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Jazz Music Buying Guide

Introduction

Jazz combos are typically formed under the direction of a single band leader, who is featured as a lead soloist and chooses his or her accompaniment based on the specific sound they intended to create. Thus, most jazz musicians were and are involved in numerous outfits, playing both as band leaders and side-men.  Very few band leaders keep the same band for a long period of time, and the constant rotation of jazz talent is one of the most exciting aspects of learning and appreciating the beauty of this genre. Thus by discovering a certain combo you enjoy, you have actually found a number of musicians whose repertoires you can then pursue. There is no better way to learn about jazz then to just start listening, find certain musicians you like, and begin your own discovery. 

Origins

Jazz originated in the melting pot of New Orleans before the turn of the century. The sound was rooted in blues , with elements of ragtime ,spirituals , and Dixieland  played by local brass marching bands. A few recorded groups emerged from this period, including the all-white group The Original Dixieland Jazz Band , but the major characteristic of jazz, that is, improvisation, did not emerge for another twenty years, when the New Orleans Rhythm Kings  and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band  began using short solos in their compositions. It was from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band that the great Louis Armstrong  emerged and went on to completely change the direction of jazz forever.

Louis Armstrong & Big Band

Big Band Leaders

Stan Getz 

Billie Holliday 

Art Tatum 

Duke Ellington 

Benny Goodman 

In the 1920s, jazz was inherently dance music known as Swing .  Armstrong was a driving force in altering the direction of big band music from collective improvisation to individual solos. Art Tatum , whose skills on piano made it difficult for band members to keep up and essentially forced him to play solo his entire career, was another musician who took solo improvisation to a new level of artistic virtuosity. During this time (and beyond), the classicist Duke Ellington  emerged as a composer and band leader, and through his long and illustrious career, established jazz as a legitimate art form. Some of Ellington's signature tunes include:

  • I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)
  • East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
  • Ko Ko
  • It Don't Mean a Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)
  • Caravan
  • Things Ain't What They Used To Be

Other influential orchestral and big band leaders from this time include: Stan Getz ,Billy Eckstine ,Count Basie ,Glenn Miller , and Benny Goodman . Singers Billie Holliday  and Ella Fitzgerald  were also hugely popular during this time period.

Bop

Swing continued to dominate the jazz scene until a major revolutionary period in the 1940s saw the emergence of Bebop, or Bop. In an attempt to defy popular trends and divorce themselves from those they felt had no deep appreciation for Jazz, a number of innovators abandoned melody and began using chords as the basis for their improvisation, encouraging soloists to be as abrasive and free as possible, so long as they remained within the established chord progression of the composition. Bop featured a smaller, tighter band, usually only six or seven members. Despite it's revolutionary emergence, Bop established itself as the foundation of post-war Jazz. One hugely innovative combo included Dizzy Gillespie  (Trumpet), Bud Powell  (Piano), Charlie Parker  (Saxophone), Max Roach  (drums) and Charles Mingus  (bass).

Other noteworthy musicians that emerged from this era were pianists Thelonious Monk ,Dave Brubeck , and Oscar Peterson , saxophonists Coleman Hawkins  and Dexter Gordon , trumpeters Fats Navarro  and Clifford Brown .

Bop Revolutionaries

Dizzy Gillespie 

Charlie Parker 

Thelonious Monk 

Coleman Hawkins 

Fats Navarr 

Other noteworthy musicians from the Bop and early Post-Bop era include:

Miles Davis

There is no better musician's repertoire to follow to learn about the progression of post-war Jazz than Miles Davis . During his expansive and ground-breaking career, Miles either transformed and invented almost every form of jazz he played. He chose only the best musicians to accompany him; being chosen by Miles to play in his band was practically an induction into the jazz hall of fame. 

Therefore, examining the career of Miles Davis yields some great results:  it gives an understanding of jazz's musical progression from 1949 to the 1980s, which Miles essentially pioneered, and it will allow you to discover countless top-notch musicians. 

Here are just some of the jazz greats that emerged out of Miles' band (and some of their greatest albums as band leaders):

 

Selected Miles Davis Discography

'Round About Midnight 

Milestones 

Kind Of Blue 

Bitches Brew 

Tribute to Jack Johnson 


Fusion

The era of Jazz-Rock Fusion began in the late sixties as Herbie Hancock ,Miles Davis  pioneered the style, seeking new directions with jazz while rejecting strictly avant-garde  music, then leaving it wide open for the likes of Chick Corea ,Stanley Clarke ,Pat Metheny ,Jean-Luc Ponty ,Freddie Hubbard  and Jaco Pastoris . During a time of massive proliferation both in musicianship and experimental attitudes toward rock music, many jazz pioneers were attracted to the rhythms and power of rock to accompany their well-honed improvisational styles. As jazz musicians started borrowing from rock, rock musicians, like Jeff Beck  and Frank Zappa , also took elements of jazz to accompany their rock stylings. The fusion era of the late 60s and 70s represents a furious turn away from Bop influenced jazz (see above), which typically sought to alienate the average listener, and toward jazz styled with greater pop and rock sensibilities.

Some of the great fusion super-groups include: Mahavishnu Orchestra ,Weather Reporrt , and Return to Forever .

Fusion

Mahavishnu Orchestra -
The Inner Mounting Flame 

Weather Report -Heavy Weather 

Jean-Luc Ponty - Enigmatic Ocean 

Contemporary

Wynton Marsalis emerged as a defining force in 1979 by reinventing bop and setting the stage for a widely experimental future.  Jazz artists, instead of attempting to continue the somewhat logical progression of jazz up until that point, began expanding by revisiting old artists and combining one or more styles into a wholly different type of music. Thus, jazz became an umbrella genre, covering vastly different flavours of music that otherwise apply to no specific genre. 

The following is of course an extremely abridged list of some modern jazz greats.

Some great modern jazz bands include The Bad Plus ,Jaga Jazzist ,HIM ,Bela Fleck and the Flecktones , and Medeski Martin & Wood.