Quite a few of us really don’t know jack about jazz, and with International Jazz Day just round the corner (April 3oth) and Cairo Jazz Club going all out to celebrate its namesake, it’s time we developed a working knowledge of ‘one of America’s only original art-forms’. After all, there’s no better way of impressing people than by knowing more about interesting cultural shit than they do. Jazz doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating, nor is it exclusively the domain of elevators and snooty, middle-aged wine-connoisseurs. Dare we say it, jazz is pretty sick.
Now, CJC will be bringing us the best of local, regional and international jazz superstars, so we’ve compiled a list of the top 7 jazz albums for beginners to get the ball rolling and to prime you for the night. These albums are all accessible, insanely good, and will give you that feel-good rush.
– Ella and Louis (1956) – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
A smashing two-in-one, which brings two jazz titans together for the jazz album of the century. Overstatements aside, the vocals will give you shivers, with Armstrong’s deep, gruff voice contrasting with Fitzgerald’s soft and silky delivery. A fitting first step into the rabbit hole that is jazz music.
–Kind of Blue (1957) – Miles Davis
A jazz classic like no other; almost any jazz-aficionado will tell you that this is the definitive jazz album. Miles Davis is often referred to as the ‘Godfather’ of the jazz genre – basically, he is what Michael Jackson is to pop. This album’s unending, luxurious basslines, out-of-body trumpet solos, and soft piano chords make it more ‘genius’ than ‘easy listening’.
–My Favorite Things (1961) – John Coltrane
A reworking of The Sound of Music‘s timeless classic, ‘My Favorite Things’, this album was incomprehensibly recorded in under three days. Its sounds also massively feed into Coltrane’s later albums (Coltrane Plays the Blues, Coltrane’s Sound, and Coltrane’s legacy). Coltrane outdoes himself on all four of these tracks with soprano/tenor saxophone solos that will have you lighting up a cigarette, buying a Brooks Brothers suit, and feeling immensely suave.
– Strange Fruit (1953) – Billie Holiday
Strange Fruit is the only track on this list that will not make you feel good. Considered the first anti-racism song, SF is a heart-wrenching retelling of the lynching of a young, black man in the American deep south. Holiday’s chilling vocals complement visceral lyrics that are, at once, unflinching, challenging, sorrowful and penetrative. Do not listen if you have a weak stomach. Not an album, but so historic an exception had to be made for it.
–What a Wonderful World (1967) – Louis Armstrong
Sorry (not sorry) for the racism/lynching downer, but Louis Armstrong is here to pick you right back up. There is a reason What a Wonderful World has been listened to over 100 million times on YouTube – it is probably one of the best songs you will ever come across. No description needed.
–Head Hunters (1973) – Herbie Hancock
Head Hunters is the least ‘classical jazz’ album on this list. Released in the middle of Hancock’s career, this album fuses soul, funk, hip-hop and jazz to culminate in an album that still sounds fresh four decades later, and bringing him to the forefront of the avant-garde jazz tradition.
– Chet (1959) – Chet Baker
This album is essentially a completely improvised instrumental jamming session with a heavy-weight jazz line-up (Pepper Adams, Bill Evans, and Kenny Burrell) backing up Chet Baker. The sax solos lead into beautiful, slow ballads that are redonkulous.
Appetite sufficiently whet? Call 010 6880 4764 and secure your place at CJC’s International Jazz Day extravaganza.
By Noor Salama