If I was forced to only listen to jazz music from 1958 through 1962 for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be happy, but I wouldn’t consider it a death sentence.
I love jazz of all eras (indeed, my favorite single recording is of Lester Young and the Kansas City Six’s version of “I Got Rhythm”) but for whatever reason the music of these four years really speaks to me. The hazy, speed-of-light bebop of Parker and Gillespie was mellowing out, and we weren’t yet faced with the tribulations of “free jazz.” It’s a really sweet spot.
Here are my 10 favorites. Are they the BEST? I don’t fuckin’ know. They’re my 10 favorite.
10 – The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Countdown from the album “Countdown: Time in Outer Space” (1962)
I’m sure some part of me likes this because it is dedicated to John Glenn. I love the big tympani-ish drums and once things kick in it has a fantastic stride.
9 – Lee Morgan – Mogie from the album “Here’s Lee Morgan” (1960)
It’d be a few years until Lee would really start to kick ass as the flag-bearer for shake-shakin’ hard bop. But you can hear it start to come into play here. This track has swagger, but a little bit of an unexpected dissonance in the harmonies. Plus Lee’s really blowing here.
8 – Cannonball Adderly – Somethin’ Else from the album “Somethin’ Else” (1958)
It’s a little amusing that one of the foundational albums of the “Miles Davis sound” is technically not a Miles Davis album. But he delivers a great performance here on one of the greatest albums ever. I may as well mention here that I didn’t include anything from “Kind of Blue” on this list. Yeah, it’s great, but I rarely listen to it anymore. This is my list.
7 – John Coltrane – Cousin Mary from the album “Giant Steps” (1960)
Coulda picked anything from this album, really, but I love this one because it has such a strong confidence to it. It’s strange, because I consider McCoy Tyner so crucial to Coltrane’s sound, yet this is the album he’s not on.
6 – Wes Montgomery – Billie’s Bounce from the album “Fingerpickin'” (1958)
Hell yes. A classic Parker jam done big – almost west coast style – but zooming. Sorry the quality of this recording kinda stinks. You still get the idea.
5 – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Moanin’ from the album “Moanin'” (1958)
I almost went with “Dat Dere” which has a bit more of a “detective jazz” feel, but then I listened to “Moanin'” again and heard those two snaps of the drum after the opening phrase. The Jazz Messengers were absolutely in their stride from ’58 to ’62 and while this might be their biggest hit, they rarely recorded anything that wasn’t terrific. And listen to Lee Morgan on this one!
4 – Bud Powell – John’s Abbey from the album “Time Waits: The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 4” (1958)
Bud Powell died for our sins. Those grunts and murmurs are the painful sounds of psychosis – demons that, unfortunately, couldn’t be killed by playing music alone. If you’ve never heard this track before it may take more than one listen to realize just how intricate the playing is. It’s a great melody endlessly teased by a man who has a serious claim on the title “best jazz pianist ever.”
EXTRA POINT: Now listen to this, the heart-stopping Speed of Light version
3 – Charles Mingus – Better Get Hit in Your Soul from the album “Mingus Ah Um” (1959)
IN A TIE WITH!
3 – Charles Mingus – Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting from the album Roots & Blues (1959)
These are two very similar pieces. The first may be a more complex piece of writing and performance, but the second is just balls-out madness.
2 – Miles Davis – Milestones from the album “Milestones” (1958)
It’s the coolest thing you’ll ever hear.
1 -Erroll Garner – Where or When from the album “Concert By The Sea”
I’m ending this one with a total cheat. “Concert By The Sea” came out in 1955, but this video, from God knows where, is from ’62. It’s the same arrangement as on the album, and it is one of the most transcendent pieces of performance you are ever going to see. It’s the old Rogers & Hart show tune expanded into a cosmic display of pure joy. Erroll Garner, an imp who couldn’t read music, was a showman with inhuman capabilities who somehow makes this shit look easy.