Every Friday for the next few weeks, a Jazz St. Louis staff member will count down their 15 favorite jazz albums. These are not intended to be ‘Best Jazz Album’ lists, but personal favorites of the staff members. The only rule: No greatest hits/compilation/complete recordings albums (though some of us might have cheated a bit). This week we hear from everybody’s favorite jazz club manager: JSL Director of Operations, Bob Bennett. Enjoy!
Most everyone is familiar with this album in one way or another. If you’re not familiar with the album by name, you’re familiar with Benson’s version of “This Masquerade.” I’ve always loved the album, but when the extended version came out, I learned of an additional cut that blew me away. Benson’s performance of “Down Here On The Ground” from his Weekend in LA album is actually nothing close to the version he originally recorded. That version was included on the extended edition of “Breezin’ ” and for me, is the best cut on the record. It’s one of those tunes you can put on repeat and never tire of. It’s more up-tempo than the live version, Benson’s solo is flawless and the ending, where George scats with his guitar, gets me every time.
Joe Williams was always killer, but his live performances were even more so. Joe had a way of connecting with his audience that very few performers ever achieve. Add to that Cannonball Adderley’s band, and it takes on a whole other level. This album was done in the studio, but with a live audience so it felt like a club set. Amazing performances from everyone involved make this one of my favorite jazz vocal records of all time.
No arguing, no debating, no disagreeing of any kind allowed: this is the greatest jazz vocal record ever made…period. Johnny Hartman’s treatment of the six standards found here is the DEFINITIVE version of each of those tunes. Nobody can sing “My One and Only Love” and not think of this version. Anyone who sings “Lush Life” is immediately judged by the version Hartman did with Coltrane. And then there’s Trane, whose quartet provides the perfect accompaniment here. People often wonder why I’m so hard on vocalists. Listen here…you’ll get it eventually.
Hands down, this is my favorite record of the last decade. Potter literally burns down the Vanguard on this record, a live set from the same quartet that appeared at the Bistro many years ago. The band’s renditions of Bill Stewart’s “7.5” and Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” are incredible.
Stan Getz’s final album, recorded with longtime collaborator Kenny Barron, in a very intimate club setting. Here, Getz returns to the Montmartre in Copenhagen, where he had previously recorded two outstanding albums in 1987 (one of which won a Grammy). I’m a particular fan of the music Getz made near the end of his life. A constant in his final years was Barron, whose trio backed Getz on the earlier Montmartre recordings. Here, it’s just piano and saxophone and the performance from both men is phenomenal. I’ve always felt this was Stan Getz’s finest album.
Recorded in 1981, you’d never know Gene Harris had taken a major break from playing. This is definitive Gene Harris: soulful, swinging and steeped in the blues. “Shiny Stockings” alone will literally swing the doors off your house, so be careful….
You can’t have one without the other. Jimmy Smith assembled an all-star cast for two “rally” albums that became landmarks for jazz organ. Alongside Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Lee Morgan, George Coleman, Curtis Fuller, Eddie McFadden, Kenny Burrell, Donald Bailey & Art Blakey, Smith had two sessions that eventually made up these albums. With that roster (or list of characters may be more appropriate), how could anyone go wrong? Everybody’s given ample time to blow, making the tune “The Sermon” itself twenty minutes long. However, no listener will ever get bored with what’s happening here. These records also hold a special place for me in that I shared a love of Jimmy Smith’s music with my late mentor, the “Man in the Red Vest,” Leo Chears. These albums were on both of our playlists often. Try to find the original CD issues, not the re-mastered versions, they have a ton of extra material on them that for some reason was left off the reissue.
Before his legendary hits like “Alligator Boogaloo” and “Midnight Creeper,” Lou Donaldson cut some of the best straight-ahead sides in the history of Blue Note Records. It’s difficult to select a favorite album of Lou’s (or Jimmy Smith’s for that matter), so I’m not even going to attempt (there will be other albums listed by Lou & Jimmy). This one though, I discovered amongst a collection of vinyl I acquired about ten years ago. It was never available on CD, until Mosaic put out “The Complete Lou Donaldson Blue Note Small Group Sessions, 1957-1960.” Killer hard bop laid down by Sweet Papa Lou and Gene Harris’ trio The Three Sounds. I’m not sure if the single disc ever was released (it looks like it’s out of print), but if you can find a copy of Lou’s Mosaic Box, pay double for it if you have to!
Dizzy Gillespie. Sonny Rollins. Sonny Stitt. 1957. THE END. Really, what else need be said here? Although it only has four tunes on it, those four tunes make an incredible statement. Dizzy’s vocal rendition of “On The Sunny Side of the Street” is actually a nod to an early version that Nat King Cole, with a twist on the chorus (which coincidentally appears a few albums down on this list). You can’t listen to this record and NOT be put in a good mood.
I know Devin asked us not to include any box sets or compilations but hey, this is my list. AND I CAN’T PICK ONE RECORD! Actually, I can’t even pick five. How is it possible to include “Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet” and not include “Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet?” How do you list “Round About Midnight” and not list “Milestones” or “Kind of Blue.” And while most people would just list “Kind of Blue” and be done with it, if I HAD to take one Miles Davis record with me on an island (or in my case, to Alaska), that wouldn’t be it. Nothing wrong with it, but I’m gonna need SOME version of “Bye, Bye Blackbird” with me, sorry. So I’m cheating here and basically saying “Look, if it has Miles and it has Trane, it’s a favorite of mine.”
One of Jimmy Smith’s final albums for Blue Note Records before making the jump to Verve in the mid-60’s is a soulful, blues influenced, magnificent set featuring Smith with Lou Donaldson (imagine that, Lou Donaldson on my list again…), Quentin Warren & Donald Bailey. Where as the earlier albums were all-star collaborations for Jimmy Smith, this one is just the trio plus one horn, putting more emphasis on Smith’s organ right out of the box. The whole thing has a great groove and Donaldson’s alto alongside the trio seems to be a match made in heaven, although I’m sure Lou would say differently!
When it comes to Nat King Cole, where do I start? During my college years at SIUE, professors Reggie Thomas & Rick Haydon introduced me to music of the King Cole Trio and I was hooked immediately. Everybody forgets about Nat King Cole the pianist. They remember Nat as the guy who sang “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa.” With no disrespect to the later part of his career, for me, Nat’s best stuff was with the trio. Of those recordings, my favorites actually don’t come from Capitol Records, but from old radio transcripts in the mid-1940’s. This set is comprised mainly of those sessions, and was originally released by Laserlight back in 1991 as The Jazz Collector’s Edition: The Trio Recordings. They’ve since been reissued under the name above, with the quality being a bit better. The original version of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” is found here, with a completely different chorus halfway through the tune (which I mentioned Dizzy Gillespie drawing from on his version with Sonny Rollins & Sonny Stitt). Make sure to check out “Solid Potato Salad,” “Little Joe From Chicago” and “I Wanna Turn Out My Light” too, all killer sides.
Just the opening groove on “Funky Mama” is enough to take this one to an Alaska for me (I can’t do the island thing, too hot and too much sun). Before the horns even come in, Grant Green, John Patton & Ben Dixon have the groove locked solid. This is one of those “good feeling” records, that no matter what’s going wrong, you’re instantly uplifted when you put it on. The only thing this record is missing is “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman!”
My favorite tenor player of all time, without question, is Long Tall Dexter. It’s hard to pick which Dexter Gordon album to list here, but I’ll go with this three disc set recorded in Copenhagen in 1967 at the famed Montmartre Jazzhus. One of my favorite things about Dexter’s live sets is the sheer amount of music he played. You’ll hear musicians say “play until you’ve said what you need to say, then stop.” For Dexter Gordon, that could take ten minutes…or twenty. However, where a lot of people couldn’t hold a listener’s attention that long, Gordon tears it up and the listener is still left wanting more. Another added dimension of a live set from Dexter is the way he introduces tunes, particularly ballads. He would recite the lyrics as an intro to a tune, in a gruff, soulful voice that let you know something magical was about to happen. It always did. These recordings represent the best of Dexter Gordon to me.