It wasn’t until recently that I began going out of my comfort zone in regards to my musical tastes. I tend to stick to what I like and not wander off the beaten path. It can be intimidating sometimes delving into something out of your comfort zone, but I feel that if there’s one genre of music that everyone should experiment with at some point in their life, it’s jazz.
It’s hard not knowing where to start when you’re trying to get into a new style of music. Luckily, I’m here to help. I’ve composed a list of the five albums that I feel every beginner to jazz should listen to. These were some of the first jazz recordings I was ever exposed to and they have been extremely influential in my life. These five albums are essential.
1. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come is arguably one of the most influential jazz records of all time. Originally titled Focus on Sanity, the album revolutionized and broke down the barriers of the traditional jazz format. Coleman’s work on this album was a new far-out approach which had never been previously attempted. The disregard for chord progressions and keys allowed him to improvise without limits. It was this 1959 album that truly birthed the genre of free jazz, which is where Coleman felt that jazz was going. For jazz enthusiasts or beginners, this is a staple album. My personal favourite is the first track on the album, “Lonely Woman.”
2. Dave Brubeck – Time Out
In 1959, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck recorded Time Out. Brubeck, like many other musicians of this time period, took a new direction to jazz music and experimented heavily with rhythmic patterns and unusual time signatures. Every track on the album takes on a new time signature, which at the time was unheard of. Time Out changed jazz music forever and ultimately produced the greatest selling jazz single of all time, the third track on the album, “Take Five.” This album is an essential.
3. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Miles Davis is often viewed as one of the most influential musicians of all time and was a major contributor to the development of the bebop jazz and cool jazz genres. In 1959, Miles recorded Kind of Blue, which would become the greatest selling— and most recognizable— jazz record of all time. It’s hard to believe that Miles Davis recorded this album in only seven hours. Davis enlisted an all-star group of musicians to record this album including John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans, but it’s Davis’ unique trumpet sound that does it for the album. If you’re getting into jazz, this is absolutely necessary to listen to.
4. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
When you think of jazz music, John Coltrane must come to mind. He is arguably the best saxophonist and one of the best musicians of all time. If Kind of Blue is the best jazz album of all time, A Love Supreme has to be a close second. For the greater part of his career, Coltrane struggled with alcohol addiction and heroin abuse as his life was spiralling downwards. It was in 1964, when he recorded A Love Supreme, that this all changed. A Love Supreme was a spiritual awakening for Coltrane that ultimately allowed him to kick his old habits. The tracks on this album are extremely thought provoking. Coltrane puts his heart and soul into the four recordings and truly paved the way into the final years of his life. If you’re breaking into the jazz world, you have got to give this album a listen.
5. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
In 1959, American jazz bassist Charles Mingus recorded his greatest work, Mingus Ah Um. This is an extremely energetic album from cover to cover where every track is unique. Mingus focused heavily on composition and to this day, many of the tracks on the album are some of the most recognizable songs in the genre of jazz. The album pays heavy tribute to many of Mingus’ most influential fellow musicians, including Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Duke Ellington.
Matt Newediuk, Music Editor