Changing Hands has asked me to come over and teach a class called “Jazz for Beginners”. I’ve decided to rename it “How to Build Your Jazz Collection”.
Let me say first off that while I am a huge jazz fan, and while I have built a pretty decent collection over my twenty plus years in record stores, there are undoubtedly thousands of people that know more about the genre. What I am saying is that I am not an expert. However, I do know a little… and I know what I like.
So essentially, if you are looking for a history of jazz, this isn’t the place. If you want to hear some pointers from a record store geek about getting into jazz and building a collection, read on.
As I was thinking about how to do this little seminar (which, by the way, takes place in about four hours), I decided that it would be best to follow the same logical progression as I would in the store when someone says “I want to get into jazz… what do you recommend?”.
Here we go.
Ask basic questions. The first thing to do is figure out what you do know by asking yourself some questions:
- What sort of jazz, if any, have you heard?
- Have you heard any specific jazz CDs or artists that you really liked?
- Are there certain instruments that you really like?
- Is there a tempo or style that you prefer?
- Is there any jazz you have heard that you don’t like?
- Do you like instrumental, or vocal, or both?
Follow the answers for a basic plan. So, you think you are a bebop fan and you really like the trumpet? That’s easy. Try some Dizzy. You don’t like it when jazz gets all “crazy”? Me neither… so free jazz may not be the place for you. Anyway, you get my point. You might think you don’t know much, but by taking an inventory of what you do know… you can get started down the right path.
Look for affordable classics. If you’ve spent twelve seconds with me in the store, you know I love those getting a lot of bang for my buck with music. Luckily, there are lots of ways to do that in the jazz genre.
First off, ask your local record store geek about cheap new classic jazz CDs. At the end of my rambling, I am going to list a few of my favorite classic jazz CDs that you can buy new for twelve bucks or less (and some stuff I am going to play today at CH). There are an amazing amount of deals. In fact, there are so many cheap classics out there, it becomes hard to recommend the more expensive contemporary jazz artists.
Second, buy used jazz. Thanks to the cool neighborhood we live in, and our penchant for the music, we have lots of used jazz CDs. They are cheap and guaranteed. Oh yeah, when you buy a used CD at Hoodlums… and you don’t like it… you have two weeks to exchange it.Â So try, try, try some jazz.
Finally, think about investing in a turntable. If you want to talk about getting affordable classics in any genre, you can always find some great deals on vinyl. This is especially true if you don’t mind looking through our “bargain basement” used stuff.
Start with the heavyweight champions of jazz. Coltrane, Miles, Bird, Louie, Billie. If you have heard of them, there’s probably a reason. So ask your questions, figure out what you like, do your homework, and then start obvious. You can get cooler and more diverse as you go. As it is, the classics are usually about as cool as cool comes anyway (I still listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as much as anything in my collection), and in most cases, they are cheap.
Follow the artists that show up as sidemen. I always start people with Kind of Blue, because the guys who play on it are all heavyweight champs in their own right. Coltrane on tenor; Cannonball Adderley on Alto; Bill Evans on piano… even jazz rookies have heard of those guys. Once hear the sax boys soloing on that album, and you read the liner notes (which is essential on Kind of Blue), you are going to want to get Cannonball’s Somethin’ Else or Everybody Loves Bill Evans. The next thing you know – you’ve got a collection.
Talk about jazz with geeks like me. The saying goes “Don’t get Steve started”. Unless, of course… you want to talk about it. Then, I can be a decent asset. I will play stuff for you… and ask tons of questions… and get to the bottom of your jazz needs. Then I will set you up. But I’m not the only one who can do it.Â Talk to Kristian, who is massively diverse in the ways of jazz. Talk to Joe, who can take you to the fringes of the jazz world (and probably teach a class in jazz history). Can’t make it to Hoodlums? Find the indie record store in your area
Dig deeper into the types of jazz you like best. Once you know you like something… get into it. I love that swingin’, hard-bop sound, so once I started listening to albums on the Blue Note label, I was hooked. I wrote another article about Blue Note (The Blue Note That Will Always Stay), so I won’t go into it… but my point is that when building a jazz collection, you should go with the flow.
Use KJZZ andÂ the Internet to help expand your pallet. We love Blaze and the gang at 91.5 KJZZ. They play great jazz, including tons of new stuff and classics, and they do it every night. It’s a great place for enjoying jazz, as well as learning about it.
When it comes to music on the internet, the first place I turn is allmusic.com. I get to the artist page, which includes bio, as well as links to similar artists, band members, and influences, and then I go to the discography for recommendations. Go ahead, try it for Herbie Hancock. While you won’t agree with everything their critics say, in my opinion they are usually right on (and generally positive).
Trade in some of your unused stuff for some new jazz. Bring in your old CDs, DVDs, or vinyl. We’ll give you trade credit while you browse the jazz section, or look at the Penguin Guide to Jazz, or listen to some stuff on the used turntable or CD player.
Have some fun. Wow, that’s the same thing I tell my Little Leaguers. C’mon… we’re talking about listening to music here, so it can’t be hard to do. Once you get into jazz – it can be pretty addicting.
Anyway, that’s a start. Good luck.
Steve’s List of Albums for Your New Jazz Collection
Since I have already talked about Kind of Blue, and I wrote a full list of Blue Note titles in the blog, I’ll skip those on the list (but it is an amazing list of albums… so please check it out). Like the Blue Note titles, these are all twelve bucks or less on CD.
John Coltrane. Giant Steps. (Atlantic). A long time ago when I was asking the questions, I asked one of my old jazz customers at the Wherehouse. I had enjoyed David Sanborn and some of the “rock” saxophone guys, and I wanted some “real jazz”, as I put it. He told me to start with Kind of Blue and this album. He was right on.
John Coltrane. Love Supreme. (Impulse) Coltrane is good enough to warrant two picks. He pushed the envelope all the time, so different labels have different types of stuff. This one is his tribute to the creator.
Miles Davis. Workin‘ (Prestige). If Coltrane deserves two; so does Miles. This is the famous Miles quintet, which includes Coltrane anyway.
Dave Brubeck. Time Out. (Columbia). You’ve probably heard this… especially the classic song “Take Five”. While obvious to jazz nuts, it’s essential to beginners.
Eddie McCann and Les Harris. Live at Montreaux. (Atlantic) Wicked, swingin’ jazz from a great band in a neutral country. Also mentioned in the Fine Art of Gutting Your Collection article. Read the great story on this album in 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (which we sell at the store).
Charles Mingus. Ah Um. (Columbia). His first album for Columbia is full of modern jazz classics, and has inspired countless jazz musicians. Better Git it in Your Soul.
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Best of Louie and Ella. (Verve) Speaking of inspiring generations, when it comes to jazz, Louis Armstrong might be the all-time great, and Ella Fitzgerald isn’t far behind. There are tons of albums I could recommend for these two, but this little compilation is a place to start… and a good representation of their three albums together.
Various Artists. Blue Breakbeats Volume 1. (Blue Note) Yeah, I know I said I wasn’t going to re-cover Blue Note. But just in case you don’t want to go to the other blog, I wanted to say that if you want jammin’, movin’ jazz, Blue Note is the place. This is a fantastic compilation of artists from the label dubbed the “most sampled” of any in the land.
Wes Montgomery. Talkin’ Verve: The Roots of Acid Jazz (Verve) I love jazz guitar (see Grant Green ramblings on the Blue Note blog). I love Wes (who Grant emulated). This compilation (and other Talkin’ Verve comps) brings together his fast-paced, groovin’ best. Plus at 9.99, it is super affordable. Try his older stuff as well.
Charlie Parker. The Essential Charlie Parker. (Verve). Bird is one of those dudes that revolutionized the genre. There’s so many great compilations and albums that it is hard to know where to start. This one is cheap and good, so let’s start here.
Thelonious Monk. Monk’s Music. (Fantasy). Great lineup. Amazing musician and composer. Killer album. Like all the artists on the list, it’s one of those “where do you start” situations when recommending.
I’d like to include Oscar Peterson, Oliver Nelson, or Diana Krall, but their CDs are more than twelve bucks. I realize that I’m missing free jazzers like Sun Ra or Ornette Coleman, but that’s not really my specialty (again, try Joe and Kristian at the store), so while I own some titles, they aren’t “favorite” enough to include.
Like I said, it’s just the affordable stuff I love… and even then I could keep going for quite a while. But I have to stop now, and get ready to teach a class. Have a great day.
Feel free to hit me with questions in the store. Enjoy your collecting.