A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge:
Recycled Goods (#22)
by Tom Hull
A couple of months ago I noticed that I had accumulated such a pile
of jazz compilations that I started worrying about how to work them in
without skewing my columns even more toward jazz than usual. Then I
decided to clear them out in one swell foop. So this column is all
jazz. Next one will return to normal, which given my inbox means about
Compilations are useful in several cases: for singles-oriented artists,
or just marginal ones, they consolidate scattered high points; for major
artists, and for whole genres, they provide a low-risk introduction or
overview; in rare cases the compiler may come up with an interesting way
of looking at a subject; also rarely, completism might pay dividends.
Compilations are necessary in one case: before the early '50s advent of
the LP, artists only released singles, so their work can only exist on
compilations. The single most important criterion for whether you should
start with a well-regarded album or a compilation is whether the artist
is singles-oriented. This hints at the big problem with jazz compilations
for artists working from the '50s onward: no singles, ergo no process to
sort out legitimate best-ofs. A second problem is that instruments don't
dominate consistently like voices, and this problem gets worse with the
less dominant, less voice-like instruments.
But the labels crank out jazz comps anyway, with most of the majors
cranking out whole series of similarly packaged items every 3-5 years,
whether they're needed or not. Verve, for instance, released a series
called Compact Jazz early in the CD era, then had a series of
Essential best-ofs, then one called Finest Hour, as well
as running sidelines like For Lovers and contributing to Ken
Burns Jazz and many non-series compilations, such as book tie-ins
on Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. The four majors plus Fantasy (err,
Concord) are mostly catalog shops these days, and they know that comps
make for cheap development with obvious name recognition, which spells
easy profits. They also know that most people know very little about
jazz -- maybe a few names -- so they're desperately angling for newbies
and dabblers, where comps often suffice.
The most obvious problem with these comps is that they almost never
pay extra to license outside material, and most artists' work isn't
evenly distributed. It helps to know that Blue Note's catalogs of Miles
Davis and Sonny Rollins are negligible, while their Horace Silver and
Art Blakey are definitive. It helps to know that Thelonious Monk had
three important phases on three different labels (Blue Note, Riverside,
and Columbia), each distinctive. It helps to know that John Coltrane's
important work came out on Atlantic and Impulse, but other labels will
try to sell you his also-rans as a best-of -- his Bethlehem recordings
are flat-out awful. It also helps to know that none of the labels are
at all scrupulous about making this clear. Still, knowing all these
things makes me a rather jaundiced critic of jazz comps: with few
exceptions, they're not intended for people who already know their
way around. I make some allowances for this below, but it still crops
up in my comments and the thoughts behind them. Blue Note's Lee Morgan,
below, is a fine introduction, but really you'd be just as well served
with The Sidewinder or Search for the New Land or
The situation before 1952 is different in two respects. One is that
almost everything recorded was singles-length, mostly 78s, so some form
of compilation is inevitable -- the main choices being best-ofs and
completist sets. The other is that in Europe these recordings are in
the public domain, so they can be economically collated by any label
that cares to do so. The Jazz Legends series, imported by Allegro from
the Austrian label Document, is a good example of inexpensive best-of
intros. Several other labels do similar things (EPM and ASV are two),
while others, especially the French label Classics, go for complete
series. This leads to its own set of problems, but it fills in a major
hole, inasmuch as few pre-WWII jazz artists are consistently in print
on U.S. labels. (Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday are two who are
well covered, but Duke Ellington heads a list of virtually everyone
else who isn't.)
In addition to Jazz Legends, the main compilation series covered here
- Blue Note: The Very Best: A new series (2005) of
relatively short (40-45 minutes) sets, some obvious, some off the wall.
A list of artists not chosen could easily rival those selected, and
at this length there are more obscure artists who might make for
- Fantasy: The Best Of: These are packed to the gills
(average about 77 minutes), but tend to be limited to a single one of
Fantasy's many labels (so noted) -- e.g., Chet Baker on Riverside but
not Prestige, Sonny Rollins on Prestige but not Milestone; Art Pepper
stradles Contemporary and Galaxy, but mostly the former. I've sampled
about half of two or three rounds in this series (which, by the way,
is due for reissue later this year, with a bonus sampler of some sort).
- Sony/BMG/Legacy: Jazz Moods: This is the second
batch of themed compilations, and shows signs of scraping the barrel.
Presumably the first batch was better, but the idea of matching an
artist to a mood rarely works well.
- Mosaic: These are encyclopedic compilations for hardcore,
or at least well-heeled, fans -- available by
mail order in limited
editions (typically 5,000 copies; i.e., more than the average jazz
record sells). Their box set series typically collects everything an
artist did in a limited period of time (e.g., Dinah Washington on
Roulette 1961-62, below). Their Select series are 3-CD sets
which either cover a minor artist (Curtis Amy and Dizzy Reece are
two good examples) or a narrow slice of a major artist (Art Pepper
and Andrew Hill, below).
A few more odds and ends worked their way into this column, including
the Miles Davis breakout from last year's box set. Next month will return
to the usual mix.
Chet Baker: Career (1952-88 , Shout! Factory,
Two good ideas here: one is to put the instrumentals and vocals on
separate discs; the other is to document Baker all the way to the
end of his career. He recorded prolifically throughout his career
but never stayed on one label long -- the Pacific Jazz records that
established him as a star cover a mere four years, and even then
he also recorded elsewhere -- and during the '70s and '80s most of
his records were cut for small European labels. Shout! Factory
doesn't chase them all down -- nothing from his well regarded
Criss Cross releases, nor from Philology or Red, but they did
manage to license prime material from Enja and Steeplechase, and
they make good use of widely scattered pieces on U.S. labels.
The wide range of band contexts and material would trip up the
flow of the record for anyone else, but Baker was such a steady
trumpeter and such a preciously limited singer that he's able to
hold together everything from quartets to the NDR Big Band and
Creed Taylor's megaproductions.
Cab Calloway: The Hi-De-Ho Man (1930-33 ,
A flamboyant song-and-dance man, Calloway took over a first rate hot
band called the Missourians in 1930 and developed them into one of
the most successful jazz orchestras of the era. His later work is
easier to find, especially the late '30s period with tenor sax great
Chu Berry, but his biggest hit, "Minnie the Moocher," came early, and
it set the stage for all the "Hi-De-Ho" that followed. (Like Peggy
Sue, Minnie spawned a marriage day sequel.) Classics and JSP have
more exhaustive compilations, but this is the basic starter package.
Duke Ellington: The Essential Duke Ellington (1927-60
, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD).
The word "essential" has no definition that allows one to reduce
Ellington to just two discs. RCA made an admirable attempt in 1994
with a small box called Beyond Category -- limited to their
own catalog, but that included crucial material from the late '20s,
the '40s, and '60s. Columbia owns most, but nowhere near all, of the
rest, including Ellington's grossly neglected '30s and a mixed bag
from the '50s. The Sony-BMG merger promised to bring these catalogs
together, but this first post-merger release is overwhelmingly
Columbia-based, with just five RCA cuts and two licensed from
other sources. Columbia's been down this road before, and never
with very satisfactory results -- partly because the expansive
and idiosyncratic '50s cuts never sat well with the tight singles
of the '30s, partly because the canonical versions of Ellington's
most famous songs were cut for RCA. There are some interesting
tradeoffs here: I'm happy to hear the 1937 versions of "Dimuendo
in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue" instead of the famous Newport
version -- allowing Newport to be represented by "Jeep's Blues" --
and the punched up 1953 "Satin Doll" instead of the more familiar
versions. On the other hand, in the imposed scarcity of a mere
2-CD set there are scores of other pieces that could have cracked
Coleman Hawkins: The King of the Tenor Sax (1929-43
, Jazz Legends).
This skips past Hawkins' early work with Fletcher Henderson and others,
where he established the tenor saxophone as the central instrument in
swing orchestras -- two cuts with the Mound City Blowers and one with
Red Allen already look forward -- and focuses on his improvisational
ideas within small groups. Hawkins' key innovation was his ability to
improvise around the melody and finally to posit wholly new melodies
based on the changes to old ones: the definitive example was his 1939
recording of "Body and Soul" -- completely novel, brilliantly formed,
nothing short of majestic, a challenge for the listener to reassemble
into something familiar. That performance sits midway here, whereas
all other early Hawkins comps end with it, and all modern Hawkins comps
begin with it. It's presaged by Benny Carter's famous arrangement to
"Honeysuckle Rose," where Hawkins' solo leaps into the stratosphere,
and a sax-piano duo of "Stardust" nearly as clever. The second half
follows Hawkins through the development of modern jazz as the art of
improvisation, up to a singular version of "The Man I Love." If you
tried to simplify jazz sax to a model as simple as a tree, the trunk
would be Hawkins, with Sonny Rollins standing on his shoulders.
Everyone else is just a branch.
Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (1967-70 , Mosaic,
One of the most important pianists to emerge in the '60s, Hill recorded
extensively for Blue Note from 1963 to 1970, but as the label declined
he increasingly found his recordings stuck on the shelf. After many years
of quietly recording on European labels, Hill re-emerged with Dusk
(2000, Palmetto) gaining accolades for his arrangements. Blue Note soon
came out with the previously unreleased Passing Ships, which in
its intricate arrangements for a six piece band was the perfect bookend
opposite Dusk. This box answers the question of what else by Hill
is in Blue Note's basement. It leads off with a 1970 sextet session
featuring Charles Tolliver in brilliant form and closes with a 1967
sextet with Sam Rivers in chronic breakdown. In between are a basic
trio session from 1967 and an intriguing strings session from 1969.
Jackie McLean: The Best of Jackie McLean (1956-57
McLean appeared in Ken Burns' Jazz documentary, but only to
talk about Charlie Parker, and most of the stories made McLean out
to be nothing more than Parker's go-fer. McLean was very young when
he was chasing Bird, but he was hardly an imitator. He was slower
and bluesier than Parker from the start, as shown by this useful
sampler of a half-dozen Prestige quickies, with a tone uniquely his
own. Nothing here qualifies as important, at least not compared to
his later work on Blue Note, where he quickly emerged was faster
and even riskier than Ornette Coleman -- so much so that when the
two of them did an album together Ornette retreated to trumpet.
But Burns isn't the only one who sells McLean short. Downbeat
keeps a Hall of Fame which has not only bypassed him thus far --
McLean's name isn't even on the ballot. Which makes him something
like the most underrated jazz musician of all time.
Glenn Miller: The Essential Glenn Miller (1939-44
, Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD).
I had one of those moments when you realize you're getting old back in
the late '80s swing band craze when I ran into two teenagers gushing
about Glenn Miller, their latest discovery. Miller had died before I
was born, but not so far back that his immediate influence had waned
much. The pre-rock pop of the '50s could trace roots back as far as
vaudeville, but Miller was the point where big bands tipped from jazz
to pop. In the '50s big bands had been reduced to little more than
backdrops for crooners, and much the same could be said about Miller,
except that the name you know wasn't Ray Eberle or Tex Beneke -- it
was Miller, the trombonist-leader. Miller's jazz standing is almost
nil: his band could play hot and swing hard, but nobody soloed, with
most songs set pieces for pop singers. Well-crafted pop, of course,
and the harmonic sophistication of "Moonlight Serenade" is wondrous,
but I can't help but wonder what Miller's newfound teenybopper fans
might make of Jimmie Lunceford or Chick Webb.
Art Pepper: Mosaic Select (1956-57 , Mosaic,
Pepper never got comfortable. He spent most of his adult life in
jail, and each time he got out he kicked his music up another level.
The bushel of records he cut in the last four years of his life,
after a long stretch in Sing Sing, are among the most amazing in
jazz history. But these sessions, cut for Aladdin following a year
in the Fort Worth slammer for narcotics, and followed quickly by
his more famous Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, were
his first career peak. His previous recordings for Savoy revealed
a sweet-toned Charlie Parker disciple, but here he recasts Parker
in his own voice, much as he would later incorporate Coltrane.
This box adds a couple of alternate takes to the three volumes
that Blue Note previously released as The Complete Art Pepper
Aladdin Recordings. The additions are minor, but the music
is so vital it's unfathomable how it ever slipped out of print.
Art Pepper: The Best of Art Pepper (1957-80 ,
Too many riches to do justice to. Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm
Section (1956) was a slapdash studio date with the back end
of the Miles Davis Quintet that turned to magic. Art Pepper +
Eleven (1959) was Marty Paich's bible for west coast arrangers.
Smack Up (1960) and Intensity (1960) were two quickies,
the former sparring with Jack Sheldon, the latter just intense Pepper.
Gettin' Together (1960) met up with another Miles Davis rhythm
section. This sampler picks nine cuts from those five albums, making
it a fair survey of Pepper's second period, but each of the albums
stands perfectly straight on its own, and mixed together they get
jumbled. But the last four cuts, from Pepper's final period (1975-82),
barely scratch the surface, with two cuts from Winter Moon
(1980) -- the most sublime sax plus strings ever recorded -- and
none of his work with George Cables. Unbalanced and insufficient,
but no complaints about any of the music.
Horace Silver: The Very Best (1954-66 , Blue Note).
The opening bars to "Song for My Father" will be familiar to any Steely
Dan fan: it's where "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" came from. That's
just one of eight pieces of pop, not just jazz, genius collected here.
Silver called one of his later albums The Hard Bop Grand-Pop,
but even that claim short-changes him. He was the first leader of the
Jazz Messengers, and while drummer Art Blakey kept the name, Silver's
quintets over the next dozen years kept a tighter, more distinctive
sound than Blakey's bands ever had -- even though the trumpets and
tenor saxes changed at least as frequently. The secret was that Silver
wrote while Blakey depended on his band for compositions. Also that
Silver had an amazing knack for pulling blues and gospel hooks out
of thin air. Bebop freed the musician to ply his tricks outside of
the musical matrix; hard boppers like Silver brought the tricks back
down to earth, to serve the music.
Dinah Washington: The Complete Roulette Dinah Washington
Sessions (1962-63 , Mosaic, 5CD).
Ruth Lee Jones got her start with Lionel Hampton's early '40s big
band, recorded extensively for Mercury, moved on to Roulette in
1962, and died from an accidental pill overdose in 1963, not yet
40. She was a totally self-possessed singer. It's often said that
she could sing any kind of music, and she did, but she made it all
sound much the same -- a reflection of her own magnificence. She
worked hard for eighteen months at Roulette, singing pop songs
and delving back into her blues songbook -- always backed with
big bands, more often than not with strings, toiling skillfully
but anonymously. Only once in these five-plus hours was I moved to
look up a guitar (Billy Butler) and saxophone (Illinois Jacquet),
but there was never any doubt about the voice or the singer. The
completism is remarkably consistent, but it's also the dead end
of big band singers. One can only wonder what she might have done
had she lived into the era of black power and feminism.
- Louis Armstrong: Jazz Moods: Hot (1926-29 ,
Columbia/Legacy): fourteen run-of-the-mill picks from the Hot Fives
and Hot Sevens, the mother lode of jazz; if you're at all serious
go straight to the 4-CD complete set (also on Legacy or, cheaper,
on JSP) rather than settle for this teaser.
- Chet Baker: The Very Best (1954-56 , Pacific
Jazz): Baker never really changed but he got old surprisingly fast --
his pretty face turned craggy, the freshness and naivete of his first
music taking on an air of nostalgia if never self-parody; of all the
slices of his discography, this is where it starts, at least without
dragging Gerry Mulligan in; the six vocals cover his range, and a
couple are classic; the instrumentals are smogless.
- Chet Baker: The Best of Chet Baker (1952-59 ,
Riverside): aside from two early cuts led by Gerry Mulligan, this sticks
to Baker's 1958-59 tenure with Riverside even though Fantasy had other
options; the three vocal cuts are deeper and smoother than his earlier
work on Pacific Jazz; the trumpet is slower and sometimes more poignant,
showing that to the extent he evolved at all, which wasn't much, he got
- Chet Baker: Jazz Moods: Cool (1974-75 ,
Columbia/Legacy): Sony owns a tiny sliver of Baker couresy of Creed
Taylor International, which means Don Sebesky orchestration, and
even there they had to slip in a 19:14 cut from Jim Hall and two
live cuts with Gerry Mulligan to fill this out; it's surprisingly
lovely, with Baker's trumpet filling in rather than standing out,
and two of his usual puny vocals.
- Bix Beiderbecke: Young Man With a Golden Horn
(1924-30 , Jazz Legends): white, played cornet, dead at 28,
such a storybook legend he's come to overshadow his bandleaders
Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman and his underrated sidekick,
C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer; he may be a bit overrated,
but that's partly because his unique sound had to contend with
less supple bands and singers (not to complain about Bing Crosby);
compares to Louis Armstrong like Clifford Brown compares to Dizzy
- Tony Bennett: Jazz Moods: Cool (1957-67 ,
Columbia/Legacy): not my idea of a cool singer, but after Chet
Baker who is? here they go for swing tunes with a little snap to
them, like "I Get a Kick Out of You" or "That Old Black Magic" --
the latter with Dave Brubeck, more upbeat than Bennett's work
with Bill Evans -- giving the impression that he could've been
a pretty decent jazz singer.
- King Cole Trio: Hit That Jive (1936-46 ,
Jazz Legends): obvious choices, but then Cole's light jive trios
recorded so many indelible hits that compilers find it easy to
choose but hard to distinguish themselves, even though there are
hundreds of fine songs to choose from; "I'm an Errand Boy for
Rhythm" is one unobvious cut that lets them jam.
- John Coltrane: The Best of John Coltrane (1956-58
, Prestige): a late bloomer, Coltrane was fast but indistinct
during his yeoman years at Prestige, where his collected works fill
sixteen discs of a big box few take seriously; boiled way down to a
single disc this is warm and flavorful but hardly suggestive of the
giant steps only a year away.
- John Coltrane: More Coltrane for Lovers (1959-65
, Verve): two albums provide six of ten cuts, Ballads
and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, as they have for every
"gentle side" Coltrane compilation ever issued, but they are anomalies,
sidesteps from an urgent and troubled path; Hartman was a soft, almost
affectless crooner who left little room for Coltrane's Quartet, but
Ballads holds up nicely if you want to hear Coltrane at his
most civil; the rest of the padding only makes sense where it came
- Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: The Best of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
(1958-62 , Prestige): Davis worked big bands from Cootie Williams
to Count Basie to Oliver Nelson, but mostly raised hell in small organ
groups, with Shirley Scott present on eight of twelve cuts here, and
Don Patterson on two more; what's missing are his multi-sax jams like
The Tenor Scene with Johnny Griffin and Very Saxy with
Buddy Tate, Arnett Cobb, and Coleman Hawkins.
- Miles Davis: The Very Best: The Early Years (1949-58
, Blue Note): spoiled rich kid moves to New York to hang with
Charlie Parker and shoot skag; catches break fronting for Gil Evans,
getting credit for inventing cool jazz. Fronts band for Art Blakey and
Horace Silver, getting credit for inventing hard bop; his early years
were 70% dumb luck, and he never stopped getting credit for other folks'
genius, but his own genius was never to be far from the spotlight, and
never to be so undeserving of his fame that he could easily be dismissed;
ends with a great Davis song issued under Cannonball Adderley's name.
- Miles Davis: 'Round About Midnight (Legacy Edition)
(1955-56 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): his first album for Columbia
played off his reputation as the coolest cat in bebop, a mid-tempo
showcase for what was soon recognized as one of the all-time great
quintets, and it's still a marvel; the extra disc is a short live
set for Gene Norman plus a Newport take of the title cut with an
all-star pickup band -- inessential, but amusing when Norman
introduces the saxophonist as Johnny Coltrane.
- Miles Davis: The Best of Seven Steps: The Complete Recordings
of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (, Columbia/Legacy): the inevitable
sampler for the 7-CD box set, now (less a few alternate takes) also
available separately; this was a period of transition when Miles returned
to the road from a hiatus and assembled his famous late '60s quintet --
Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, all stars not
least due to their association with Miles and each other; the box is a
detail study, much of its interest historical, although the music holds
up fine, and there's nothing wrong with the sampler except, perhaps,
that it blurs the transitions.
- Miles Davis: Seven Steps to Heaven (1963 ,
Columbia/Legacy): a restart after a dead spot in Miles' career, with
George Coleman, Victor Feldman and Ron Carter -- the latter the first
step toward the second great quintet; tentative is the word, with
tinny ballads and undeveloped songs.
- Miles Davis: Miles Davis in Europe (1963 ,
Columbia/Legacy): Herbie Hancock and 17-year-old Tony Williams add
two more pieces and get to show their wares, with the whole band
cohering on older pieces like "Milestones"; a good show, done fast
and loose, not fancy.
- Miles Davis: "Four" and More (1964 ,
Columbia/Legacy): six months later, half of a New York Philharmonic
concert that also yielded My Funny Valentine; a much tighter
group, state of the art hard bop, and a fine showcase for George
- Miles Davis: Miles in Tokyo (1964 , Columbia/Legacy):
George Coleman gave way to Wayne Shorter, but for this one trip Sam
Rivers took over the tenor sax slot, giving Davis an experience with
a much freer player, an intriguing path not taken; Rivers is on his
best behavior, coming up with an attractive performance.
- Miles Davis: Miles in Berlin (1964 , Columbia/Legacy):
the arrival of Wayne Shorter marked the emergence of Miles' second great
quintet, which went on to produce major albums for the rest of the decade;
the band meshes elegantly on the usual songbook here, the chemistry of the
rhythm section fully formed, with Miles in particularly fine form.
- The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Jazz Moods: Hot (1987-92
, Columbia/Legacy): credits would help here, especially as they
like to sneak guests in the back door; Kirk Joseph's sousaphone is their
link to old New Orleans, but they try hard to be progressive, including
"Moose the Mooche" (Charlie Parker) and "Eyomzi" (Johnny Dyani) in their
repertoire, with a result that's neither here nor there.
- Eric Dolphy: The Best of Eric Dolphy (1960-61 ,
Prestige): started late, died young, giving him a carrer span of five
years; played bass clarinet or flute as often as alto sax; most famous
as a sideman for Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, with few albums
under his own name (especially if you weed out the concerts uncovered
after his death), but universally recognized as a major figure; this
early selection leans to his bop roots, with half the cuts featuring
ill-fated trumpeter Booker Little.
- Tommy Dorsey: The Early Jazz Sides (1932-37 ,
Jazz Legends): the trombonist was a popular bandleader of the era,
best known today for his 1940-42 association with Frank Sinatra;
his early big band and the slightly smaller Clambake Seven played
urbane, upbeat swing, with Bud Freeman's tenor sax a delight and
Edythe Wright's occasional vocals an amusing diversion.
- Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: For Lovers
(1956-57 , Verve): three albums -- two utterly charming classics
and a less compelling Porgy and Bess -- have generated scads
of compilations, but the slice-and-dice options are finite, and
concentrating the slow ones is the lamest configuration yet; of
course, even this keeps a few of those utterly charming classics.
- Aretha Franklin: Jazz Moods: 'Round Midnight (1961-69
, Columbia/Legacy): the low repute of her Columbia recordings has
nothing to do with her voice, as awesome and soulful as it was when she
moved to Atlantic and became a star; the problem is everything else --
the songs, the arrangements, the strings.
- Dizzy Gillespie: Career (1937-92 , Shout!
Factory): it's harder to stuff Gillespie into a 2-CD box than Baker,
not just because there's more undeniable Gillespie: the intense joy
and pure excitement of the music defies containment; they missed an
opportunity to spin separate small group and big band discs, but the
flow isn't hampered much, and the big band tracks convincingly expand
on the ideas while driving home their magnatude; my only complaint
is how much they missed.
- Dexter Gordon: Jazz Moods: 'Round Midnight (1976-85
, Columbia/Legacy): a little too rough for ballads, although he
connects mightily with "'Round Midnight"; pretty uneven for a comp,
mixing barebones quartets with big band atmospherics and a singer on
- Lionel Hampton: Founder of the Jazz Vibes (1930-44
, Jazz Legends): not just the first major vibes player, Hampton
was a networker who parlayed connections to Louis Armstrong and Benny
Goodman into a legendary series of late-'30s all-star sessions -- how
does a one-song lineup with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Coleman
Hawkins, Chu Berry, Ben Webster, and Charlie Christian grab you? --
and in the '40s led his own r&b-flavored juggernaut, represented
here by both the Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb versions of "Flying
Home"; this touches on all the bases, but leaves out some obvious ones.
- Coleman Hawkins: The Best of Coleman Hawkins (1958-62
, Prestige): an inconsistent series of albums, poorly organized
and indifferently recorded, but especially on ballads Hawkins breaks
through with his usual brilliance; the best-of samples but scarcely
improves on the best of the albums, which I make to be Soul,
At Ease, and The Hawk Relaxes.
- Shelly Manne: The Best of Shelly Manne (1953-61 ,
Contemporary): one of the few drummers to make the transitions from big
band swing to bebop to Ornette without the slightest hitch, Manne's
drumwork was inconspicuous but his ability to drive a band, keeping
them light and fleet but together, was uncanny; with the leader in the
background this sampler seems more arbitrary than most, starting points
on paths worth pursuing separately, but together a quick glimpse of the
diversity of the music Manne was most identified with -- west coast
- Glenn Miller: Jazz Moods: Hot (1939-42 ,
Bluebird/Legacy): hot and heavy, like a train barrelling around the
bend, going where you expect because it wouldn't dare jump free of
its rails; seven of fourteen tracks are dupes from Essential,
but the mix is less vocal, more brass.
- Thelonious Monk: The Very Best (1947-52 ,
Blue Note): it doesn't surprise me that the most consistent of the
samplers of Monk's early works features Art Blakey and/or Milt
Jackson on 12 of 13 tracks -- Monk's always been a genius, but
it took the world a while to get the hang of him, and Blakey and
Jackson were the first to figure out where he was going, and help
him get there.
- Thelonious Monk: The Best of Thelonious Monk (1955-60
, Riverside): Monk's second stage expanded to include horns -- he
famously chided Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane for their failures to
follow his notoriously difficult music; the box fills twelve discs, so
omissions are easy to pick on -- this completely misses my two favorite
albums from the period -- but otherwise it's redoubtable, as it should
be; like many samplers of major oeuvres, its utility depends on your
- Lee Morgan: The Very Best (1957-65 , Blue Note):
one could quarrel, but I wouldn't leave out his star turn in Bennie
Golson's "I Remember Clifford" even though he was born to burn, not
just smolder; two classic hard bop anthems, no real blowouts, nothing
from Search for the New Land either.
- Art Pepper: The Art of Pepper: The Complete Omega Sessions
Master Takes (1957 , Fresh Sound): same as disc three
on Mosaic Select, except omits three alternate takes but finds
two cuts that Mosaic and Blue Note missed: "Blues Rock" and "Rock
Blues," fair titles with Carl Perkins (the jazz pianist, not the
rockabilly great) in full-tilt boogie mode; booklet and artwork
are superior, music is magnificent.
- Esther Phillips: Jazz Moods: Hot (1972-75 ,
Epic/Legacy): well into a career that started as teenage Little Esther,
this sticks to three out of nine albums she cut on Kudu, probably
because those were the ones Creed Taylor powered with his facsimile
of a jazz orchestra; an exceptionally strong singer with occasionally
- Bud Powell: The Very Best (1949-58 , Blue Note):
three or four cuts each from the three most amazing volumes of The
Amazing Bud Powell -- classic bop singles from 1949-53 and a 1958
session that proves that even if he had lost it by then he could still
find it on occasion; only the first two cuts have horns: Fats Navarro
and a teenaged saxophone colossus named Sonny Rollins.
- Lou Rawls: The Very Best (1966-92 , Blue
Note): a mild-mannered soul singer, whose 21 Capitol albums from
the his '60s prime yield two cuts, the rest coming from three
1989-92 Blue Notes, the last steady work of his career; sidemen
include jazz notables, but only Steve Khan and Hank Crawford
sent me to the credits; Rawls can impress as a singer, but the
best songs remind me that someone else has done them better.
- Sonny Rollins: The Best of Sonny Rollins (1951-56
, Prestige): a sequence of records that culminates in the aptly
named Saxophone Colossus and his signature calypso "St. Thomas,"
this is young Rollins full of fire but adaptable and still willing to
please others; still, an odd and somewhat unsatisfying selection, with
early MJQ and an Earl Coleman vocal that gives Rollins little to do but
schmooze, but nothing from Plays for Bird; Prestige's 7-CD box
is a reasonable alternative, not an extravagance.
- Sonny Rollins: The Very Best (1956-57 , Blue
Note): two sessions with Rollins struggling to overcome a second horn,
one with just piano interfering, and one cut from his legendary trio
performance at the Village Vanguard; a thin slice still early in his
- Artie Shaw: His First Three Bands (1936-40 ,
Jazz Legends): his career, both as clarinetist and bandleader, follows
Benny Goodman's model, but more wreckless, because he was both more
cerebral and more passionate; he never built up the talent reservoir
that Goodman enjoyed, possibly because the the speed with which he
assembled and discarded his bands -- three in these five years, with
more to come, until in a snit he hung up his clarinet, never to play
again for the last fifty years of a remarkable life; closes with all
9:40 of the pretentiously named but otherwise wonderful "Concerto for
- Artie Shaw: Jazz Moods: Hot (1938-45 ,
Bluebird/Legacy): in accordance with the "hot" theme, these tracks
were picked more for their shiny, pounding brass than for the
leader's plucky clarinet, but Shaw's bands could play in Woody
Herman's league as well as in Benny Goodman's; the overlap from the
earlier comp is the inevitable "Begin the Beguine."
- Artie Shaw: The Essential Artie Shaw (1936-53
, Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): two pre-1938 and three post-1941
offer just a taste of where he came from and where he went, but
the concentration on his 1938-41 Bluebirds isn't just the usual
corporate chauvinism -- it's where the focus should be; whereas
his early bands weren't much different than others, his use of
strings in the 1940 band that released "Frenesi" and "Temptation"
was unprecedented and unmatched.
- George Shearing: The Very Best (1955-69 ,
Capitol Jazz): the blind British pianist worked most often with a
quintet, adding vibes and guitar to the usual trio, sophisticated
wrinkles which if anything leavened the loaf, as did his fondness
for latin rhythms; cuts with extra strings or big band add a sour
note but not much gravity; even his famous bop anthem, "Lullaby of
Birdland," was meant to put you to sleep.
- Jimmy Smith: The Very Best (1956-86 ,
Blue Note): two trio pieces with guitar show how the organ master
could pump up the excitement; five with a saxophone show how he
could duck and weave with another lead instrument; the latter
three with Stanley Turrentine are more subtle than you'd expect
from Mr. T, and more soulful than you'd expect from a guy whose
first name was Incredible.
- Bobby Timmons: The Best of Bobby Timmons (1960-64
, Riverside): a hard bop pianist much in demand in the late
'50s/early '60s, not least because he wrote songs like "Moanin'"
(when he played for Art Blakey) and "Dat Dere" (which Oscar Brown
Jr. added a lyric to); this picks from his seven Riverside albums,
mostly trios -- just two cuts with a horn, Blue Mitchell, and two
- Stanley Turrentine: Jazz Moods: Cool (1971-75 ,
Epic/Legacy): he's the poor man's Ben Webster -- less vibrato, but a
whole lot of soul; Creed Taylor's fancy backgrounds are an unnecessary
complication for someone who did his best work in front of little
more than wife Shirley Scott's organ, but he rarely fails to soar
- Fats Waller: A Handful of Keys (1922-35 ,
Jazz Legends): his fleet fingerwork is much admired by formalists
who never warmed to the humor of his songs or his sly, jiveass
way of singing and wisecracking on the fly; fans of the latter
find the pianistics to be a diversion; the compilers here try
nobly to cover all the bases, including some of his early organ
jams, inevitably disappointing both camps, especially since his
prime songwriting years came after the cutoff; the obvious thing
would be for Sony/BMG/Legacy, which now owns the catalog, to do
a 2-CD Essential with one disc of each; me, I'm ticked
off that Bluebird deleted their complete series before I picked
it all up.
In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already
exists somewhere. We find more each month, but this month is all
jazz comps: Chet Baker, Cab Calloway, John Coltrane, Miles Davis,
Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Andrew Hill,
Jackie McLean, Glenn Miller, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, Artie
Shaw, Horace Silver, Dinah Washington, many more (56 records).
Copyright © 2005 Tom Hull.