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For many, jazz continues to be an impenetrable music genre.
Its structural complexities, use of non-electric instruments and improvisational nature seem to demand more from the listener. There’s no question that the jazz world is vast and it may be hard to find an easy entrance point. I decided to assemble a list of ten accessible jazz albums for the complete newbie.
The selections are often less about the individual records and more about the artists. Jazz musicians are incredibly prolific and it’s difficult to choose just one album to showcase their styles. I’ve leant towards choices that favor higher audio fidelity with generally shorter runtimes, and as jazz is largely collaborative, I’ve paired musicians together to get the most mileage out of these ten albums. I hope you’ll find the music often referred to as “America’s classical music” to be just as enjoyable, not to mention danceable, as many other genres. By no means are these the quintessential jazz records, but more of a starter kit. And yes, these are all streaming on Spotify – just follow the links in each heading.
1. Miles Davis: “Birth of the Cool”
Before Miles embarked on his challenging “Bitches Brew,” he pioneered another style of jazz known as cool jazz. It’s interesting to hear how the melodies and themes on this album are developed, all of which run at an economical three minutes. “Birth” would soon be followed by “Kind of Blue” which is the highest-selling jazz album of all time and an excellent place to continue listening to this monumental artist.
2. Charlie Parker: “Charlie Parker with Strings”
To foreign ears, the rapid runs of Parker’s signature style might sound cacophonous at first. On “Strings,” Parker employs tender, sweeping classical-style strings as a bed over which to play his signature runs. The end product is remarkable, best exemplified in arrangements like “Everything Happens to Me” and “If I Should Lose You,” and his oft-imitated playing can be heard on tracks like “Dancing in the Dark.”
3. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: “Ella and Louis”
Two of the most distinct voices in jazz, Ella and Louis would collaborate several times throughout their careers. “Ella and Louis” brings us some of their most recognizable tunes, including “Can’t We Be Friends?” and “Cheek to Cheek.” Check out Louis’ signature sound during the solo for “Moonlight in Vermont.”
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