In the archipelago, summer has packed up and left for the warming climes of Argentina. We are left with the scent of spiced apple cider and bonfire smoke drifting through the backyards as colored leaves falling from the trees. It is a great time of the year for a hike in the woods and listening to a favorite jazz album while lazing on the couch wrapped up in a warm wool blanket. Maybe a single malt is close at hand and a small fire crackling on the hearth.
To celebrate my favorite season I put together a list of jazz album that after years of listening to them are as fresh now as the day I first put them on the turntable.
My first pick here is Jazz at Massey Hall. This is not a ground breaking Bebop Statement that so many of Charlie Parker and Dizzy’s records seem to me. It is a musical conversations recorded between a group of jazz giants and one of my favorites. There is an energy as well as a musical interaction that reminds me of the sales meetings I attend at for my work.
Good salesman are a gregarious and witty bunch. They love to show that off, compete with one another for attentions but also contribute their wisdom of the trade to raise the level of conversation and what they can accomplish. This album is all that but in musical form. Been loving it for years.
Next up is Thelonious Monk. This native New Yorker’s music is angular, off centered and deeply emotional. To understand Monk’s music is to experiences it as if confronted by a sonic force of nature which is accompanied by a rhythm section and a strange pattern of dissonant chords that somehow holds together as music.
I cannot begin to tell you how many Monk CDs I own, that’s because I am not sure myself. But I can tell you that the complete Riverside recordings, which my darling wife gave to me one Christmas a long time ago, is my favorite deep well of Monk inspiration.
I once read a piece by a famous critic that wrote how Monk, in his later years, had achieved wealth and fame and therefore became a sell out. He exchanged his art for money and ended up a parody of himself as a musician. He cited Monk’s years with Columbia as an example of that disappointment.
But that depends on how you listen to those albums. Unlike his early days, Monk was no longer searching for his voice. In my opinion he had finally found the band that could follow him, that internalized his musical ethos and supported him in a way that sounded Monk-like. Because of that his sound became complete and he turned to refining the musical language he had created in his youth. Actually, these recordings could be the most concise and developed statements of his musical thinking.
Obviously, I don’t agree with this critic’s thinking when he equated searching with creating as an absolute. He was more concerned with appreciating and studying Monk’s creative process then the absolute joy of being immersed in his quirky sonic universe. He should have recognized that before labeling those perfectly great recordings as sell out seconds, not fit for the bargain bin at the Dollar General or the Pound Stretcher.
Some songs and musicians evoke a mood through their music. The next two albums evoke an entire culture for me. An urban culture in a city named New York, during the nineteen forties and nineteen fifties.
This music was recorded before I was around, so the cultures they depict are really personalized legends that I have constructed over time. But that is the magic of great art, it moves the mind to comprehend and internalize over time what ever the artist created as it’s essence.
Bud Powell’s master piece is my time machine to the uptown Manhattan of the late forties early fifties: 52nd street is slick with a dirty rain and the neon lights of the club marquees splash their harsh glow down the pavement. The big yellow cab dropped me and Ruby off in front of the 3 deuces. At the front door I can hear Bud racing through an electrified rendition of Tea for Two. I throw the stub of my Lucky Strike to the pavement and rummage around in the pocket of my trench coat for the deuce to tip the doorman and get the usual table and a French 75…
Now fast forward to the mid late 1950’s and Red Garland’s Monteca. This album catches the essences of modern, mainstream jazz as I have come to know it. Red’s straight forward piano playing can sound deceptively simple but its often lite and always streamlined quality make it thoroughly modern. If I could build a room to listening to Garland’s music it would look like this – white walls, polished wooden floors with a view of the Hudson River. Comfortable in dimensions it would be sparsely appointed with a few plywood molded chairs, a Bauhaus mid century modern sofa between them. A large Gomez painting hung on the wall over the couch and in front of it a very modern area rug. Oh, and a young Grace Kelly sitting on one end of that sofa handing me a dry martini!
As evidenced by the album’s title, Monteca, the cuts have an Afro-Cuban flavor with Ray Beretto’s percussion. So, the final touch to the Garland pad would be the faint aroma of fried plantains and Cuban pork wafting in through an open window from Little Havana down the block.
Of course there are scores more that can easily make this list but I have to stop somewhere. There will definitely be another tally of personal favorites in the future.
Until then you groovy hep cats, happy listening.