Robin said...

A very well laid out and informative intro to jazz. To me, jazz will always conjure up the image of Dizzy Gillespie's cheeks!

K. said...

What a great and informative post! I already listen to a little bit of Louis Armstrong, Ella, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, but I've copied down the rest of the list to expand my horizons. Thanks!

Happy TT. I'm over here if you feel like dropping in some time!

Mike said...

Hmm. Perhaps I'm one of the one percent who shies away from Jazz.


Mike
http://somethingaboutparenting.typepad.com/

luvmy4sons said...

I always learn so much coming here! Great info...might have to open my mind up more to jazz!

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

That is a great way to compare jazz. I have never thought about it that way before. Not everybody likes french dressing, cranberries crumbled bleu cheese, or pecans on their salad(not all at one time, of course, you get the idea.) When you put the ingredients that you like together, it's really good. I found myself saying where's Winston? or Harry? or Stan Kenton? But your right. It's like a salad, not everyone likes Stan Kenton...btw, Jazz is almost tied for first when it comes to my favorite music.

Sheila said...

I love jazz!

But one thing that's always bothered me: how come in romantic movies the guy always turns the radio on and it's a jazz station? Have any of you ever heard a jazz radio station? I haven't. And I lived in Toronto, which is the largest radio market in Canada.

I spend fruitless nights trying to find that magical station that just must be out there, because it was in every movie, before giving up and buying some CDs.

And they don't have to search for the jazz station, either. Even when they're in hotel rooms in the movies. It makes me jealous.

Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

Anonymous said...

Oh I love jazz too! I'm forever grateful to my cable company because they have the greatest jazz stations and I listen to them every morning. Good stuff. And you know my favorite Christmas CD has to be the Charlie Brown Christmas, just for the Vince Guarldi Trio. Love it!

Darla said...

I started listening to a little bit of jazz here and there in my teens when my brother was enamored of Chuck Mangione. Recently, I've started putting some of the classics and some popular but new-to-me jazz artists in my YourMusic queue. Great way to expand my horizons and my collection! :)

Jacki said...

I listen to some Norah Jones now and again, but I am not a big fan of jazz. However, I must say that listening to these talented people is so much better than what they call "music" today.

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

I'd add Chet Baker, too. Oh, those vocals. Like the smoothest milk chocolate. And I totally get the Girl from Ipanima link to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Must be the black dress and huge hat she wears to the jail. :)

Tami said...

We love jazz in our house. My husband introduced it to me when we were dating and for our wedding reception, we played Miles Davis "Some Kind of Blue".

Library Lady said...

Thirteen great choices!

Marketing Mama said...

I would like to add another contemporary artist to your list, Diana Krall. She's an amazing jazz singer. I have a number of her albums.

From time to time we've had jazz stations on the radio here, but only for about a year or two before they fold under. It's hard to keep them going I think.

Heidi said...

I LOVE Louis Armstrong!! He'll be in my head day thanks to this wonderful list.

Adelle said...

My favorite part about Jazz has to be the saxiphone. Oh my :) I loooove listening to a good sax! Great list!

Janet said...

Great list - I love Billie Holliday and Ella. (I had to sing "Every Time We Say Goodbye" in the last play we did. I was hoping no one had heard her do it!)
Linda Rondstadt did covers of a lot of these songs a few years back called "Round Midnight."

Anonymous said...

ugh you forgot my favorite benny goodman

Prisca said...

My husband loves jazz and when our girls were babies he was always playing it in the house. Now they go to sleep listening to Miles Davis and ASK for him!

We also have a fantastic jazz CD for kids called Nicky's Jazz Lullabies which is a cool intro to jazz.

Bunny Trails said...

Great post and very informative.
While I know and listen to some of them, I'll be checking out some others. Thanks for sharing! :D

vic said...

This is really useful for me as I am going to be including some of these jazz greats in a music compilation to play during our wedding breakfast. I love Nina Simone and Dinah. I'm going to check out a few others now. Thanks.

pussreboots said...

I love the old school jazz (and blues, rhapsody, swing, etc) but improv stuff gives me a headache. If you like listening to jazz et al online, I highly recommend KCEA. Just click on the radio to bring up the webcast of their radio broadcast.

AlaneM said...

I.love.Jazz. LOVE Jazz!
I lived, ate & breathed it in HS (long, long ago) and it's my fave genra to this day. Great list! The only one I'd add would be my man Harry Connic Jr, love him & his BB orchastra. But my fave CD is a Compact Jazz disk with Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald doing duets - soooo yummy!

April ~ Living the Sweet Life said...

I too learned about jazz as an adult and love it. In fact I would say it is my favorite now. Thanks for posting this info. it's a great over view for those who worn't blessed with jazz loving parents.
April

Shalee said...

You might enjoy Alanna Davis as well. She Miles Davis' daughter and she has a lovely, soulful voice very reminiscent of Norah Jones.

I love jazz and blues...

Shelli said...

I LOVE jazz, though I don't know enough about it to speak with any authority. Great list. I love them all.

Blessed said...

Jazz is one of my favorite music styles! Great Post!

Daisy said...

A very varied and fascinating list! Husband played jazz sax in college, and I've always enjoyed vocal jazz. I like Billie Holiday, he doesn't. But we both enjoy contemporary a cappella vocals, like Rockapella and Take Six and the Nylons.

Nicholas said...

Thanks for your interesting and thought provoking TT. It’s nice to find other people who enjoy the beautiful sound of jazz.

I am something of an expert of jazz, having studied it closely for 25+ years. My tastes run strictly to the era before swing came along and ruined everything. You have picked one two of my favourites here, Louis Armstrong especially. He made those wonderful recordings with his Hot Five and his Hot Seven on the 1920s, before leading his larger band in the 1930s. He also played trumpet in the band nominally led by his wife (Lil’s Hot Shots). It’s such a shame that he is best known for singing Hello Dolly and What A Wonderful World – a second rate show tune and a bit of schmaltz.

If I were to give some recommendations to people dipping their toe into jazz I’d say first of all start at the beginning: The Original Dixieland Jass band, King Oliver (Louis Armstrong’s mentor), Jelly-Roll Morton, Bennie Moten, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, The California Ramblers, Bix Beiderbecke (genius), Adrian Rollini (genius too), Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Fred Elizalde. www.redhotjazz.com has a brilliant selection with hundreds of tracks to listen to.

Amy said...

I love jazz music and try to check out lots of it when I hit the library. We actually have a Jazzy Jazz mix for Sunday mornings. We listen to this after service and I work on our meal between reading the newspaper. It just mellows me out!

Randy and Ally said...

You should really check out Sophie Milman. I first heard her on NPR, and I had to go and buy her latest CD, "Make Someone Happy". She's fantastic! Also, the soundtrack to the film "Goodnight and Good luck" performed by Dianne Reeves is phenomenal. My husband is a classical musician but wanted something different for our wedding, so we had a collection of romantic Jazz music in the background :o)

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I'm sure I've heard all of these artists but I only recognize half the names. Looks like I've got some music to listen to this week. =)

Loves me some Louis!

Melissa said...

You've created a great list. I have on CD many of the artists you mention. I see that someone has already brought up Diana Krall - I have one of her CDs.....very good.

One of my all time favorite singers though for just about anything is Eva Cassidy. Have you ever heard her? If you like Norah Jones and appreciate all other genres of music you will love Eva Cassidy. Her Time after Time CD is incredible.

Amber said...

I don't know much about Jazz but I do love Billie Holliday. Especially "The Very Thought of You." Ever since I heard it on that movie "Forever Young." I love her voice, love singing along with her songs. So great. I've heard of the others, but sadly, can't really name anything they've sung. :( Shame on me. :)

the mama bird diaries said...

My 3 1/2 year old is just crazy about music.

Maybe it's time to introduce her to a little jazz.

Lisa said...

You've got a great list here. And Norah is a great example of a wonderful jazz artist for today.

You are right, jazz is like a salad. I never thought of it like that. Very cool analogy.

Ter said...

hi there! check out my blog, there's a little something there for you! :)

e-Mom said...

Very well done. I love contemporary smooooooth Jazz and listen to KWJZ 98.9 FM all day, every day here in the Pacific Northwest. http://www.kwjz.com/

I'd love to know more about the the influences the greats you've listed had on my current favs.

My T-13 is up, and with music!

e-Mom @ Chrysalis

Sonja said...

I have never heard Jazz compared to a salad before, but your metaphor is right on! Great picks. Great post.

TAMY & the SGT said...

Great list! Our 'wedding' song was a hard to find on disc one of My One and only Love by Louis Armstrong. If you've never heard it, it's great.

ashleyrae said...

I love jazz! Thanks for the list - I am going to have to expand my collection...

I also wish to give a shout out to Diana Krall - she is my absolute favorite contemporary jazz artist. My husband and I spent our first Valentine's day listening to her and chose "Let's Fall in Love" as our wedding song. She reminds me of the original greats.

Alice Wills Gold said...

If you included Norah, you really should have included Diana Krall..just love her.

My fav's that you spoke of: Louis, Ella, Billie, and Miles.

Damselfly said...

I love singing and humming Norah Jones to Fly, and some of her songs are on his playlist on my iPod.

I have friends who named their daughter Ella after the great lady.

Vicki said...

Great compilation! I'm a jazz fan, too. Unfortunately for me right now, all of my music is packed up in one of these hundreds of boxes!

Jen@BigBinder said...

When I was really young, I could not STAND jazz. I have always loved the blues and although in my heart will always be a blues fan first and foremost, I can see more crossover than I did when I was little and in my adult years have aquired more of a taste for it.

This is a good list and in reading the comments I can see you really did something great with this post!

iamyuva said...

may be BBking deserve a place in that list..! if not others good ones atleast for 'Stand by me'..

Sara said...

Great post: Don't forget Oscar Peterson. He passed away recently but his mark on jazz is permanent.

Hazel said...

Thanks for this -- but where's Oscar Peterson?
Leaving him out is, to me, like a salad without any dressing!!
PS -- I've been holding onto your list of authors with a view to adding to them as most of them were my favourites -- but you left out a couple of British ones you'd probably enjoy but have never heard of!!