By Mike Zwerin
[Part two of a two-part article]
More nominations for a list of the most enduring jazz and rock recordings of all time, a list difficult to make without cluttering it up with Bob Dylan and Miles Davis albums.
The following have in common their consistency; an absence of tracks you would object to hearing day after day should you be stuck in a bunker inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again - or on a desert island.
They are in no particular order.
PAUL SIMON, “Graceland" (Warner Brothers): No awkward verses, never a false rhyme, not one ungraceful measure. There are diamonds on the soles of his shoes.
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET, “Dedicated To Connie" (Atlantic/2 CDs): “Never before or since has the Modern Jazz Quartet played better," leader and pianist John Lewis said about this recording, which was made live in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1960.
STEVIE WONDER, “Songs In The Key of Life" (Motown): A suite with the keys to your heart. “Isn’t She Lovely?"
THELONIOUS MONK, “Solo Monk (Columbia): “Just A Gigolo," “Nice Work If You Can Get It," and other Broadway song-form classics filtered through the cracked world of Thelonious Sphere Monk.
BOB MARLEY, “Legend" (Island): The lope of the Reggae beat wears very well. “I Shot The Sheriff," “No Woman No Cry," and so on.
CHARLES MINGUS, “Mingus Ah Um" (Columbia): Following in the steps of Duke Ellington, improvised solos are married with pre-conceived arrangements to make a new kind of classical music. The Mingus shout at its rowdy best.
THE BEATLES, “Let It Be…Naked" (EMI): More than one good Beatles album includes a banal or pretentious track that drives you up the wall after a while. Not this one (their last).
COUNT BASIE, “Atomic Basie" (Roulette): In the 1950s, Basie put together a new band which played with even more precision, dynamics, and swing than his old one. Listen to Freddie Green’s guitar, and Snooky Young’s lead trumpet, and the arrangements are by Neal (“Splanky," “Li’l Darlin’") Hefti.
FRANK SINATRA, “Everything Happens To Me" (Reprise): Nineteen of his personal favorites, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, by which time, he said he had “emotionally graduated" to songs of love, loss, joy, and despair. Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away," Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive," and Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday" are included; “My Way" is not.
STAN GETZ, “Serenity" (Emarcy): Live at the Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1987; with Kenny Barron, piano, Rufus Reid, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums, on an exceptionally good night. Getz knew how sick he was by this time, and he was playing as though his life depended on it.
RAY CHARLES, “The Genius of…" (Atlantic): The word genius tends to be overused, but it would seem to apply here, particularly when combined with the producers Nesuhi Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.
BOB DYLAN, “Blonde On Blonde" (Columbia): One Dylan album is obviously not enough. There are songs you cannot live without on perhaps a dozen others, but, to re-state the premise, on this one there is not one track you will not want to hear forever.
WEATHER REPORT, “Heavy Weather" (Columbia): When this was recorded, in 1977, co-leader (with Wayne Shorter) Joe Zawinul was going around saying, “we are the best band in the world," and Jaco Pastorius was calling himself “the best bass player in the world" - neither of which was too far off.
WILLIE NELSON “The Essential" (Columbia/2CDs): Nelson performs in a rich vale between the blues, country and rock; and between elegance and kitsch (“Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys").
Most of the jazz on the following CD collections was originally recorded on 78 RPMs.
DJANGO REINHARDT, “L’Essentiel" (EMI France/3CDs): Django playing “Echoes of France," a/k/a “Le Marseillaise," (with Stephane Grappelli on violin) is like Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner" – an anthem for people who don’t like anthems. Plus listening to Gypsy Swing is just good for you. If you cannot find this particular 60-track collection, there are many others, although most of them are less complete.
BUD POWELL, “Bouncing With Bud" (Dreyfus Jazz): Powell’s gift had only a small window in time, but very few improvisers have ever meant it as much as he did.
BILLIE HOLIDAY/LESTER YOUNG, “Lady Day & Prez, 1937-1941" (Giants of Jazz): Female jazz singers can be divided into Billie Holiday and everyone else. And a saxophonist once said: “There are two ways to play the tenor saxophone – like Lester, and wrong."
CHARLIE PARKER, “Yardbird Suite" (Rhino/2 CDs): Essential Bird from his mid-1940s recordings with Dizzy Gillespie through the albums with strings. Bird lives.
Now program the above on a random shuffle, and hear how all good music sounds pretty much the same.