Teach me about Jazz!
November 16, 2010 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me get into (and navigate) the world of Jazz.

I love jazz, mainly Swing, Ragtime, Big Band, and Gypsy Jazz. Basically all the stuff from the 20's to the 50's. The thing is, I mostly know big names from that time. I'd love to know more about other artists from that period that are worth hearing. The other problem is that even for the artists I already know, I just have various songs here and there. I decided I'd like to actually own some albums and learning more about their music. However, trying to find my way around the recordings has been a byzantine nightmare.

This is a pretty long question, so I'll try to break it into parts. There are three things that I want, basically:
  • To find out more about the artists I already know and like, what their must-have recordings are, and what other interesting work they've done that I might not know about.
  • To find out about other artists from that time that I haven't heard yet.
  • Recommendations on what recordings to get. What are your favorite records by these artists and why?
I've checked out these previous threads already, and while there's a lot of great information in them, they don't seem to cover the eras I'm looking for, and for the most part they don't cover specific recordings, just names.

I love music, but most of the music I listen to is contemporary, where it's easy to get started by buying an album. Even classical music, you buy based on the performer. Easy enough. This does not seem to be the case at all with Jazz. All the stuff I like was before the idea of the album, so it seems like it's mostly just assorted recordings from different times that are collected. It seems like the record companies just constantly create new collections and put out new albums to maximize profits, with no regard to actually expanding their listeners. Even the artists I like, I have no idea where to start, which albums are definitive. With Ella, there are a few albums that I've seen regarded as must-own, but after that it's as confusing as anyone else. Same with Louis Armstrong and Etta James. I really want to listen to more, but it's utterly confusing.

Example: Recently I wanted to get a Billie Holiday album, so I went to Amazon to browse. There were over a hundred albums and sets, many with overlapping songs. Not only that, it was difficult to tell which version of a song was on any particular album, when it was sung, who it was sung with, etc. One opinion from a review I read said the Columbia years are better than the Verve years, but that was just one person's opinion. Are the Verve years still worth it? What makes them different? What's the difference between these five albums that all seem really similar? Do I have to buy all of these to have all the songs that I want? Which one am I even supposed to start with aaaaahhh

And then I closed the window and didn't get anything. Nor was I inclined to try again anytime soon. It feels like you have to know someone already into Jazz to get into it, which is why I turn to all you wonderful people.

Artists I already like that I'd love to know more about:

( With a few exceptions, most of these artists I only have a handful of songs by, and I'd like to get more but don't really know where to start )
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Benny Goodman
  • Count Basie
  • Billie Holliday
  • Oscar Peterson
  • Stan Getz
  • Diane Schuur
  • Scott Joplin
  • Nat King Cole
  • Django Reinhardt
  • Henry "Red" Allen
Artists I've heard about but haven't really listened to, and don't know at all where to start:
  • Duke Ellington
  • Cab Calloway
  • Charlie Christian
  • Glen Miller
  • Fats Waller
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Art Tatum
  • Bix Beiderbecke
  • Artie Shaw
  • Chet Baker
  • Dizzie Gillespie
If there's an overlooked artist from around this time, I'd love to hear about them. I'd love to know more about female vocalists of the time, as well as any standout musicians.

I know I'm asking a lot, and any answer is appreciated, no matter how small, if it's just a single song or album recommendation or an interesting fact or tidbit. For as much as I love jazz I feel like there is so much I don't know about it. Thanks to you all in advance!
posted by wander to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I was in a similar situation recently, and picking up the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings gave me a much better idea of where to start with any given artist.

Some particular artists you mention:
- Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives and Sevens will show up in pretty much any top-20-of-all-time list. 3 CD set.
- Django Reinhardt: Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order has possibly more Django than you really want, but at $18 for 5 CDs it's pretty hard to pass up.
- Duke Ellington: Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band is a complete survey (3 CDs) of one of his classic periods.
- Chet Baker: I love the quartet with Gerry Mulligan. This is a 2 CD set of everything they did but there's a 1-CD best-of too.

As you note, before 1950 there really aren't any albums, which usually ends up meaning that the best deal on any individual artist is some box set that collects lots of stuff, which is a little more to bite off at once than a single record. All of the above sets are relatively cheap, though.
posted by dfan at 8:41 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Louis Armstrong - The Hot Fives, Vol. I + The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens, Vol. II

Oscar Peterson & Harry Edison (they're from your time period, but this was recorded in the '70s

Django Reinhardt - The Best of Django Reinhardt (Blue Note)

Charlie Christian - The Genius of the Electric Guitar (the one CD, not the box set with the same title)

I've listened to all of those countless times; they never get old.

Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian (who played with Benny Goodman) are considered the original pioneers of the guitar, so I'm glad you mentioned both of them.

The Christian album should be all you need from him. There are larger box sets, but they contain a lot of lower-quality recordings and outtakes. He didn't record much, since he died at 25.

I recommend buying the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. Don't analyze your choices to death; use Penguin's recommendations as a shortcut. You don't get a prize for having the best jazz collection imaginable. The time you spend thinking about 20 albums you haven't heard could be spent listening closely to one great album; which is more worthwhile?
posted by John Cohen at 8:42 PM on November 16, 2010

I think the Allmusic Guide is a great start for questions like this. Their Jazz page looks like it has a lot to keep you occupied. Scroll down for links to individual artist and album pages. The artist pages also have tabs for individual songs, and for song highlights. The recommended ones have an -R- next to them, and, at least for most classic jazz songs, individual reviews.

Or you can just type in some artist names on the main page. Either way, you should go to Allmusic.com and go nuts.
posted by charleskinbote at 8:46 PM on November 16, 2010

You've got a great list already started, and I'm sure you will get lots of suggestions of specific recordings. As far as some additional vocalists, off the top of my head:

Ethel Waters
Mildred Bailey
Lena Horne
Maxine Sullivan
Anita O'Day
Jo Stafford
Connie Boswell
Lee Wiley

As far as building your collection, the number of reissues and repackaging is overwhelming. When I was just getting into early jazz, a knowledgeable friend turned me on to the JSP box sets, particularly those mastered by R.T. Davies, as who does the mastering in the reissue can make a huge difference in what it sounds like. The JSP box sets were inexpensive ($25) for the amount of music, and they have great collections of Louis, Jelly Roll Morton, Django....

A couple years ago Proper also started putting out inexpensive box sets, and while they aren't, IMO, as good sound quality wise, I think again the price is right and they are great introductions to the musicians of the era. They also come with fat educational booklets.

Hope that helps!
posted by snowymorninblues at 8:47 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because Ella and Louis are at the top of your list, I have to recommend this box set. I picked it up at a used CD store probably 15 years ago, and I still play it all the time and absolutely adore it.

Coltrane for sure. Another of my favorite jazz recordings is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, which includes Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life. There's a great book about Strayhorn, which is also a good introduction to the world of Duke Ellington. If you get a few Ellington recordings, then start exploring the recordings made by people who played in his bands you'll find a bunch of great stuff.

And don't neglect Thelonious Monk.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:00 PM on November 16, 2010

On preview this is a mess, but it's late and I have to do some other stuff. Sorry.

Well...as it says in the Wikipedia article, Louis Armstrong was really important because he was one of the first ones to shift jazz into a form that supported individual improvisation over the collective improvisation style that came before. To put it another, really simplistic (but probably true) way, Charlie Parker never would have happened if it wasn't for Louis Armstrong. The swing era after Louis Armstrong was a period where there were big bands supporting individual singers and improvisors, and so that's the era of the great band leaders, most notably Duke Ellington...although most people consider Ellington in a class of his own, considering his musical sophistication and achievements (and let's not forget his partnership with Billy Strayhorn; many of Duke's most famous pieces were written by Strayhorn). But among those bandleaders of that era you will find the folks like Cab Calloway, Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, and one of my favorites, Count Basie (who you mentioned).

You also mention two earlier pianists in your second list, Jelly Roll Morton and Art Tatum. Art Tatum was known as a particularly virtuosic performer, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He's particularly known for his ability in stride piano playing, for example his magnificent, harmonically advanced and technically astounding Tiger Rag. It's suggested he had a pretty big influence on Oscar Peterson, a similarly prodigiously gifted pianist, who is often compared to him. Speaking of stride piano, it is what evolved out of the earlier ragtime, and Jelly Roll Morton is a very important figure in that transition. I myself have always found Thelonious Monk's later "version" of stride piano to be the most interesting, as he uses really unique harmonic transitions and voicings, and will put whole and diminished scales on top of that...but I digress into jazz technique geekery.

Um, Thelonious Monk is also relevant because he is one of Dizzy Gillespie's contemporaries, and is considered one of the early adherents of be-bop. Which Dizzy is credited as being one of the creators of. I've heard it said that when Charlie Parker was noodling around Dizzy was busy transcribing the crazy stuff Bird was playing...and speaking of Charlie Parker, to go backwards once more, you can trace Charlie Parker right back to the big band era, specifically Lester Young—it's often said many Charlie Parker solos are just Lester Young's playing sped up. And Lester Young you may be familiar with if you like Billie Holiday; they had a close musical relationship, and have a really famous late performance together...check it out (Lester Young is the second sax player, he plays a very chill, awesome solo, using like five notes or something).

Okay, I meant to be systematic about this but I think I'm incapable of that without writing a paper, and there are better writers out there anyways. So, ah, I would suggest starting with Duke, and picking up a "best of." If you want to investigate be-bop, you can't go too wrong with most of the sorts of early Dizzy and most any Charlie Parker. Later Dizzy is great too but he moves in a different direction, getting more latin stuff in there.

Okay, and a random plug for a later composer, bandleader and sax player who you may like based on all of this...check out Oliver Nelson, in particular the album Blues and the Abstract Truth. I'm a big fan of the piece Stolen Moments, in part because it has a awesome Eric Dolphy flute solo, and he is one of my favorites...

Well, I hope this was helpful...honestly, you've got a lot of other great suggestions in this thread, but if you decide you want to investigate one of those folks in particular, drop me a line, I can recommend favorite albums. I also am much more knowledgable about the period between 1950 and about 1970 or so, so if you want to memail me about that feel free...but otherwise I'll write all night and I don't have the time!
posted by dubitable at 9:01 PM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I worked my way through the Blue Note Records collection, and I luves me some Jazz.

And what @Balonious Assult said. Monk and Coltrane.
posted by kjs3 at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2010

Surely others will fill in some of your big-picture questions soon enough, but here I'll just suggest a couple of albums to look for based on the interests you describe. As you probably know, American jazz made a transition throughout the '50s from large to small groups. If you want a sense of what swing can sound like with a piano quartet, check out the early albums by Dave Brubeck. There are several versions on different labels, but the album titles are something like Jazz at the College of the Pacific and feature a different rhythm section from the quartet that went to international fame a few years after. In later interviews, Brubeck has acknowledged that of all versions of his quartet over the years, this one swung the hardest.

You'll also want a copy of Duke Ellington's 1956 live Ellington at Newport album (the newer Columbia reissue comes on two discs). The 14+minute version of "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue," which features horn player Paul Gonsalves, practically caused a riot, which you can hear in the background as the piece goes along. Really, I can't think of a better example of what big-band swing could be towards the end of the era you identify, before the groups got smaller, and jazz often became more cerebral, more pretentious, and less danceable. As you can guess, not trends I'm a huge fan of....
posted by 5Q7 at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2010

Okay, on review I think my first post is maybe not very helpful or confusing at the least and does a poor job of answering your question. So, I'm going to try to be brief but try to answer your question, focusing on the folks from the second list that you mentioned wanting to know more about.

First of all, I would say start with Duke Ellington, he is fantastically important in the history of jazz. One of my former professors, an Ellington nerd through and through, was really fond of this collection if I recall correctly: Beyond Category. It pulls the highlights from his entire ouevre. So check that one out.

With Dizzy Gillespie, he is the "last" person in terms of jazz history you mention, so I'm going to guess you'll be more into his early stuff, which should give you a good taste of be-bop to see if you like it. You might try this one, which has some of the great be-bop tunes of the era (I've always loved "Groovin' High" and "Salt Peanuts" in particular).

This may be the canonical Chet Baker album. I've never been a huge fan of his, but that's the one people point to.

I think that one of the problems you're encountering is that, as you noticed, many artists have their work re-packaged over and over again and it is confusing as hell trying to figure out what is what. Frankly, for someone like Billie Holiday (who may be the worst example of this), you'd do best by following John Cohen's suggestion to pick up something like the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, and also his advice to not overthink it. Seriously, what has to happen for you is that you have to make some jumps, pick up some random stuff based on who you like, and not worry about it too much. That was sort of what I was trying to get at with my first post. It really *is* about following performers through their careers and seeing who you like and when you like them and what you like hearing them play. There's a big difference, for example, between the Coltrane of the late 50s and the Coltrane of the mid 60s before he died; but there isn't much way around it other than picking it up and listening to it. I recommend seeing if your local library has copies of this stuff, and going to town—just get whatever you can find by whoever you are interested in and then see what instrumentalists or singers you may have liked on those albums, and try to find their stuff too. But do read up on it too, you'll get a lot of mileage out of that.

Finally, I will add one other way to try to find music: the songs, and the songwriters. Jazz history is to a large degree the history of particular pieces. Try listening to every version of Stella By Starlight you can find, for example, and you'll learn a lot about both what you like, who you like, and when you like 'em. Okay, I can feel myself about to go off on another tangent so I'll stop there. I hope overall I've been helpful, and again, send me a message if you want more.
posted by dubitable at 9:55 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait, really?

No one has mentioned Miles Davis yet?!
(the birth of cool! the king of bebop! the sultan of swing? the sultan of swing!)


At least in my mind, here a few of my favourite "classic recordings" that no jazz library should be without:

Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives and Sevens
Ella Fitzgerald: singing Mack the Knife in Berlin, singing the Cole Porter Songbook
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, Sketches of Spain
John Coltrane: Live at the Village Vanguard, Blue Trane, with Duke Ellington, A Love Supreme
Thelonius Monk: Monk
Charlie Mingus: Tonight at Noon
Bird and Diz
Stan Getz and Tom Jobim
posted by chicago2penn at 10:42 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lots of good links here. I'll be referring back to this post for a long time, thanks. Also, your preference for the 20's to the 50's fits right into the excellent KUOW radio show The Swing Years and Beyond, available online. You might also check out Ken Wylie's show The Art of Jazz on KPLU; unfortunately, you have to catch him broadcasting live Sunday afternoons in/around Seattle or online. Both shows also post playlists, which should be a rich source of inspiration. Good luck!
posted by sapere aude at 11:20 PM on November 16, 2010

Sorry. I can't let you just shrug off the jazz of the 1950s. That'd be like discussing rock'n'roll and ignoring the 1960s.

Start here.
posted by philip-random at 12:02 AM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Start here.

Sorry, I neglected to point out that that's a link to the top albums of the 1950s, period. Please note that most of them are the work of (so-called) jazz artists.
posted by philip-random at 12:06 AM on November 17, 2010

Give Betty Carter a listen. I particularly like her early albums, two of which (The Modern Sound of Betty Carter and Out There with Betty Carter) are available as the ABC compilation "I Can't Help It". Betty Carter takes the old standards we know from Billie, Ella et al and reinvents them with the help of a late 50s bop ensemble featuring players like Wynton Kelly and Sam Jones. I bought this a few years ago and it still gets regular plays--the upbeat numbers are a real pick me up.
posted by Lorin at 1:53 AM on November 17, 2010

This CD is definitely worth a penny plus postage.
posted by K.P. at 4:18 AM on November 17, 2010

Watch Ken Burns' Jazz, which is a decent overview of jazz from its origins until the 1950s; it doesn't spend much time on modern, post '60s jazz. There are 22 companion single-artist compilation albums, which are good because they cover the artists' work across record labels.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:18 AM on November 17, 2010

Wholeheartedly seconding JSP box sets (Full Catalog) for your Louis, Django, Fats and Bix for a more depth-than-breadth approach.

Based on your list might I also recommend their Eddie Lang/Joe Venuti box set. Jazz guitar and violin. So good!

I recommend using google to cross reference any of the artists from your 'curious' list with any of the artists from your first list. Therefore, Ella sings Duke, Satch plays Fats, etc.

Also, keep track of who's playing backup for who and use that as a method for discovery. If you enjoy Nat King Cole as a vocalist, try his earlier stuff as a pianist. For example, Lester Young Trio - a dream team of Lester Young, Nat King Cole, and Buddy Rich.

There are also a lot of contemporary musicians playing in the style of the 20s through 50s, playing standards and original material. Try Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Red Hook Ramblers, and The Moonlighters.
posted by marco_nj at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2010

And if you don't want to buy all the excellent records mentioned above, you could listen to KCSM radio. Here's their playlist.

KCSM apparently has the second largest jazz collection in the country (after Rutgers') since they acquired KJAZ's collection.
posted by phliar at 2:28 PM on November 17, 2010

Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all are amazing, and this is definitely a case where I consider every answer the best answer. This is fantastic information, definitely enough to get started.

A quick note: Ignore the order of the list. It's not in any particular order. While Ella and Louis would be at the top were I to actually arrange it, Django would be too. There isn't any preference or logic in how it is right now.

Now for individual replies:


Thanks! I had no idea about those sets, and as someone who basically stopped buying CD's since I felt they were too expensive, seeing the price on these was a pleasant surprise. I'm definitely getting Hot Fives and Sevens, and the Django set as well (and maybe even an extra copy of both later as gifts). I absolutely love Django, so there's almost no such thing as too much. There's a follow-up question for both you and John Cohen below, so please read that too.

John Cohen:

Thanks for the recommendations! I'll definitely be picking some of those up. I appreciate the Oscar Peterson rec, too. I love the stuff of his I've heard, and I know that most of his stuff was recorded after the era I like, so I was hoping I'd still get a rec about his stuff despite that.

Regarding overanalysis: What you say is very true. I have a tendency to overanalyze things (and I'm on metafilter, what a surprise!), so it's something I have to remind myself not to do. However, I think I'm just worried about getting a mediocre record or a collection of unremarkable songs put out as a cash-in. With recommendations it's much less of an issue, but starting from scratch like I am, it's hard not to be anxious about what to pick.

To both dfan and John Cohen, one quick follow-up question. The Penguin book looks great, and I was set to order it, but one of the reviews seemed to make an interesting point, saying:
The first type of a guide book is a guide book for people who are new to Jazz and would like to learn where to begin and which records to buy in order to establish a modest collection of key recordings and recordings that are good introductions to jazz. The penguin guide will not serve this purpose well for several reasons. First, there is not much information on the artists themselves, their style, and even of a more basic level, what styles are there in jazz and how do they differ. It is more like a catalogue of reviews. Second, the authors are very experienced Jazz fans and it shows. Normally, people start listening to jazz after being introduced to relatively accessible artists such as Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and the like. Often, their taste develops over the years and they tend to focus more on avant-garde, complex recordings. This is definitely the case with the authors, who show a strong tendency to recommend complex and demanding works which are not suitable for beginners. For example, in order to help new comers, the authors list "core recordings" which should be in every basic collection, but include in this core collection artists like Cecil Taylor, who is a great pianist, but not very accessible. Charming albums which are great but undemanding get lower ratings. I think an album should be judged for what it is and how good it is in it's genre and compared to the other albums of the artist in question, but this is not what the Penguin Guide does. So, if you are a newcomer, this book is absolutely not for you. Try allmusic's guide to jazz or the rough guide instead.
From this review.

This is a pretty big red flag for me, as that description describes me pretty accurately. I'm still pretty new to this. I like and want accessible, and that's one of the reasons I don't like modern Jazz. Do you think this book is still worthwhile as a resource for a beginner?


Thanks for the Allmusic recommendation. That seems like a great place to start, and I'll definitely be using it!


Thanks much for the additional vocalists. Out of all the ones you mentioned, I've only heard of a few, so I'm excited to check them out. Thanks too for the tips on the box sets. I'll be looking into both of them.

Balonious Assault:

Ooh, that box set looks great! Thanks for the other recommendations as well.


Wow. Thank you so much! No need to apologize, both of your comments are fantastic as is, a very informative and digestable summary. I'll definitely look into the artists and albums you mentioned, and I may take you up on sending you additional questions, once I've had the time to actually form some! I don't know how long it took for you to write your comments, but I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. (I'd love to read any paper you wrote about Jazz, if you did happen to write one :) )

Also, as for following songs, that's one of the things I love about Jazz, how everyone's got a different take on it, how you can listen to so many different versions of the same song and how they're all beautiful in their own way. It really gives Jazz that community feel, like the music belongs to everyone in a way. Most of the Jazz standards I love I couldn't even tell you who originally wrote it, and there's something I find beautiful about that.


Thank you so much for the album suggestions. I love the danceable Jazz too, so I'm very excited to look into the albums you mentioned.


Heh. I've heard that's the canonical Jazz album, but for some reason I haven't gotten around to listening to it. I'll try to amend that.

Thanks for all the other recs too, those look pretty enticing.

sapere aude:

Ooh, radio stations. Once I've managed to get through the bounty of recordings I've been recommended here, I'll check those out! I'll also keep them bookmarked for when I'm out and about or in an internet cafe.


I'm definitely not shrugging off the jazz of the 50's. When I say 20's through the 50's, that includes the 50's, so no worries. It's not a strict cutoff, too, I do like things outside of that era, but it's much fewer and far between. I'd be open to any suggestions you'd have outside of there. That list looks great, and I'll definitely refer back to it, so thank you sharing it.


Ooh, that sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation!


So ordered. Thanks!


I figured someone would mention Ken Burns at some point. I have been meaning to watch it, as I've heard good things. The issue is tracking it down first, and at this point the idea of watching an entire miniseries is a little daunting. Still, if I can manage to get it from the library I'll give it a shot.


Thank you for both the recommendations and the ideas! I will pay closer attention to who is playing with who.


Thanks! I'll bookmark that site as well.

Okay, once again, thank you all so much. This is more information than I imagined, and it will definitely keep me occupied for a long while. Still, any more recommendations are more than welcome. I'll try to post again later on after I've had the chance to give some of these things a listen.
posted by wander at 8:01 PM on November 17, 2010

I've gone through a few different jazz phases, and right now I'm in a long-standing time of listening to precisely the type of jazz you're talking about. And it's because I'm a swing dancer and DJ.

Right now I get most of my music through downloading, mostly on eMusic but sometimes through Amazon. Both of those let you preview, so you can get some idea of what you like, what's quality, what's actually the same track in different places, &c. And I definitely suggest checking out Jazz On-line, where you can download from a huge collection of DRM-free, public domain old-time jazz.

For this reason and because much of this was before the album, I'm not sure what CD recommendations would be best. Still, I have a few for you (all from my own collection).

Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert
The Very Best of Benny Goodman
Anthology of Big Band Swing (I was given this as a gift shortly after I started dancing, and I keep coming back to it years later to find great songs to play)
Fats Waller - Thru the 30s, Volume One and Volume Two
Jelly Roll Morton - The Very Best Of
The Art of Bix Beiderbecke (I just bought this at the Louisiana Music Factory and am excited about it. I also suggest Bix and Tram, with Frankie Trumbauer.)

Woo, all this and I haven't touched all the artists you mention, let alone ones you didn't (unless you count Trumbauer) or contemporary artists upholding the tradition. I could go on and on, but I'm a bit tired and I don't want to bore. Feel free to memail me for more.

Also, check out an excellent post about building a great jazz collection for less than $100, written by a friend and excellent dancer/teacher/DJ.
posted by ymendel at 8:18 PM on November 17, 2010

wander, I'm glad you found my posts useful, and I just wanted to say:

Also, as for following songs, that's one of the things I love about Jazz, how everyone's got a different take on it, how you can listen to so many different versions of the same song and how they're all beautiful in their own way. It really gives Jazz that community feel, like the music belongs to everyone in a way. Most of the Jazz standards I love I couldn't even tell you who originally wrote it, and there's something I find beautiful about that.

I think that is really eloquent how you put it, and I totally agree and feel exactly the same way. Right on.
posted by dubitable at 8:36 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can get a good feel for how much jazz evolved from the 1920s to 1950s by listening to jazz pianists of that era. There are a number of jazz pianists from this juncture that you should absolutely listen to, each with highly distinctive playing styles, including:

Earl Hines - A legend with fantastic chops who played in a more classical style of jazz.
Erroll Garner - An incredible improviser who played everything by ear because he couldn't sightread! Erroll Garner composed the popular jazz standard "Misty."
Oscar Peterson - Outside of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson was perhaps the most technically proficient jazz pianist there was (he sure as hell wasn't afraid to show it!). He had a real sense of swing, a powerful melodic vocabulary, and a great feel for the blues.
Bud Powell - One of the progenitors of bebop (along with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker), who had a significant influence on how jazz piano was played post-1950.
Art Tatum - Art Tatum was a pianistic god. Some of the things Tatum did with a piano were completely out of this world. If you like flashy pianistic devices and runs, this is your guy!
Lennie Tristano - Kind of an overlooked pianist, but influential and unique in his own right. Check out the way he incorporates walking basslines in his solo piano playing, which contrasts the stride/ragtime or chordal accompaniment that jazz pianists used in the early days.
Fats Waller - A stride piano master with an incredibly upbeat repertoire of tunes ("A Handful of Keys, "Viper's Drag," etc). Waller's singing is classic as well; check out some of his videos on YouTube to get a feel for his jazzy personality.
Teddy Wilson - like Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson is a legend whose playing reflects a more classical style of jazz. He was particularly renowned for his use of pianistic runs for embellishment.

Like you, I was more into older jazz styles (ragtime, swing, bebop, etc.) than modern playing when I first started to listen seriously a little over a year ago, so hopefully these suggestions will give you a good backdrop to work from.

Other jazz resources I recommend checking out:

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, a highly informative series of radio interviews with jazz musicians who talk about their music, their style, their backgrounds, and even their practice routines if you are curious about how they learned their craft.

The JazzVideoGuy on YouTube has hundreds of informative videos, documentaries, performance recordings, and TV clips on jazz that you might like.

posted by matticulate at 9:07 PM on November 17, 2010

I'm still pretty new to this. I like and want accessible, and that's one of the reasons I don't like modern Jazz. Do you think this book is still worthwhile as a resource for a beginner?

It is still extremely worthwhile when you have the question "What recordings should I buy by this artist?" (and it looks like you have a couple dozen of those questions!). I bought it and used it in that way as a beginner.

It is not as worthwhile for questions like "I'm interested in jazz, where should I start?" or "If I like Kind Of Blue, what other albums should I try?" or "I like mellow piano trio music, what should I buy?"

So I guess it mostly comes down to whether you have enough questions of the first sort for it to be worth it.
posted by dfan at 10:20 AM on November 18, 2010

Also, I would not worry about the Penguin guide recommending inaccessible and difficult music. None of the artists you are interested in made music that is particularly inaccessible (some of the later recommendations people are making here may require a little grappling, though). It is true that if you went through the book picking up every CD in their "core collection", you'd have a lot of difficult listening (mostly from the late fifties on), but you're not doing that.
posted by dfan at 10:25 AM on November 18, 2010

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