Melissa Jones’ 10 Favorite Jazz Albums

Prior to coming to work for Jazz St. Louis more than four years ago, I knew nothing about jazz.  I still don’t know much, but I know what I like.  This was supposed to be a list of 15 jazz albums, but I honestly couldn’t give you a list of 15 jazz albums where I know all of the songs on every album.  But I do have ten albums that I love, where I know many of the songs, but surely not all of them.  So with that caveat, here are the ones that move me:

10.  Tony DeSare –Last First Kiss

I adore Tony! He is the sweetest guy on the planet, and he has a gorgeous voice.  I love his version of Prince’s “Kiss” on this album and his original composition, “I’ll Never Have Enough of You.”  My favorite song of his, though, isn’t on this album, but on his debut: the song, “How I Will Say I Love You.”  The lyrics are so powerful and passionate, and I had the privilege of asking him what inspired him to write it.

9.  John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

Ah, more gorgeous voices – Coltrane with his instrument and Hartman with his deep, silky vocals.  “Lush Life” and “My One and Only Love” are my favorites.  Lyrics of songs sometimes remind me of poems I love and vice-versa.  “Lush Life” reminds of my beloved T.S. Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  Both examine the sometimes futile nature of love and life.  I’m past the stage of baby-making, but this would be some fine baby-making music!

8.  Regina Carter – Motor City Moments

Regina is wonderful; she makes her violin weep, sing, laugh, and funk out.  When she came to the Bistro in May of 2007, she had just won the MacArthur Genius Award and said she was interested in pursuing music therapy.  We took her to perform for patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the Child Life Playroom.  She truly ministered to the hearts of those children and their parents and there were smiles all around.  I am amazed at the variety of tunes on this album and love every one of them.  I want to tango to “For Someone I Love,” and bop my head, tap my toes, and shake my booty to “Up South.”  I love me some Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and I enjoy her treatments of “Don’t Mess with Mr. T” (Gaye) and “Higher Ground” (Wonder).  My dad listened to mainly country music when I was growing up, and I confess I never liked it.  Occasionally, though, he listened to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and I adored his music, especially “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  Regina covers it here and it is such a fun version!

7.  Harry Connick, Jr. – Come by Me

I liked Connick’s work on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack and enjoyed him in his first lead role as an actor in Hope Floats, so I bought this CD when it came out 11 years ago.  I love the big band feel of the songs on this album, especially on “Time After Time,” and “Nowhere with Love.”  I like his piano playing on “Come by Me.”

6.  Marlena Shaw – The Spice of Life

Marlena is my favorite female jazz vocalist, hands down.  I love her flirtatious, sassy nature in concert.  Her phrasing and delivery are flawless, and I enjoy several of the songs on this album, including “California Soul” and “Stormy Monday.”

5.  Melody Gardot – Worrisome Heart

So, Marlena’s my favorite, but this woman is a close second.  Her voice is sultry, and she wrote and composed all of the songs on this, her debut album.  “Love Me Like A River Does” and “Worrisome Heart” are so beautiful.  I have all ten albums on this list on my iTunes, and I love listening to this one when I’m feeling a bit blue.  I admire Gardot’s tenacity and strength.  She lives with chronic pain from an accident that broke her pelvis and caused several neural injuries.  Her music career was born out of her difficult recovery and rehabilitation.  I haven’t seen her in concert (it would be a dream come true to see her perform in Paris!), but I’ve liked watching her YouTube videos.  I also enjoy her sophomore effort, My One and Only Thrill, especially “Baby I’m A Fool.”

4.  Terell Stafford – Taking Chances Live at the Dakota

This was one of the first jazz CDs I listened to upon my arrival to JSL, and I find it irresistible.  I particularly like having it on when I write grants; it keeps me focused.  Terell is an awesome performer, and the best jazz concert I’ve ever seen was Terell with the Frank Wess Quintet at the Village Vanguard in NYC in May 2008.  Man, Terell was on fire that night!

3.  Terence Blanchard – A Tale of God’s Will

Majestic.  Emotional.  Haunting.  I love this album! Terence scored this album for Spike Lee’s Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”  Terence does fine, fine work, and I’m a total novice when it comes to jazz and such, but the mixing of strings and his trumpet is so elegant and lush.  “Ghosts of Congo Square” is moving and vibrant, and Terence’s tribute to his Mom, “Dear Mom,” is so tender.  (His mother lost her home in Hurricane Katrina.)  Terence won one of his multiple Grammys for this album.

2.  John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

I heard Dennis Owsley talk about this album at our CD Listening Club sponsored by the Whitaker Foundation in March.  I remember learning much about Coltrane, his all-too-short life, and the impact his music has had. The thing that stood out to me is that Coltrane wrote it as a prayer to God, and listening to this emotional piece helped me work through some things myself.  At the time, I was healing from breast cancer treatment and was frustrated that I was not able to do everything physically that I wanted to do.  The four parts resonated with me:  acknowledgement, resolution, pursuance, and psalm.

1.  James Carter – Out of Nowhere

I know he is criticized for his showboating, but I love it! He is passionate and playful when he performs, and I like that about him.  I loved watching him play with the World Saxophone Quartet and with his trio last season at the Bistro.  My favorite on this album is a beautiful ballad, “Song for Camille,” which features Carter and Hamiet Bluiett, who hails from this area.  I enjoy Carter’s funky squawking on “Highjack” as well, though.

One Comment

  1. bill knopf
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Melody is a huge talent; would love to see her visit JATB. She would sell out every show.
    Very interesting story of how she recovered from a near fatal auto accident, and fell deeper into quiet/soulful jazz vocals.

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