Read my previous posts, Discover jazz and Planting the seeds.
Each week in June I will be writing about ways to discover jazz for yourself through examples and tips.
Through one album
Oftentimes the way we are introduced to jazz is through one album. Maybe a Benny Goodman album was lying around the house that sparked an interest, or a family member gifted a Charlie Parker album to you. For this post, I will be using the Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool as an example, as it was one of the first jazz albums that I loved.
1. Who recorded the album?
Birth of the Cool is a compilation album by trumpeter Miles Davis which features his nonet.
What other famous albums did Miles Davis record? Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew are two seminal works. What other albums did Davis record in the same time period? Birth of the Cool was recorded between 1949-1950, while Dig was recorded in 1951.
2. What are all the songs on the album?
What is your favorite track on the album? Maybe your favorite track is "Venus de Milo" by Gerry Mulligan. Who was Gerry Mulligan? Mulligan was a baritone saxophonist, composer and arranger. What do you like about the song? Is it the tempo, melody, or the solos?
3. What is the personnel?
Birth of the Cool has a large personnel because it was recorded over the course of two years, so different tracks feature different musicians. The personnel includes Miles Davis on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Gunther Schuller on french horn, Lee Konitz on alto saxophone, Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, John Lewis on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, Max Roach on drums, among many others.
Which voices stood out from the band? Did you like Lee Konitz's light alto saxophone sound? What other albums did Lee Konitz make? Maybe you will listen to his album Motion. Or maybe you liked the use of french horn in the nonet. Gunther Schuller was a conductor, composer, historian and musician. Maybe you will discover his compositional works such as his string quartet and other orchestral pieces.
4. What style is the album?
It is easy to get caught up in too many terms or styles or sub-genres. Yet, it is helpful to realize Birth of the Cool is regarded as seminal in the history of cool jazz, which is a style of jazz that is lighter in tone and tempo.
Who were some other major musicians in the cool jazz movement? Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Stan Getz, Lennie Tristano, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker are some musicians of that style. What makes Lee Konitz different from other alto saxophonists such as Charlie Parker?
Maybe you will decide to explore more cool jazz albums or to delve into the music of Lee Konitz. You may like the arrangements of Gil Evans and discover that he collaborated with Miles Davis to write the album Sketches of Spain. Or, maybe you like the sound of orchestral jazz and will discover the music of bandleader Claude Thornhill.
Albums are a powerful tool for learning because they contain a launching board for jazz's many musicians, composers, arrangers, styles, time periods and soloists.
What jazz album(s) got you interested in jazz?
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