Journey into Jazz

Inspired by a lady-friend jazz-fan (who found Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music captivating upon first listen!), I decided it was time I ventured further into the world of jazz.  Until now I had steeped comfortably in my hot kettle of Miles Davis’ electric period and Sun Ra’s psychedelic avant-garde trips like Space is the Place.  I was ushered into this flavor of fusion by Herbie Hancock and his electro-funk jazz classics like Headhunters, Thrust and Sextant.


But I knew full-well that the 50 years which led up to these electric freak-out albums were rich with milestone recordings which demand to be heard.  Every “must-hear” jazz list is brimming with albums from 1922 to 1970, so I went to work compiling a list of albums to introduce me to classic jazz.

I constructed a starter-set of 65 essential jazz records from 1925 to the 1970 and have been experiencing them one record at a time.

I explored resources such as r/jazz’s sidebar of essential jazz, I conducted an RYM search for highly-rated LPs in the jazz genre from 1920-1965, and at the recommendation of some friends I ordered a copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette.  I was delighted to find a first-edition available for $1, so I ordered it right away.

Beginning chronologically, I sampled The Hall of Fame 5-disc collection of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens (1925-1930), The 24-disc Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (1927-1943), and the undeniable jazz classic – Ellington at Newport (1956).




I enjoyed the fast-paced bebop stylings of Dizzy Gillespie.  It had a similar energy to what I would soon hear on Coltrane’s Giant Steps (1960).  Blue Train (1957) and A Love Supreme (1965) followed shortly thereafter in my first-listen journey.

Next on the recommended list was The Quintet: Dizzy Gillespie / Charles Mingus / Charlie Parker / Bud Powell / Max Roach – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953).  The album is clearly one of the finest examples of a live jazz recording – a collaboration of the biggest names in jazz at the time of the session.  It adds a great energy to the room when it’s played, and I’m certain that I’ll be revisiting this disc often.

From there I picked up four of Charles Mingus’ most memorable recordings – Blues & Roots (1959), Mingus Ah Um (1959), Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963) and the classic – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, also from 1963.

But what really grabbed me at first-listen was a strong fascination with the more experimental free jazz LPs like Ornette Coleman’s boldly-titled releases including The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Free Jazz (recorded in one single take in 1960), Change of the Century (also from 1960) the spacey Science Fiction (1971) and Body Meta (1978).  From Coleman I branched out further and listened to Eric Dolphy’s 1964 classic, Out To Lunch.  As avant-garde as it is, the album has quite a mellow feel and I left it on repeat for three full plays through.

I already have 75 Sun Ra albums ripped from vinyl in my library, but I have yet to really explore them beyond The Heliocentric World and Space is the Place.  Now that I’m really getting into jazz it seems appropriate that I add his library to my listening list as well.

Bill Evans’ albums between 1958 and 1961 were next on my list, along with Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else (1958), the Complete Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington Sessions, Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto’s 1963 classic, Getz & Gilberto, and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane from 1961 (recorded in 1957).


That disc secured my certainty that I needed to hear more from the biggest names in jazz, so I was very happy to find a 54-disc archive of Ornette Coleman, and three 24-bit vinyl rip discographies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and of Thelonious Monk.

I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy the Ornette Coleman library, and I will wait a few days to receive my copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz… before sinking my teeth into the 24 bit vinyl archives of Coltrane, Ellington and Monk.  (A fella could get lost in there without some direction.)

The autumn season has two paid weeks of vacation in store for me, and I plan to spend them reading, researching, and listening to these ~250 new records and will have a blast picking out a handful of titles for which I’ll order original pressings to finally expand the jazz section of my library.

Fall is coming – warm your home with beautiful music!

Psychedelic Cinema Double Feature

Tonight is psychedelic cult classic movie night.

Both of these are fairly low budget music films. The first is Sun Ra’s Space is the Place (1974).

Sun Ra Space Is The Place
Musician and space age prophet Sun Ra decides to bring the Black race to a new planet in outer space. He travels back in time to the 1940s and plays cards with a pimp for the fate of planet Earth’s African Americans. (It doesn’t make any more sense watching the movie.)

The special effects of his space ship and of the Earth’s destruction look like something you’d see on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, Space was intentionally created to pay tribute to the low-budget sci-fi films of the 50’s and 60’s. Great things can come out of a low budget movie, and 82 minutes of the spaced-out sound of Sun Ra And His Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra are as good a reason as any to produce a film.

Sun-Ra-Space-Is-the-Place-SoundtrackThe official soundtrack LP to Space is the Place

The second movie – the Monkees’ Head (1968) involves a similarly non-linear plot. The fun loving made-for-TV musicians run around and interact with Honey I Shrunk the Kids style props. It’s truly puzzling what the film is actually about. In fact, IMDB offers the following sentence as it’s entire entry on Head:

“The Monkees are tossed about in a psychedelic, surrealist, plotless, circular bit of fun fluff.”

Monkees - Head poster
When Head premiered it was a total flop. Fans hated it, because they were expecting to see a ninety minute episode of their favorite TV show. In a sense the film achieved exactly what the Monkees were trying to do – shatter their MTV boy band image and replace it with something more adult and experimental.

The Monkees - Head SoundtrackThe Monkees – Head soundtrack w/mirror cover art

If you watch Head for nothing else, watch it for Frank Zappa’s magical cameo appearance… or like the rest of the Monkee fans, for the “Porpoise Song.”

Frank Zappa offers words of wisdom to Davy Jones.

Thankfully, both Space is the Place and Head are available for viewing on the Web.

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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