Exploring Jazz Standards

In his book “The Jazz Standards,” Ted Gioia, a well-known American author, jazz pianist, and music historian, stated that during his own journey of learning jazz, there existed a core set of 200 to 300 compositions that “served as the cornerstone” of the jazz repertoire. By emphasizing the importance of these compositions, Gioia underscores their pivotal role in shaping the evolution of jazz music over time. He explains that a jazz performer needed to learn these songs the same way a classical musician studied the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

Jazz standards are musical compositions that have gained widespread recognition and have been performed and recorded by jazz musicians over the years. One defining characteristic of jazz standards is their harmonic structure. They often have a simple, memorable melody that is accompanied by a complex, sophisticated harmonic progression. These progressions provide ample opportunities for jazz musicians to improvise and explore different variations of the melody and harmony.

This article explores the captivating universe of jazz standards throughout the decades and presents a few classic examples for your listening pleasure. I’ll include a playlist as a reference so you can enjoy the songs while you read through the article.

1920s and Before

The origins of jazz standards can be traced back to the American songbook of the early 1900s when musicians primarily intended their music to be used for dancing. Musical traditions of New Orleans at the turn of the century included brass bands, blues, ragtime, and spirituals. Many of the popular jazz standards from that time were influenced by these styles. For instance, jazz musicians frequently play ragtime songs such as “Twelfth Street Rag” and “Tiger Rag,” as well as blues tunes like “St. Louis Blues” and “St. James Infirmary.”

Record companies also played a role in shaping the selection of songs recorded by jazz artists. Recording executives pushed certain songs that quickly achieved a “standard” status. As a result, early jazz groups like King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and others incorporated a significant number of Tin Pan Alley popular songs into their repertoire, these are songs written by a collective of songwriters and publishers based in New York City.

A timeless classic from this era is the American blues song and acclaimed standard, “St. James Infirmary Blues.” It’s a traditional American folkloric song with an uncertain origin. The song includes phrases from early blues recordings and has over 120 versions by various artists, with more than 20 versions of the lyrics. The versions by Louis Armstrong (1928), King Oliver (1930), Duke Ellington (1930), and Cab Calloway (1930) are among the most highly regarded. Various musicians continue to record the song, and my preferred versions are those by Dee Dee Bridgewater and Hugh Laurie.

Another noteworthy inclusion is the traditional psalm “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which may have originated in the Bahamas in the 19th century and was frequently played by brass bands in New Orleans during funeral processions. Many artists have recorded the song, but it was Louis Armstrong who truly popularized it with his 1938 recording. Other noteworthy versions include those by Bunk Johnson (1945) and Sidney Bechet (1949).

Additional recommended jazz standards:

TitleRecommended Version
King Porter StompJelly Roll Morton
Tea for TwoArt Tatum
Blue SkiesElla Fitzgerald
Basin Street BluesLouis Armstrong
Ain’t Misbehavin’Billie Holiday

1930s and 1940s

Swing jazz emerged as the predominant musical genre in America during the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing plenty of renowned swing-era hits that have since become jazz standards. Among the most significant contributors was Duke Ellington, who either composed or collaborated on over one thousand compositions, including “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)“, “Sophisticated Lady“, and “Caravan“,

Also, the Broadway theater produced some of the most popular standards that remain widely recognized today. Compositions such as George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime“, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine“, and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “All the Things You Are” continue to be among the most frequently recorded jazz standards.

In the early 1940s, Bebop was introduced with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk taking the lead. This form of jazz was more distinctive compared to earlier versions, as it appealed to a more specialized audience due to its complex harmonies, fast tempos, and virtuoso musicianship. Bebop musicians frequently included songs from Broadway musicals, particularly 1930s standards, in their repertoire.

Numerous bebop standards have gained widespread popularity over the years. For instance, “Salt Peanuts,” a scat/bebop composition by Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie, “Take the A Train” by Billy Strayhorn, which gained critical acclaim and became the signature tune of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, “Scrapple from the Apple” by Charlie Parker, which is an improvisation over the chord progression of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “‘‘Round Midnight” composed by Thelonious Monk and Cootie Williams, which Miles Davis later performed at the Newport Jazz in 1955.

Additional recommended jazz standards:

TitleRecommended Version
Body and SoulColeman Hawkins
All of MeBillie Holiday
Autumn in New YorkElla Fitzgerald
Blue MoonBillie Holiday
In a Sentimental MoodDuke Ellington & John Coltrane
How High the MoonElla Fitzgerald
A Night in TunisiaDizzy Gillespie
Yardbird SuiteCharlie Parker
Autumn LeavesCannonball Adderley
Lady BirdTadd Dameron Sextet

1950s and After

The 1950s was a decade of significant evolution and innovation for jazz music. It was a time when jazz musicians broke free from traditional constraints and experimented with new sounds, rhythms, and structures. This period is often referred to as the “golden age of jazz,” and it saw the rise of several influential jazz musicians who composed or reimagined jazz standards.

At the forefront was trumpeter Miles Davis, whose cool and model jazz pieces quickly gained a standard status. “Milestones,” a composition he recorded in 1958 with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, is an early exploration of the model jazz style. The piece ultimately led Miles Davis to create “So What,” the most well-known example of model jazz, which opened his 1959 studio album “Kind of Blue.” The album, also featuring John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, is widely regarded as the greatest jazz album ever made.

The same year Miles Davis released “Kind of Blue,” The Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded and released their signature piece “Take Five.” In the jazz standard Take Five, composed by Paul Desmond, the quartet uses the uncommon time signature 5/4. It was the first jazz composition using another signature other than the standard 4/4 or 3/4 times. The song’s iconic drum and piano introduction, followed by the alto saxophone melody, helped it become a well-known and best-selling jazz classic of all time.

John Coltraneā€™s hard bop masterpiece, “Giant Steps,” was released in February 1960 and is also regarded as one of the most influential jazz albums ever. It features various Coltrane compositions such as the opening and title track “Giant Steps,” which includes unusual harmonic chord patterns known as the “Coltrane changes”, and the homage “Naima,” named after his then-wife, Juanita Naima Grubbs.

Bobby Timmons, a prominent member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, composed “Moanin’“, which was recorded and released by the ensemble. The recording featured Art Blakey on drums, Lee Morgan on trumpet, and Benny Golson on tenor sax, along with Timmons’ piano. The song features a call-and-response structure led by Timmons’ piano. Jazz critic Gary Giddins has noted that “Moaning” was “part of the funky, back-to-roots movement popularized by Horace Silver, Mingus, and Ray Charles in different ways.

Additional recommended jazz standards:

TitleRecommended Version
Afro BlueDee Dee Bridgewater
The SidewinderLee Morgan
ImpressionsJohn Coltrane
BluesetteToots Thielemans
The Girl from IpanemaStan Getz & Astrud Gilberto
Blue TrainJohn Coltrane
My Favorite ThingsJohn Coltrane
Watermelon ManHerbie Hancock
FootprintsWayne Shorter
SpainChick Corea

Disclaimer: I would like to clarify that the jazz recommendations I provide are based on my individual taste and preferences. It’s important to note that the versions of the songs I suggest may not necessarily be the original recordings by the composer, but rather renditions by other artists.

Listen to all the songs from the article:

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Top 5 Essential Jazz Albums You Should Own

As a music genre, jazz holds a significant position in the global music scene. With its unique improvisational approach and wide range of influences, jazz has enthralled music enthusiasts for more than a century. Whether you’re a newcomer to the genre or an avid vinyl collector, there are a few indispensable albums that you shouldn’t miss.

It was hard to narrow it down, but here are the 5 essential and highly acclaimed jazz records you should own.

1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

“Kind of Blue” is the undisputed champion of jazz records and it’s unlikely that you’ll come across a list where the album isn’t ranked at number one, it simply stands above all the rest. But why?

First and foremost, “Kind of Blue” is a masterpiece of improvisation. Miles Davis and his band, which included jazz icons like John Coltrane and Bill Evans, recorded the album in just two sessions, and much of it was improvised on the spot. The result is a sound that is both innovative and deeply emotional. It departs from Davis’s earlier hard bop jazz style, which featured intricate chord progressions and improvisation, and is instead entirely based on modality. Each musician was given a specific set of scales that defined the boundaries of their improvisation and personal style, resulting in a series of modal sketches comprising the entire album.

But “Kind of Blue” is more than just a technical achievement. It’s an album that captures the very essence of jazz – its soulful, melancholic beauty. From the opening notes of “So What” to the closing strains of “Flamenco Sketches,” the album takes the listener on a journey through the heart of jazz music.

2. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

There are few jazz albums as revered and influential as John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Released in 1965, it is widely regarded as not only one of the best jazz albums ever released but as one of the greatest albums in music history. From its spiritual themes to its innovative approach to improvisation, “A Love Supreme” remains a groundbreaking and enduring work of art

John Coltraneā€™s “A Love Supreme” is a transformative and deeply personal work that speaks to the heart of human experience. As a listener, I am drawn in by the raw emotion and spiritual depth of the album, which was released by Impulse! Records in 1965. Coltraneā€™s tenor saxophone playing is both virtuosic and soulful, conveying a sense of urgency and purpose that reflects his search for enlightenment.

The album is comprised of four parts: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.” Each part builds upon the previous one, forming a cohesive and emotionally impactful musical journey. The album’s themes revolve around Coltrane’s spiritual awakening and his desire to express his gratitude and devotion to a higher power.

3. Time Out – The Dave Brubeck Quartet

“Time Out”, the 1959 album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, is a landmark album in jazz history that transcends the boundaries of the genre. The album features a series of complex and innovative time signatures that were unusual for jazz at the time, and it has become one of the most beloved and essential jazz albums of all time.

The quartet includes Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. The album is characterized by the group’s use of unusual time signatures, for example the iconic “Take Five,” which is played in 5/4 time. “Take Five” is undoubtedly the album’s most famous track and has become a jazz standard in its own right. The track features an infectious melody that is both catchy and sophisticated, with Desmond’s alto saxophone taking the lead and Brubeck’s piano providing the rhythmic foundation.

“Time Out’s” influence on jazz and popular music cannot be overstated. The album paved the way for other jazz musicians to experiment with unusual time signatures and brought jazz to a wider audience.

4. Somethinā€™ Else – Cannonball Adderley

“Somethinā€™ Else,” the 1958 album by the legendary saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, is a staple of the jazz world. This album is a true masterpiece that stands the test of time with its unique sound and an all-star ensemble that includes Miles Davis on trumpet, Hank Jones on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Blakey on drums.

The title track “Somethinā€™ Else” is an absolute gem of a composition by Adderley, where the musicians blend hard bop and soulful blues to create an unforgettable sound. The track is a masterpiece in its own right. Apart from the title track, the album boasts some of the most iconic jazz tracks of the era. “Autumn Leaves” is a beautiful rendition of the classic jazz standard that showcases Adderley’s soulful playing, while “One for Daddy-O” is a groove-based piece that features the band’s effortless synergy and their ability to lock in tight.

The musicians on this album were at the top of their game, with Miles Davis’s legendary trumpet work being a standout feature. The interplay between Davis and Adderley is electrifying, and the two create a magical blend of sounds that are both breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

5. The Shape of Jazz to Come – Ornette Coleman

“The Shape of Jazz to Come” features Ornette Coleman’s unconventional approach to jazz and challenged the traditional notions of harmony, melody, and rhythm, and paved the way for the free jazz movement of the 1960s. The album features a quartet that includes Coleman on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. The quartet’s sound is raw and free-flowing, with Coleman’s unorthodox melodies and Cherry’s angular trumpet lines creating a sense of tension and release.

The title track, “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” is a stunning piece that showcases Coleman’s innovative approach to composition. The track features an unpredictable melody that is both chaotic and beautiful, with Coleman’s saxophone soaring above the rhythm section. Another standout track is “Lonely Woman,” a haunting ballad that has become one of Coleman’s most well-known compositions. The track features Coleman’s melancholic saxophone playing, with Haden’s bass providing a mournful accompaniment.

“The Shape of Jazz to Come” was not just a departure from the traditional jazz of the time; it was a revolution. Coleman’s music challenged the status quo and opened up new possibilities for the genre. His influence on the jazz world cannot be overstated, and his legacy continues to inspire generations of musicians.

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John Coltraneā€™s A Love Supreme

John Coltraneā€™s A Love Supreme is a transformative and deeply personal work that speaks to the heart of human experience. As a listener, I am drawn in by the raw emotion and spiritual depth of the album, which was released by Impulse! Records in 1965. Coltraneā€™s tenor saxophone playing is both virtuosic and soulful, conveying a sense of urgency and purpose that reflects his search for enlightenment. The albumā€™s four tracks form a suite that takes the listener on a journey of introspection and self-discovery, with each song building upon the last to create a powerful and cohesive narrative.

The opening track, ā€œAcknowledgment,ā€ is a soaring and uplifting composition that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Coltraneā€™s saxophone playing is full of energy and emotion, and his bandmates ā€“ pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones ā€“ provide a strong and supportive backdrop.

The second track, ā€œResolution,ā€ is a more contemplative piece that explores the theme of struggle and determination. Coltraneā€™s saxophone playing is still at the forefront, but the rest of the band is given more space to showcase their talents as well.

The third track, ā€œPursuance,ā€ is a lively and energetic piece that features some of Coltraneā€™s most impressive and intricate saxophone playing. The rhythm section keeps pace with Coltraneā€™s frenzied improvisations, creating a sense of tension and excitement that builds throughout the song.

The final track, ā€œPsalm,ā€ is a beautiful and meditative piece that serves as a prayer of thanks for Coltraneā€™s spiritual awakening. The song features a spoken-word section where Coltrane recites a poem that expresses his gratitude and devotion.

A Love Supreme is not only a jazz masterpiece but also a deeply personal and spiritual work that resonates with listeners of all backgrounds. John Coltrane’s exceptional talent and creativity are on full display in this album, which features complex harmonies, intricate rhythms, and breathtaking improvisations. However, it is the emotional intensity and spiritual depth of the music that makes A Love Supreme a transcendent experience.

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Spotlight on Coltrane: 5 Diverse Albums

John Coltrane started his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker and later Dizzy Gillespie. In 1954, he joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. During the second half of the nineteen-fifties, he rehearsed extensively with Thelonious Monk. By 1959 Coltrane mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically, and so he released Giant Steps.

The saxophonist continued to explore and develop. He took on numerous projects, collaborated with various jazz legends, and even composed a movie soundtrack. Each album he recorded is unique and spotlights Coltrane’s musical evolution. In this article, you’ll find five diverse albums by one of the most significant jazz musicians of all time.

John Coltraneā€™s Soultrane

Recorded in 1958 on Prestige Records

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

Coltraneā€™s legacy before moving to Atlantic Records in 1959 got well documented by Prestige. Soultrane is the best example of this. The album got described as a demonstration of Coltraneā€™s late nineteen-fifties ā€œsheet of soundā€ (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.

John Coltraneā€™s Giant Steps

Recorded in 1959 on Atlantic Records

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 Davisā€™ quintet in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davisā€™ 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 Blue. Giant 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

Recorded in 1962 on Impulse Records

In the early sixties, John Coltraneā€™s career and technical abilities peaked. For several years, he would release various historical jazz albums. The saxophonist 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. The album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane is a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

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

John Coltraneā€™s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Recorded in 1963 on Impulse Records

The recording was made one month after his collaboration with Duke Ellington was released and features Coltraneā€™s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. The recording got lost but surfaced in 2018.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got released in 2018 and features seven tunes from which two previously unissued tracks: Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386. The numbering refers to the identification system used in the studio by Bob Thiele. Aside from the standard one-disc version, also a two-disc deluxe edition containing several alternate takes got released. Spotlighted are the alternate takes of Impressions.

John Coltraneā€™s Blue World

Recorded in 1964 on Impulse Records

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third album to the list.

Blue World, recorded in theĀ Rudy Van Gelder StudioĀ on June 24 (1964,) is a composition for the movie:Ā Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964.) The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet. The album features two alternate takes on the song ā€œNaimaā€œ, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66.) Also notable are the three takes on his composition ā€œVillage Blues,ā€œ a song that was originally released on the studio albumĀ Coltrane JazzĀ withĀ Steve Davis on the bass. TheĀ Blue WorldĀ recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

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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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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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John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Another lost John Coltrane recording which recently got discovered is the album titled Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album. The album got recorded on March 6, 1963, in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. The recording got lost but surfaced in 2018. It was the family of his first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, who discovered the saxophonist’s personal copy.

The recording was made while under contract with Impulse Records and features Coltrane’s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. It was also with these musicians that he recorded the celebrated work A Love Supreme in 1964.

Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison

Why did we never hear the recording of Both Directions at Once before? The recording was never edited, mixed, or mastered into an album. It never got cataloged and, there was no cover art created. The tape simply was archived and never looked at again. So what happened?

Coltrane already released a session with Duke Ellington the month before, and the next day they had a session scheduled with Johnny Hartman. It is possible that both John Coltrane and Bob Thiele, the Head of Impulse Records, thought his other released albums of that period would supersede this one. There were not only the albums he released with Impulse Records to compete with. As Coltrane’s popularity peaked, his previous labels, Prestige and Atlantic, would release his old recordings. The album Dakar, recorded in 1957 and released by Prestige in 1963, is a good example of this.

Another speculation is that the track Impressions was still a work in progress and that Coltrane was not satisfied with the studio recordings of the song. Coltrane was patient and worked in phases. He carefully explored harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. The deluxe edition of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album features four alternate takes on the tune Impressions and, each take is different from the other. Later that year, he released the album titled Impressions. For that album, he is not using one of the studio takes. Instead, he uses a fourteen-minute-long version recorded live at the Village Vanguard jazz club in November 1961 (2 years earlier). This could indicate Coltrane was displeased with his attempt to record the song in the studio.

Why Impulse Records only released the album now and not, for example, after Coltrane’s passing in 1967, could have something to do with them having lost the original master tapes (hence the subtitle: The Lost album). The word goes around that they lost the tapes after merging with ABC-Dunhill and relocating their headquarters from New York to Los Angeles in 1968.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got released in 2018 and features seven tunes from which two previously unissued tracks: Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386. The numbering refers to the identification system used in the studio by Bob Thiele.

Aside from the standard one-disc version (left), also a two-disc deluxe edition containing several alternate takes got released (right). Spotlighted are the alternate takes of Impressions.

ā€œIn 1963, all these musicians are reaching some of the heights of their musical powers,ā€ said the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, John Coltraneā€™s son, who helped prepare Both Directions at Once for release. ā€œOn this record, you do get a sense of John with one foot in the past and one foot headed toward his future.ā€ – The New York Times

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Record companies often decided not to release studio recordings. In my article below, you can find other examples of old recordings that were released recently:

Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right.ā€¦

Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Debut Album: Afro Blue

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 vocalist was only 23 years old when she recorded the album in Tokyo. The album got released in 1974 on the Japanese label Trio Records (PA-7095). It got reissued a couple of times on different labels and exclusively in Japan, which made it a long sought-after item for record collectors. In 2020, the record label Mr Bongo partnered with Trio Records and released the album on vinyl in the United Kingdom on June 19. 

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 Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria originally recorded Afro Blue in 1959 and, the song became the first jazz standard built upon the African 3:2 cross-rhythm called hemiola. The composition got released on Santamaria’s album Mongo (Fantasy, 1959). The recording, however, is instrumental and lyrics were added later that year.

SongwriterĀ Oscar Brown Jr. is the creative hand behind the lyrics you hear in Dee Dee Bridgewater’s version. The lyrics were added to Mongo Santamaria’s original and got initially recorded by Abbey Lincoln, who released the song including lyrics, on her fourth studio album titled Abbey Is Blue.

Apart from Dee Dee Bridgewater and Abbey Lincoln, various other musicians recorded and released the song. Among them, Cal Tjader (who recorded with Mongo Santamaria), Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu (who bring a contemporary version with altered lyrics), and Roberta Flack (who using Coltrane’s arrangement of the songs).

John Coltrane performed his arrangement of Afro Blue in 1963 together with Elvin Jones (drums), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and McCoy Tyner (piano) at the Birdland jazz club in New York. This is the same quartet with whom he recorded the albums CrescentA Love Supreme, and Blue World the following year. The song recording got released on the album Live At Birdland (Impulse Records, 1964).

Here are videos of live recordings of Afro Blue by Mongo Santamaria and John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s full album is available for stream via YouTube.

Mongo Santamaria – Afro Blue
John Contrane – Afro Blue
Dee Dee Bridgewater – Afro Blue – Full Album

Youthful Enthusiasm: The Cooker by Lee Morgan

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 the greatest hard bop trumpeter in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was also his mentor. He hired the 18-year-old Lee Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band. Morgan’s solo work was spotlighted during the many live performances of A Night In Tunisia, a Gillespie original and signature of bebop. The Cooker opens with this song, and his solo for this album is claimed to be the best recording of Morgan’s career.

Aside from performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Morgan also recorded in the studio during that time. He recorded several albums with jazz icons Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. His most notable work is the recording of Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1957 (Blue Note 1577), which got recorded in the same studio, and only 2 weeks before Morgan recorded The Cooker.

In 1958, Gillespie’s band split, and Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers where he continued to develop his talents, now mainly as a composer. He brought a new potential to the band as they returned to Blue Note and released the jazz standard Moanin’ (composed by Bobby Timmons).

The Cooker got recorded in the Van Gelder Studio on September 29, 1957. It was the fifth Blue Note recording of the young trumpeter as a leader. He got the support from bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, who he knew from the Blue Train recordings two weeks earlier. Pepper Adams joins on the baritone saxophone, and Bobby Timmons sits behind the piano during this vigorous recording session.

The album (BLP 1578) got released in March the following year. It features five tracks including A Night In Tunisia (D. Gillespie), Heavy Dipper (L. Morgan), Just One Of Those Things (C. Porter), Lover Man (R. Ramirez), and New-Ma (L. Morgan).

In April 2020 the album got reissued as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series (Blue Note 81578). An initiative from Blue Note Records President Don Was. It’s a reissue series of all-analog vinyl records mastered from the original master tapes.

Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right. Live recordings nobody knew existed surfaced decades later and were released to continue the musician’s legacy.

Here are five unissued jazz recordings that were released recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Blue Note Records

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolinā€™ was released in 2020.

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Recorded in 1964 – Released 2020 / Impulse Records

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his fatherā€™s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his fatherā€™s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

Tony Allen And Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

Recorded 2010 – Released 2020 / World Circuit Records

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and drummer Tony Allen met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ā€™70). In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter.

The recording remained unfinished and got stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekelaā€™s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The album got released in 2020.

John Coltrane ā€Žā€“ Blue World

Recorded 1964 – Released 2019 / Impulse Records

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcomed. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year. 

The recording was commissioned for the film Le Chat Dans Le Sac and after the movie was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

The album features two alternate takes on the song ā€œNaimaā€œ, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition ā€œVillage Bluesā€œ, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet ā€“ Time OutTakes

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Brubeck Editions

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies.

Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo Ć  la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

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Just Coolin’ With Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective. Originally founded and led by drummer Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers knew many changes. “Stability can be elusive forā€¦

Thelonious Monk At His Best – Palo Alto

In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert got recorded and now, more than 50 yearsā€¦

John Coltrane’s Blue World

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly, thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlookedā€¦