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Last week, I put out the call and it was answered big time.

As a jazz music virgin of sorts, I asked the connoisseurs to introduce me to the pivotal artists, songs, and albums that define this thing we call “jazz.”

The knowledge-dropping started in the comments with outstanding suggestions from two people whose musical acumen I have come to deeply respect and admire, DJ Stylus and T Grundy of Rhythms in Black Satin.

T Grundy took the discussion to a broader audience on Twitter, where folks have been weighed in all last week with the music that has been integral to their journey as true jazz fans. He then went on to create the first of two Jazz 101 podcasts, which was the perfect writing soundtrack for this piece.

Along with excellent commentary and suggestions on what it is to know and love jazz, he created a masterful mix that I have since listened to twice. I have now moved Oliver Nelson, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Nancy Wilson, and Herbie Hancock to the top of my list of jazz artists I need to study.

I particularly appreciated his suggestion of one way to get started with jazz appreciation is to choose your favorite instrument and then start listening to and collecting the music of the seminal artists who play that instrument.

Here are his personal favorites:

  • Trumpet: Miles Davis [more]
  • Saxophone: John Coltrane [more]
  • Guitar: Wes Montgomery [more]
  • Vibraphone: Lionel Hampton [more]
  • Big Band: Count Basie [more]
  • Drums: Max Roach [more]
  • Keyboards: Duke Ellington & Herbie Hancock [more]

Since my first loves are the guitar, sax and the drums, I’ll definitely be looking into the music by the artists he suggests. However, in terms of where I’ll start the next time I go digging (which I think I’ll do for my upcoming birthday), it will definitely be with albums by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Every single Trane  and Miles song or collaboration I hear resonates with me deeply and thus represents a gaping hole in my music collection.

I’ll be sure to share my acqusitions here.

Meanwhile for those not on Twitter, let me share some of the fruits of our discussion. Here are some tracks mentioned that should be added to any “Jazz 101 Starter Kit”:

  • Thelonius Monk: “Blue Monk”
  • Wayne Shorter: “Juju”
  • Freddie Hubbard: “Open Sesame”
  • Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit”
  • Louis Armstrong: “I Cover the Waterfront” 
  • Charlie Bird Parker: “The Bird” 
  • Lester Young: “D.B. Blues” and “These Foolish Things”
  • Ramsey Lewis: “The In Crowd”
  • Charles Earland “More Today Than Yesterday”
  • Cannonball Adderley“Somethin Else”
  • Andy Bey “Tuesdays in Chinatown” and “Shades of Bey”
  • McCoy Tyner “What the World Needs Now”
  • Blossom Dearie “My Gentleman Friend”

Other artists mentioned were Bob James , Ornette Coleman, and Jackie McClean.

So if you’re looking for musicians and songs to get you started, take a listen to the ones listed here and those included on the RIBS Jazz 101 podcast.  Need to research discographies for some of the artists listed here, visit the Jazz discography website before you go digging. You can also look up jazz standards, or the most well-known (to some!) songs within the genre.

I know jazz isn’t everyone’s “thing” so I appreciate those of you kept an open mind and read this post anyway. I’ve talked before about how I’m going to start spending more time with the classics in order to become an more informed “music critic.” I want to be able to recognize the influences as I enjoy a lot of the jazz fusion and subgenres  that are more popular today.  While you’re rocking to Brand New Heavies, Jazzanova, Lalah Hathaway, or The Roots, what you’re hearing can likely be traced back to a sound created by someone right up there.

Get into this!