10 Essential and Diverse Jazz Records to Start Your Collection

Starting a jazz collection is easy, but how can you bring diversity to the mix? Jazz music has evolved since its birth and is still progressing today, this triggered the development of various styles and subgenres. I am calling out ten jazz records that are both essential and diverse. We’ll explore milestones in swing, bop, hard bop, modal jazz, avant-garde jazz, Ethio-jazz, soul-jazz, and afrobeat.

Satchmo At Symphony Hall – Louis Armstrong (Decca, 1951)

To start this list, I call out one of the finest Louis Armstrong recordings. Louis Armstrong had, without doubt, a major impact on the development of New Orleans-style jazz music. He joined several celebrated bands, including Kid Ory’s group and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz. There Armstrong grew as a musician that innovated the genre. Later in his career, he would close the book on traditional New Orleans Jazz and became a prominent figure during the swing era.

Satchmo At Symphony Hall, live recorded in 1947, captured one of his most memorable performances. It was an entertaining evening full of highlights such as one of Armstrong’s earliest hits ‘(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue, and the jazz standard On the Sunny Side of the Street. The recording was issued on Decca Records and released to the public on April 30, 1951.

The Cooker – Lee Morgan (Blue Note, 1958)

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become one of the greatest hard bop trumpeters in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley (Blue Note, 1958)

Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is a well-known and celebrated jazz classic. It is also one of the few albums featuring trumpeter Miles Davis as a sideman. Adderley was a member of Miles Davis’ sextet at the time the album was recorded so, both musicians understood each other. The album is an interplay between Adderley and Davis. Some tracks are perfectly synchronized call-and-response interactions between the trumpet and alto sax, showcasing their relation to the music and each other. 

Looking further down the list of personnel displayed on the album’s cover, we got more big names from the scene: Hank Jones on the piano, Sam Jones on the base, and Art Blakey behind the drums. The track list is as impressive as the list of personnel. All songs seem to be selected carefully, including the opening track, the celebrated jazz standard Autumn Leaves, composed by Joseph Kosma.

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1959)

Kind of Blue, by the acclaimed trumpeter Miles Davis, is considered the greatest jazz record of all time by many critics. It’s Miles Davis’s masterpiece, based on a modal approach and sophisticated improvisation rather than using conventional chord changes commonly done in bebop and hard bop style.

Miles Davis invited saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wyn Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The sextet explored various possibilities of the modal jazz framework. The album got not only rated as the greatest jazz record of all time, today it is still considered one of the most significant musical achievements of the twentieth century.

Giant Steps – John Coltrane (Atlantic, 1960)

In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions. After a drug addiction that caused him to leave Davis’ band, he started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk. This not only helped him recover from his addiction, but it also helped him develop artistically.

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of BlueGiant Steps – consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions – was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal. Coltrane masters the skills to compose and record an album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse!, 1963)

World-renowned jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington regularly partnered with other acclaimed jazz musicians during the early sixties. John Coltrane was no exception. In 1962, the pianist and the tenor saxophonist recorded the self-titled album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. The recording got released in 1963 and would become the most successful collaboration Duke Ellington undertook during the early sixties. It’s a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The recording was an opportunity for Duke Ellington to play with a quartet rather than with his usual big band arrangement. Ellington invited drummer Sam Woodyard and double-bassist Aaron Bell, who were both members of his orchestra in 1962, to support this studio session. John Coltrane invited two members of his Classic Quartet, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.

Out To Lunch! – Eric Dolphy (Blue Note, 1964)

The year nineteen sixty-four was revolutionary when it comes to jazz records. Coltrane recorded his most acclaimed work, A Love Supreme, which got released the following year. Lee Morgan released The SidewinderBlue Note‘s best-selling record ever. And saxophonist Wayne Shorter completed his fifth studio album JuJu. Many other state-of-the-art albums got released and, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch! was no exception. This avant-garde jazz masterpiece got described as “a vital alternative to the melodic cliches and rhythmical orthodoxy of the hard-bop mainstream (A.B. Spellman).”

Dolphy’s unique compositional style is present throughout the album. He juggles with the theory behind jazz harmony by using unusual wide intervals. Dolphy explains that he is trying to incorporate what he hears: “I hear other resolutions on the basic harmonic patterns, and I try to use them.”

Mulatu Of Ethiopia – Mulatu Astatke (Worthy Records, 1972)

Ethiopian jazz musician and composer Mulatu Astatke had one important goal. He got inspired by jazz music and wanted to promote and actively use Ethiopian music in his jazz compositions. “The Nigerian and Ghanaian people living in London, they were very active in promoting it [their local music] so, I decided to start working more on our Ethiopian music.” he said, referring to his time in London during the 1950s. And so he did. Mulatu Astatke focused on fusing the Ethiopian 5 note scales against the 12 note scales of jazz. He created a different sound without losing the subtlety of both genres. The new sound got documented as Ethio-jazz, and Mulatu Astatke was its father.

Mulatu Astatke is the inventor of Ethio-jazz. The album Mulatu Of Ethiopia, recorded and released in 1972, is a well-documented proof of that. As a multi-instrumentalist, focussing mainly on percussion and the vibraphone, he brings moody rhythmical patterns influenced by jazz, funk, Latin and African music.

Afro Blue – Dee Dee Bridgewater (Trio Records, 1974)

Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Garrett (1950), is an award-winning singer-songwriter with a career encompassing jazz, soul, and disco. Her debut studio album Afro Blue is a timeless soul-jazz masterpiece that highlights her exceptional vocal abilities. The album features a song collection compiled from various music genres. Most songs are arranged by jazz trumpeter and Dee Dee’s husband, Cecil Bridgewater.

The album features various acclaimed jazz songs such as Horace Silver’s Love Vibrations (1970), Little B’s Poem by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (1965), and of course, the title track Afro Blue, a jazz standard by Mongo Santamaria (1956).

The Source – Tony Allen (Blue Note, 2017)

Tony Allen’s 2017 mini-album release A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers was a unique opportunity to marry his afrobeat rhythms with Art Blakey’s hard bop influences. It also served as a forerunner for his full-length Blue Note debut The Source in which he further explores the relationship between African music and western jazz.

The long-time Fela Kuti drummer found inspiration in Art Blakey’s work. Fusing his afrobeat past with jazz gave him a chance to document his interpretations as a self-thought drummer. In The Source, Tony Allen continues to return to his jazz roots. This time, he explores a wider web of jazz influences. The album includes eleven tracks composed and arranged by Tony Allen and saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz.

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Chris Dave And The Drumhedz’s Self-titled Debut Album

Chris Dave, the recognized drummer who supported amongst other Adele and Justin Bieber, released his self-titled debut album with a large group of experienced musicians called the Drumhedz in 2018. With it, he exhibits things he couldn’t before. The album is a contemporary oeuvre. One in which elements of funk, soul, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop are fused with jazz.

The drummer got exposed to various music genres from a young age. His father was a soul and jazz fan, his mother listened mainly to gospel, and his brothers were obsessed with the funk sound from the seventies. Thanks to this daily exposure to various but related musical styles, he created a distinctive approach to the drum kit. It enabled him to adapt to any musical setting. Whether he plays jazz or soul, hip-hop or pop, Chris Dave has no issues adjusting.

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz might be playing music powered by various music genres, in their debut album they remain committed to the jazz traditions. It is one of those bands that supported jazz in entering the mainstream.

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

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Dear Love by Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force

There is nothing more appealing to me than a jazz album infused with poetry and spoken word. And this is exactly what Jazzmeia Horn offers us. Dear Love is the third and most ambitious album by the American vocalist and arranger. Not only is it another demonstration of Jazzmeia “Jazz” Horn’s singing ability, but the album also spotlights her as a composer, arranger, and bandleader.

Jazzmeia Horn is an American jazz musician who came into prominence when she won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition in 2015. In 2017, she released her debut studio album titled A Social Call, and two years later, she released her follow-up album Love & Liberation. Both albums got nominated for Grammy Awards in the category Best Jazz Vocal Album. Her third body of work, Dear Love, is different and more progressive as the album is supported by a large ensemble of musicians who she calls Her Noble Force. All songs for this orchestral project are arranged by Jazzmeia Horn and, the album got released on her own label, Empress Legacy Records. The work has been Grammy-nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

In the album’s opening track “I Feel You Near,” she performs calming spoking-word over the baritone sax and percussion. She articulates every word coherently and, she uses intonation to built-up the tension. The song is poetic, but the instrumental backing brings motion. It hints towards traditional African folk music, where movement is a central theme. It is the perfect opening for an album that addresses personal aspects of life and where the contrast and variety of the compositions bring up different themes and moods.

“Ella could not only sing a melody, she could scat the hell out of some chord changes and sound just like an instrumentalist. I like to say that I am continuing the legacy, or the tradition, of vocal improvisation.”

Jazzmeia Horn

Despite being backed by a large jazz ensemble, Jazzmeia Horn managed to keep the album intimate and personal. Her vocals are meaningful and gentle. She has a consistent timbre, a wide range, and outstanding timing. In the song “Lover, Come Back To Me” – a well-known jazz standard thanks to Billie Holiday’s recording – her scat singing abilities can be compared to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald. Also, Horn’s improvisational skills are similar to the trademark of one of the most important jazz singers of all time. “I like to say that I am continuing the legacy, or the tradition, of vocal improvisation,” Horn says during an interview with NPR.

Lover, Come Back To Me – Jazzmeia “Jazz” Horn

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Alfa Mist’s “Bring Backs” Blends Jazz with Spoken Word

With his third studio album, the British producer, songwriter, and self-thought pianist Alfa Mist reflects upon his sampling and hip-hop days on the streets of London. After self-releasing his two previous albums – Antiphon and Structuralism – Alfa Mist partners with the American independent record label Anti- for his next body of work, Brings Back.

Alfa Mist is a London-based producer, rapper, and pianist. To be both a hip-hop rapper and a jazz pianist is unique on its own. Learning that both skills are self-thought makes him inspiring. Alfa Mist started to create music on the streets of East London when he was only 15 years old. Being a teenage hip-hop producer eventually led to the discovery of jazz music. ”There’s no access to jazz where I’m from,” Alfa says. “There’s no way I would have come to it without finding those hip-hop records and wanting to understand them.” Learning the piano enabled him to improvise and creatively fuse jazz with hip-hop. By 2015, he built his network and established himself as a leading figure within the vibrant and rapidly evolving London jazz scene.

Change is inevitable
The isms and schisms, questionable
The future is out there, a matter of time

Hilary Thomas

Alfa Mist’s first official release was the collaboration project with singer Emmavie titled Epoch. This independent release from 2014 is strongly influenced by avant-garde R&B and, it already blends jazz, soul, and hip-hop. His first solo release came in 2015 with the extended play Nocturne and, two years later, he released his breakthrough album titled Antiphon. In 2017, he followed up with his second full-length album, Structuralism. Bring Backs is the third in a series of recognized and welcomed Alfa Mist albums. The album captures Alfa Mist’s rap and piano skills. It blends contemporary jazz with R&B, soul, hip-hop, classical, and spoken word.

The reflective musical voyage alters between an instrumental atmosphere and vocals in the form of rap and spoken word. The lyrics, a poem by Hilary Thomas, is what binds the album together. A total of four vocalists support the album. On the opening track, “Teki,” we hear Hilary Thomas open her poem with a spoken-word piece: “Change is inevitable. The isms and schisms, questionable. The future is out there, a matter of time.” In the song “People,” Kaya Thomas-Dyke sings in what is more a guitar-driven ballad. Alfa Mist is the third vocalist we hear, and he does it the way we expect. “Mind the Gap” dives into hip-hop and rap but keeps the loungy jazz backing. Alfa Mist’s rap gets support from the rapper Lex Amor who brings a softer touch to the track.

Alfa Mist in the studio during the Bring Backs recordings

Bring Backs got recorded in London together with an ensemble consisting of close friends and longtime collaborators, which makes things more personal. For the album’s title, Alfa Mist drew inspiration from a card game he played as a child. In the game, after winning a round, you can be brought back to play again, meaning that winning is never a sure thing. With it, Alfa Mist refers to his childhood. He lived in a constant state of uncertainty and instability. “You can be doing okay for a while but, that can change. You know that’s always a possibility,” he explains. The unpredictable and inevitable future is a recurring theme on the album.

The album is a confirmation that Alfa Mist will have more to offer in the future. He shows his ability to blend various musical styles and instruments into one meaningful oeuvre. Being a leading figure in the London music scene definitely influenced the album’s creativity.

Alfa Mist – Bring Backs (Live at Metropolis)

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Out To Lunch! with Eric Dolphy: An Imaginatively Advanced Improviser

The year nineteen sixty-four was revolutionary when it comes to jazz records. Coltrane recorded his most acclaimed work, A Love Supreme, which got released the following year. Lee Morgan released The Sidewinder, Blue Note‘s best-selling record ever. And saxophonist Wayne Shorter completed his fifth studio album JuJu. Many other state-of-the-art albums got released and, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch! was no exception. This avant-garde jazz masterpiece got described as “a vital alternative to the melodic cliches and rhythmical orthodoxy of the hard-bop mainstream (A.B. Spellman).”

From all the records released during the first half of the sixties, Dolphy’s Out To Lunch! was the most innovative. It stands ahead of its time. Even today, the advanced improvisational freedom in Out To Lunch! is something not often found. The free movement of the group is a result of Eric Dolphy’s futuristic vision. “Everyone’s a leader in this session,” he declared. For his composition “Gazzelloni,” Dolphy instructed the band to “hold to the construction for the first 13 bars, then – freedom.”

Dolphy’s unique compositional style is present throughout the album. He juggles with the theory behind jazz harmony by using unusual wide intervals. Dolphy explains that he is trying to incorporate what he hears: “I hear other resolutions on the basic harmonic patterns, and I try to use them.”

In the jazz of the 1960s, Eric Dolphy was an original: a hero to some, but also a mystery, a virtuosic improviser searching for ways of expression outside of common practice.

Ben Ratliff (The New York Times)

Eric Allan Dolphy Jr. was an American multi-instrumentalist who knew his way around the flute, alto saxophone, and bass clarinet. This last one he helped to establish in jazz. Dolphy grew up in Los Angeles and, unlike many other jazz figures of the time, he did not follow the standard narrative. He started with music lessons when he was six. He continued studying music at high school, where he mainly played in symphony orchestras. In college, he got the opportunity to play jazz. He played various contemporary classical works with Roy Porter’s 17 Beboppers.

Eric Dolphy (image courtesy of Don Schlitten)

His first breakthrough was when he got invited to join Chico Hamilton’s quintet in 1958. The band toured and, Dolphy was exposed to a broader audience, for example, during the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958. After this success story, he moved to New York to establish partnerships with Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and many more.

Dolphy always was a sideman during club performances and recording sessions until he signed with Prestige Records in 1960. He recorded his first album as a leader with Prestige’s sub-label New Jazz. The album titled Outward Bound (New Jazz ‎8236) was the evident arrival of a new name in jazz.

Dolphy’s creativity was exploding by 1964. His avant-garde jazz music reached new levels of experimentation and freedom. That year he signed with Blue Note Records and recorded Out to Lunch! with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass), and Anthony Williams (drums). The album is considered his most important work, his magnum opus.

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Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: A Collaboration Between the Generations

World-renowned jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington regularly partnered with other acclaimed jazz musicians during the early sixties. John Coltrane was no exception. In 1962, the pianist and the tenor saxophonist recorded the self-titled album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. The recording got released in 1963 and would become the most successful collaboration Duke Ellington undertook during the early sixties. It’s a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The recording was an opportunity for Duke Ellington to play with a quartet rather than with his usual big band arrangement. Ellington invited drummer Sam Woodyard and double-bassist Aaron Bell, who were both members of his orchestra in 1962, to support this studio session. John Coltrane invited two members of his Classic Quartet, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.

The album features acclaimed Ellington standards such as In A Sentimental Mood and some of his new compositions like Take the Coltrane (plays with his track Take the A Train). John Coltrane also added a new composition to the album’s track-list. His work titled Big Nick is a tribute to saxophonist George Walker “Big Nick” Nicholas who influenced Coltrane during his time with Dizzy Gillespie. “In thinking back,” Coltrane said, “it seemed to have something that would suit the style he likes to play in. But maybe not?”

“I was really honored to have the opportunity of working with Duke. It was a wonderful experience. He has set standards I haven’t caught up with yet.”

John Coltrane

In the early sixties, John Coltrane’s career and technical abilities peaked. For several years, he would release various historical jazz albums including Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960) and My Favorite Things (Atlantic 1961). Coltrane was a perfectionist, carefully exploring harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. He was confident in both playing and arranging. Still, while playing with Duke Ellington, he felt honored, imperfect, and challenged. Duke Ellington is a legend from an older generation, and his contributions to jazz were paramount. Pianist Benny Green once said that “Duke was put into the jazz world to separate the men from the boys.”

John Coltrane (left) & Duke Ellington (right)

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John Coltrane’s Soultrane

The second half of the nineteen-fifties defined John Coltrane’s career and helped him come into prominence as a musician and arranger. Underlined is the time as a member in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and later sextet, and the period working aside Thelonious Monk. Many recordings featuring Trane‘s support on the tenor saxophone got listed as the most acclaimed and influential jazz albums in history.

Coltrane’s legacy before moving to Atlantic Records in 1959 got well documented by Prestige. The record company released a couple of acclaimed studio albums, including Coltrane’s first album as a leader titled Coltrane (Prestige, 1957), and his recording with pianist Red Garland named Soultrane (Prestige, 1958). In 1957, Coltrane also recorded the album Blue Train with the record label Blue Note while he was still under contract with Prestige.

The album Soultrane got described as a demonstration of Coltrane’s late nineteen-fifties “sheet of sound” (Ira Gitler, DownBeat Magazine). The term is dedicated to John Coltrane and represents the unique improvisational style he developed while working with Thelonious Monk. He loosened up the demanding chords and harmonies of hard bop while maintaining loyalty to its traditional values. Coltrane was given the freedom to improvise when playing along with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Thelonious Monk, Nellie Monk, and John Coltrane (image courtesy of T.S. Monk)

Soultrane” originally refers to a ballad written by pianist Tadd Dameron. The song appears on the studio recording Mating Call (Prestige, 1957), an album featuring Dameron on the piano and Coltrane on the tenor saxophone. However, the song was not added to the track-list of Soultrane. Prestige Records titled the album merely because it plays with the name and could represent a collective work.

The album got recorded together with Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Taylor (drums). The songs featuring on the album are Good Bait (Tadd Dameron, Count Basie), I Want to Talk About You (Billy Eckstine), You Say You Care (Leo Robin, Jule Styne), Theme for Ernie (Fred Lacey), and Russian Lullaby (Irving Berlin).

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Buddy Bolden, The First Jazz Musician

Who played a key role in the birth of New Orleans jazz, and is considered the first jazz musician, is Buddy Bolden (born Charles Joseph Bolden). Buddy Bolden was an American cornetist who learned to play music at school and in church. Unique is that, unlike many other musicians, Bolden didn’t start his career by joining a brass band what was usual for musicians in New Orleans. Instead, he joined a string ensemble and earned money by playing at dancehalls.

Buddy Bolden (second row, third from the left)

Buddy Bolden

At the turn of the twentieth century, his band got noticed thanks to Bolden’s use of syncopation, his ability to improvise, and his use of blues structures. I like to think that Bolden’s focus on blues was the biggest contribution to jazz until Louis Armstrong changed the course of the genre. Bolden was an example for many other musicians and one by one all of them start experimenting with syncopation and improvisation. The growing pool of musicians doing this is described as the birth of jazz in New Orleans. Using syncopation in melodies from different music genres caused styles to blur and blend. The music would get more similarities in rhythm and structure what was another important milestone in the creation of jazz.

Buddy Bolden was known for playing loud. He played so loud that he was not allowed to practice inside the house so instead, he practiced on his porch. Neighborhood children would gather around them to listen and start calling him “The King“. Hence the nickname Buddy ‘King’ Bolden. He would often play at a concert hall in New Orleans called Odd Fellows and Masonic Dance Hall (or Eagle Saloon). Before the concert, Bolden would stick out his cornet and do what he called “calling his children home”. He played so loud and, his reach was so far that people from the surrounding streets gather at the building to listen. This became his trademark and, the habit got also described in the lyrics of Buddy Bolden’s Blues (also called Funky Butt):

“Thought I heard, buddy bolden shout, Open up that window, and let that bad air out, Open up that window, and let that stinky air out. Thought I heard buddy bolden say”

Lyrics to Buddy Bolden’s Blues

Buddy Bolden’s career was short. He had a drinking problem and struggled with his mental health. He was arrested multiple times and was placed in an asylum after he was declared mentally insane. Unfortunately, there are no recordings in existence. There are some rumors that Bolden made some phonograph cylinder recordings. So far, none surfaced. Thirty years after his death, his music appeared in print and, musicians started to record his work. However, the sound of jazz evolved and, the question is if these later recordings correctly represent how Buddy Bolden’s music originally sounded.

If Buddy Bolden was the inventor or creator of jazz music is up for discussion but, we can conclude that he was an important and decisive figure in the transformation.

Hugh Laurie – Buddy Bolden Blues

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Robert Glasper Shows Off His Jazz Chops With “Canvas”

Robert Glasper showed off his jazz chops long before he released the Grammy-winning album Black Radio in 2012. His Blue Note debut album titled Canvas was released in 2005 and features the pianist in a jazz scenery influenced by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Bill Evans.

It’s no surprise that Blue Note Records signed the young pianist. His earlier album Mood, released under the Robert Glasper Trio on the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent, was the studio debut that placed the young pianist on the radar of the major record labels.

Canvas is a convincing display of Glasper’s remarkable piano technique. The New York Times wrote that Glasper’s trio, with Vicente Archer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, is a “strong enough entity to make any performance seem ambitious and vital.”

Robert Glasper’s affinity with hip-hop called for a natural transition. The pianist bridged and influenced multiple music genres. In 2012, he released the album titled Black Radio. The album was a crossover and achieved success in different music genres. In 2013 it won a Grammy for best R&B album and, it got simultaneously listed in the top 10 charts for hip hop, R&B, and jazz.

Robert Glasper at Blue Note Jazz Club

Tony Allen’s The Source – Afrobeat or Jazz?

Tony Allen’s 2017 mini-album release A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers was a unique opportunity to marry his afrobeat rhythms with Art Blakey’s hard bop influences. It also served as a forerunner for his full-length Blue Note debut The Source in which he further explores the relationship between African music and western jazz.

The long-time Fela Kuti drummer found inspiration in Art Blakey’s work. Fusing his afrobeat past with jazz gave him a chance to document his interpretations as a self-thought drummer. In The Source, Tony Allen continues to return to his jazz roots. This time, he explores a wider web of jazz influences. The album includes eleven tracks composed and arranged by Tony Allen and saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz.

“Tony has never played drums as well as this. He’s never had as much freedom, never had as much power as he does today.”

Yann Jankielewicz

Can we consider The Source a jazz album? The record company Blue Note is a landmark for jazz music. But they did not exclusively focus on jazz. They have a rich catalog of African music, often involving afrobeat or percussion rhythms. The album by Solomon Ilori titled African High Life is one example (Blue Note, 1963). Another is Art Blakey’s collaboration with The Afro-Drum Ensemble called The African Beat (Blue Note, 1962).

The Source can be seen as a crossover between Allen’s influential afrobeat past and his interpretation of jazz. Tony Allen recorded jazz-influenced albums on occasion. Apart from his tribute to Art Blakey and The Source, he also recorded the album Rejoice together with Hugh Masekela in 2010 (released in 2020). Blue Note Records also posthumous released the album There Is No End in April 2021. The album intends to be a platform for a new generation of rappers. Tony Allen passed away in 2020 and, although he proved his skills as a drummer, composer, and arranger, he didn’t have a chance to fully unfold his music repertoire with Blue Note Records.

Inner sleeve The Source on vinyl (Blue Note – 5768336)

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