Essential Jazz Listening – Part1 -Tips for newcomers

Jazz can often be a daunting genre for newcomers. With so many styles, artists and genres within the form, and tons of albums, it’s important to be aware of what is out there. Here are a few tips.

Essential Jazz Listening – Part1 -Tips for newcomers

Discover Artists, and then follow the branches of the tree

When you find a musician you like, find artists that he or she played with. The new listener will find that discovering an artist is like a tree with many branches. Taking John Coltrane as an example, you will notice he played in the Miles Davis Quintet, with artists such as pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. You will be lead to Coltrane’s recordings for the Prestige label, (available in three convenient box sets, Fearless Leader, Interplay, and Side Steps) on which these players appear. Further exploration will bring you to his career defining Atlantic and Impulse! recordings. Utilizing this method to discover artists will bring endless pleasure and surprise.

Acquire complete recordings or anthologies to collect important work

Boxed sets are often a good way to acquire a specific period of an artists’ output or their most important work. Sony/Legacy has been reissuing Complete Columbia Albums collections of such musicians and bands as Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, and Weather Report (2 box sets). These sets are economical, sold at budget prices but also contain high quality remastering, and comprehensive booklets with notes, photos and discographical information. Additionally, these sets may contain albums not available anywhere else, and rare bonus tracks. Concord also has many sets available now that were selling for hundreds of dollars years ago, but can now be had for as little as $25, as it’s remainder stock. An excellent way to get more familiar with artists.

For connoisseurs there are box sets on Mosaic Records, luxury, deluxe limited edition collections with extremely detailed annotation and remastering. These sets are officially licensed from labels such as Columbia, Blue Note and Verve so they are definitely legal sets. It’s important to stay away from releases on labels such as Lonehill, and sets containing 4, 8 or 12 classic albums in the title. The reason being is because these are public domain in Europe, meaning that the companies steal existing masterings from readily available CD’s in many cases. Recordings that are copyrighted in the U.S. and Japan, especially from the 50’s on, have expired copyrights in Europe and are public domain. These grey market “reissues” have been seen in American shops sporting famous album titles even use vinyl as the source. Often they are poor quality MP3 files!

Record labels are the lifeblood of Jazz and, What Do I pick?

There are many reissues series that can be confusing for consumers. Getting into Jazz, shopping at a online retailer such as Amazon, or goinng into a store, Particularly on labels like Blue Note where several editions exist, such as Connoisseur series and Rudy Van Gelder editions. Often times it’s up to the listener what sonic qualities they prefer in masterings, so the reissues are a matter of preference. Masterings in general are how the final product sounds, some are well rounded, some have lots of bass, mid range or treble, or loud.

There are Japanese CD reissues which are known for their extremely high quality sound, and faithful art and design details to the original LP’s. These reissues are available for a limited time, although they end up being pressed again in short batches. Blue Note currently offers Japanese reissue series at an affordable $9 and $15 per CD, though be careful that once these go out of print, on the secondary market they fetch extremely high prices.

If you are an audiophile and have expensive equipment, there are also reissue series by Analogue Productions, and Music Matters.The releases consist of mainly vinyl reissues available on specialty formats such as 45 RPM LP. These top of the line, extremely expensive, and any CD versions are just as expensive. The sonic qualities of these can be extremely lifelike, and as close to the original source material, and that is what is desired for many purchasers. Original vinyl pressings or reissues may be found for half the price, which some listeners who are more specific, that may be new Jazz fans might do.

For the typical Jazz neophyte however, none of these things really matter. The easiest thing to do, if you find an album you like is get the cheapest version. Outside of the above mentioned Columbia box sets, single disc remastered albums and compilations can be found readily, as can Blue Note Rudy Van Gelder Editions, or Concord’s Original Jazz Classics (OJC). While many OJC’s are out of print following Concord’s acquisition of Fantasy which kept everything in print, many key sessions are still available. There are plenty of options available.

Future installments of the Essential Jazz Listening blog will cover album recommendations, and how to listen. If you are interested in Jazz music and would like to play it, or sing, remember to check out our weekly workshops on improvisation, and the other articles on this blog.