Radio Faux Show Volume 3, Number 5: Intro To Jazz (The Horns)

Radio Faux Show Volume 3, Number 5: Intro To Jazz (The Horns)

The Horns

The first three shows in this series have explained the basic structure of a jazz tune, introduced the concept of standards, and discussed the importance of the rhythm section in a jazz group. This week’s show is focused on horns and will wrap up what is now a two-part show about the main instruments of jazz. As I stated in the first show of this jazz series, I wasn’t sure how I would create each of these shows and left the format open to improvisation, just like jazz. The last show focused on the rhythm section by discussing each instrument separately and included a brief history of those instruments. I’m not going to present the horns in that way. Since its inception, jazz has presented the horns as the focal point, and I have no interest in trying to cover the entire history of each horn as that would basically be an entire history of jazz. Instead, I have decided to present the horns via my Top 20 jazz albums that feature horn players. Since these are my favorite albums, and not necessarily the most important or influential, there are some obvious horn players who are being ignored and others who are included but are not near as well-known. In the end, I hope that this show presents a nice variety of jazz styles and performers from which you can find some that interest you as well. In its own way, it also presents a brief history of horns in jazz. Afterall, this entire series is designed to be an Intro To Jazz for beginning listeners that allows them to learn to love the music.

In making this list, I decided to only select one album per artist, although a few players show up on multiple albums (because that is how jazz works, with most artists recording sessions with each other over the years). For me, a Top 20 jazz albums list is an ever-changing list, so this is basically a snapshot of what I would listen to today if I decided to listen to twenty jazz albums. It is also a list of albums that feature horn players, so some of my favorite albums and artists are not included, such as Django by Modern Jazz Quartet, Night Train by Oscar Peterson Trio, Contrasts by Errol Garner, and Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock. In addition to the twenty albums selected, I have included an alternate listen for each position. These provide a second album of similar music for anyone who wants to investigate these aspects of jazz further.

Number 20: Promises by Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points, and London Symphony Orchestra

It’s hard to say that this album will stay in my Top 20 since it was just released in 2021. It is also arguable whether this is jazz. But, if it is jazz, then it is by far the jazz album I have listened to more than any other over the last two years, so I am giving it a place on this list. If nothing else, it presents Pharoah Sanders, a saxophone genius whose influence is as much a part of modern jazz as any other. Albert Ayler called John Coltrane “The Father,” Pharoah Sanders “The Son,” and himself “The Holy Ghost.” That is not my holy trinity, but only because I think Roland Kirk is actually “The Holy Ghost,” but any list of the five greatest saxophone players that does not include Pharoah Sanders is wrong.

Promises is a conceptual composition focused on a simple electronic riff that repeats throughout its entire 46 minutes. Producer Floating Points provides the basic structure – a meditational riff that moves in and out of focus. In addition, there are occasional sections from the London Symphony Orchestra. Spread throughout, Sanders provides his unique style of hypnotic saxophone as a counterpoint to the music underneath. Simple description of this music does not do justice to the beauty found within its nine movements. This was my Number One album on my Best of 2021 list, and I still listen to it regularly. It is the last recording of Sanders, and presents a wonderful bookend to his incredible career.

Alternate Listen

Black Unity by Pharoah Sanders

This 1971 album by Pharoah Sanders is his masterpiece. It is a 37-minute investigation of a variety of forms of black music, centered around an unending groove. If you want to understand what Sanders was all about, this is the album to listen to.

Number 19: Best of Sidney Bechet by Sidney Bechet

To be honest, this isn’t really an album and I selected it for just one song. “Blue Horizon” was one of the first jazz tunes I fell in love with when I first began to truly listen to and understand jazz. Sidney Bechet played a soprano saxophone and his vibrato is legendary. Recorded in 1944, “Blue Horizon” is a simple tune, but the depth and beauty of his tone lift this 4-minute recording into the realm of whatever gods you pray to. Bechet is now almost lost to history for anyone who doesn’t have a deep understanding of the history of jazz, but he first recorded before Louis Armstrong and was one of the pioneers of jazz soloing.

Alternate Listen

The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Volume 1 by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five

To truly understand what early jazz sounded like, listen to these recordings by Louis Armstrong’s first group. Most of the Hot Five recordings feature Armstrong on cornet (it’s like a trumpet), along with trombone, clarinet, piano, and banjo. These recordings influenced just about every aspect of jazz at the time, and include Armstrong’s first scat vocals and his revolutionary soloing technique.

Number 18: Trumpet Evolution by Arturo Sandoval

This is most likely the least known album on this list, but I have always loved it for its concept as well as its music. Recorded in 2003, this record by Cuban American trumpeter Arturo Sandoval attempts (successfully) to present the history of trumpet throughout the century that preceded its recording. It is focused on jazz and classical music and covers trumpeters from King Oliver to Wynton Marsalis. I almost felt obligated to include it on this list because if you listen to the entire album, you are getting a history of jazz trumpet in one listening experience. I selected the tune “Manteca” for this show’s playlist for a very specific reason. This tune is a 1956 Afro-Cuban composition by Dizzy Gillespie and is not only my favorite on the album but also provides an introduction to Gillespie.

Dizzy Gillespie is one of the most important jazz composers, leaders, and soloists in jazz history. His high range is legendary and the images of Gillespie with his cheeks puffed out are some of the most iconic images of jazz, and what many people think of when they think of how a jazz trumpeter looks. Arturo Sandoval is a late 20th century Cuban American trumpeter who is also a great composer, leader, and soloist. The high notes of Gillespie, Sandoval, and fellow trumpeter Maynard Ferguson are the stuff of legend. I’ll let this album stand in for all of the great works by Sandoval, Gillespie, and Ferguson (who is also referenced by one of the tracks on the album). All three of them employed a similar trumpet style much different than that of the most famous trumpeter, Miles Davis, but equally important in the history of jazz.

Alternate Listen

Afro by Dizzy Gillespie

This 1954 album by Dizzy Gillespie includes “Manteca” and a great version of his signature composition “A Night In Tunisia.” Originally titled “Interlude,” “A Night In Tunisia” is one of the best known jazz standards. It is a bebop tune composed in the early ’40s and was played by Gillespie throughout his career. This is one of the first albums to bring the big band sounds of Afro Cuban music to the United States.

Number 17: Lester Young With The Oscar Peterson Trio

This has become one of my main go-to jazz albums over the last five years. Ms. Faux first introduced me to the genius of Oscar Peterson over twenty years ago (I don’t know why it took me so long to get there) and I have loved the tone of Lester Young’s tenor sax since I first learned to love jazz. This 1954 release is a perfect pairing of the sounds of both artists, but is an especially great set of tunes for hearing the style of one of jazz music’s first great sax players. Lester Young was an early member of Count Basie’s orchestra and his cool style was in contrast to most horn players of the era. He revolutionized what a saxophone can do, both as a solo instrument and as part of a band, and was the bridge between the early days of jazz and bebop.

Since I am focusing this Top 20 list on albums that feature horn players, I haven’t included the album Night Train by The Oscar Peterson Trio. That album would have been in the Top 5 of this list. However, this album with Lester Young is a great introduction to Oscar Peterson for those who don’t know his work. As for Lester Young, recording in this small group setting let’s his playing shine like no other recordings he made. Especially wonderful are the ballads (tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10) because that is where you get to best hear his wonderful, breathy tone and his soulful interpretation of the music.

Alternate Listen

Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson

This 1960 album is very much a repeat of the Lester Young & Oscar Peterson album, but featuring another tenor sax player named Ben Webster. Webster was also an early innovator of tenor sax, performing with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Lester Young in the early days of jazz. His tone is similar to Lester Young and he also incorporated the cool style of Young early in his career. I don’t find the playing of Webster or Peterson to be as inspired on this album as on the Young/Peterson album, but it is still Grade A jazz.

Number 16: Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk

Taken at face value, you may not think that a Thelonious Monk album would be focused on a horn player, because Monk plays piano. Monk was one of the great 20th century jazz composers, and this album features several of his jazz standards. However, this album is driven by the tenor sax of Sonny Rollins and the trumpet of Clark Terry. I will save my discussion of Sonny Rollins for later. For now, I’ll just say that Thelonious Monk composed the first jazz tunes that made me realize how a great head (see the first show of this series if you don’t know what that means) can provide a feeling that only jazz can provide. The first jazz artist that I searched out in order to discover as much of his music as I could was Monk. Tunes like “Brilliant Corners” and “Bemsha Swing” from this album, as well as others such as “Blue Monk,” “Misterioso,” and “Well You Needn’t,” provide simple melodies that get stuck in your head for days. As soon as I started to discover those great Monk tunes, I immediately discovered Sonny Rollins and the rest of the horn players who recorded with Monk. Monk’s tunes were written for the horns to shine. This entire jazz series is meant to present an intro to jazz, and an investigation of the music of Monk is a great way to discover a love for this music.

Alternate Listen

Misterioso by Thelonious Monk Quartet (featuring Johnny Griffin)

This 1958 live album was recorded at a New York club called The Five Spot. It features one of the original hard bop tenor sax players, Johnny Griffin, and the production makes you feel like you are sitting in a smoky jazz club in the ’50s listening to some cats lay down the best jazz you’re ever going to hear. Unlike the albums by the Oscar Peterson Trio with a tenor sax player, these tunes are hard driving jazz that provide a masterclass in how one sax can play above a great rhythm section and command your attention.

Number 15: Alternating Currents by Spyro Gyra

This is the only jazz fusion album I included on this list. Spyro Gyra are not the best fusion group. They are not even close. I’m pretty sure there will be a fusion show at some point in this series, so I won’t delve into that genre right now. What I will say is that the first jazz fusion I ever heard was on a Sunday morning jazz program that used to air on my local classic rock station, and it was a track from Alternating Currents, which had just been released at the time. For that reason, it is the first jazz fusion release I ever bought, and I have been enjoying Spyro Gyra’s music ever since.

Like most jazz fusion, this group focuses on a variety of instruments, including electric guitar, synths, and marimba. However, they were founded by sax player Jay Beckenstein, who is also one of their primary composers, so it seemed fitting to include them in this show focused on horns. Beckenstein’s sound is very familiar to anyone who has heard fusion or smooth jazz. He doesn’t do anything very differently than his contemporaries and no one has ever named him as one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, but he can jam with the best of them.

Alternate Listen

Heavy Weather by Weather Report

I selected the jazz fusion of Spyro Gyra for my list because of my personal attachment to their music. A more obvious choice would have been Weather Report. Formed in 1970 by Wayne Shorter (one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and an artist still to come on this list) and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, Weather Report were an incredible fusion group whose song “Birdland” is a jazz standard. They also featured Jaco Pastorius, an amazing bassist, in their later years, and were one of the most successful fusion bands of the genre’s early days.

Number 14: Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is a pianist who is a leading figure in hard bop, modal, and fusion. He began recording in 1962, when he was only 22, and has been a forward thinking composer ever since. But, this is a show focused on horns so I didn’t select Herbie Hancock’s album Maiden Voyage because of the genius of Hancock. Instead, much like Thelonious Monk before him, one of Hancock’s best traits was the ability to attract great horn players to play with him. This is a fitting talent for him to have since he got his own breakthrough when Miles Davis asked him to join his quartet in 1963 because he thought Hancock was an up-and-coming talent that should not be ignored. Throughout his career, Hancock worked with some of the great horn players of his time, but during his first five years of recording he worked with none more than trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

When people talk about the great trumpeters, they are talking about the history of jazz. Simply naming three of them (Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis) is naming every style of jazz that has been played for the last 100 years. Right behind all of them, standing as one of the most important and influential jazz trumpeters, is Freddie Hubbard. Hubbard recorded sessions on albums that stand as highlights of free jazz, modal jazz, hard bop, and fusion. Four of those albums are on this Top 20 list. As for Maiden Voyage, the playing of Hubbard and the lesser-known saxophonist George Coleman are perfectly balanced on this concept album that attempts to create an oceanic atmosphere. These are modal jazz tunes, and both horn players work brilliantly in melding their sounds into the overall concept. There is a lot more to listen to if you want to discover Herbie Hancock or Freddie Hubbard, but this is a perfect place to start.

Alternate Listen

Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman

There aren’t any free jazz albums on this list, so I’ll include one here that features Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. Free Jazz was recorded in 1960 when Hubbard was only 22 years old. Although Hubbard was not a common session player on free jazz albums during their heyday in the ’60s, he was not only featured on this album (which gave the movement its name) but also on John Coltrane’s Ascension. In just those two sessions, Hubbard became the most important free jazz trumpeter whether he was trying to do so or not.

Number 13: Let’s Get Lost (The Best of Chet Baker Sings) by Chet Baker

I don’t usually include Greatest Hits collections on Top 20 lists, but this collection (originally purchased by Ms. Faux and me on CD many years ago) may be the most listened to jazz album in the history of the Faux household. It is ostensibly a collection of Chet Baker vocal compositions, but there is enough of Baker’s trumpet playing on these songs to show that he was a two-way talent beyond compare. Baker was a cool school type of player, and his vocal style mirrors his trumpet playing style. His tone on both is gorgeous, and his ballad interpretation is almost always spot on.

Alternate Listen

Ella and Louis by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

This 1956 album is the first of three Verve label recordings by Ella Fitzgerald (vocals) and Louis Armstrong (vocals, trumpet). Featuring the Oscar Peterson Trio, this is a wonderfully stripped down collection of ballads and standards that allow the vocals of both and the trumpet of Armstrong to take center stage. Much like Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong’s vocal style is very similar to his trumpet playing style. If anyone ever tells you they don’t like jazz, play this for them and see if they start to understand that they are wrong.

Number 12: The All Seeing Eye by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter is the second of my top five sax players to make this list (5-Pharoah Sanders, 4-Wayne Shorter). The All Seeing Eye is filled with horns, featuring Shorter on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Grochan Moncur III on trombone, and James Spaulding on alto sax. The rhythm section is pretty fantastic as well, featuring Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). There are several Wayne Shorter albums deserving of a place on this list, but this one has always been my personal favorite. Every track is amazing and all of the performances are career highlights for these musicians.

Alternate Listen

Juju by Wayne Shorter

JuJu presents Wayne Shorter in a quartet with John Coltrane’s rhythm section (McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums). The end result is one of the highlights of Shorter’s career, including the jazz standard title track. Rather than presenting an imitation of Coltrane, this record showcases yet another aspect of Shorter’s sound.

Number 11: Expensive Shit by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti was the father of Afrobeat, a style that mixed West African music with funk and jazz. One could argue that it isn’t jazz in the truest sense, but I have always found the music of Kuti to be as much like standard jazz as any of the ’70s fusion work by artists like Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever. It is clearly an African version of that music, but it has a head, solos, and closing, even if they are intertwined with African aspects such as call and response. In the 21st century, music like this is even more important to acknowledge if one wants to understand the sound of modern jazz.

Expensive Shit is one of many great Kuti releases. I selected it simply because it is my favorite and not because it is his first, most well-known, or most important. As with all Kuti releases, there is a political message mixed into the incessant groove of the title track. Short story: in an attempt by the Nigerian government to (once again) arrest Kuti for his political views, they attempted to frame him for drug possession by planting a joint on him. He ate the joint and then they waited for him to pass it. He tricked them by swapping his feces with another inmate.

Alternate Listen

Zombie by Fela Kuti

Most Fela Kuti albums are political attacks on the corrupt Nigerian government of the ’70s, but none more so than Zombie. This 1977 album was an attack on the Nigerian military and led to the destruction of Kuti’s own militia-style commune. During that attack, Kuti was beaten nearly to death and his elderly mother was thrown out of a second story window, leading to her death from the injuries she sustained.

Number 10: Out to Lunch by Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy died tragically young, but in his short time recording in the late ’50s and early ’60s he proved himself to be one of the most talented, influential, and important horn players of his time. He recorded Out To Lunch in 1964, only months before his death at age 36. This album has since become a classic of avant-garde jazz. It features Dolphy on bass clarinet, flute, and alto sax and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. The rhythm section is Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Richard Davis on bass (I did an entire show about Davis in April 2022), and Tony Williams on drums.

Prior to this album, Dolphy recorded dozens of sessions from 1958-1964, including many of the most important works of the period. In addition to his own recordings, he is on several great late ’50s Chico Hamilton albums, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz (1960), most of Charles Mingus’ early ’60s recordings (including Presents Charles Mingus (1960) and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963), Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), and John Coltrane’s Impressions (1963). All of these albums are masterclasses in jazz horn playing and feature a who’s who of trumpet and sax players.

Alternate Listen

Out There by Eric Dolphy

I couldn’t decide which of these Eric Dolphy albums to include on the list. I love them both. The main difference between them (other than the different musicians) is that Dolphy is the only horn player on Out There. For that reason, I chose Out To Lunch for the list. Out There features Dolphy on bass clarinet, flute, and alto sax, along with Ron Carter (cello), George Duvivier (Bass), and Roy Haynes (drums).

Number 9: Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, & Antonio Carlos Jobim

This is one of the most popular albums in history, not just in jazz but in all forms of music. “The Girl From Ipanema” is an international standard that is still heard daily over sixty years after it was recorded. By the time Stan Getz recorded the album Getz/Gilberto, he was one of the most popular and respected tenor saxophonists in jazz history. He had recorded his own style of cool jazz, basing his sound on the tone of Lester Young, for over fifteen years before he decided to record the boss nova album Jazz Samba in 1962. One year later he teamed up with one of the original bossa nova icons, Joao Gilberto, and recorded this album. Drawing on the sound of the samba, a traditional Brazilian dance form, bossa nova became a craze in the U.S. because of the work of Stan Getz. It is now almost impossible to go to a live jazz show and not hear at least one bossa nova tune in the set, and all young drummers have to learn this rhythm as one of the basics of jazz drumming. More than any other album on this list, Getz/Gilberto is an album that has the ability to make people fans of jazz after just one listen, without even knowing they are listening to jazz. These are simple tunes that can’t help but make you smile and want to listen to more.

Alternate Listen

Africa Brasil by Jorge Ben

This album is samba fusion, not jazz. Jorge Ben is one of a handful of Brazilian musicians whose work in the ’60s and ’70s created multiple forms of samba and bossa nova. Artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, and Jorge Ben created Tropicalia and other movements that defined Brazilian music for decades. I include it on this jazz show because it is the Brazilian equivalent of jazz fusion. It is also one of my favorite albums of all time.

Number 8: I Only Have Eyes For You by Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy

I’m not sure where to start in a discussion of Lester Bowie, and this is not the place for me to write all of the things I have to say about the man. I have loved his music since I first discovered him via a recommendation from an old friend who introduced me to all sorts of great music when I was younger. His work with The Art Ensemble of Chicago, as a solo artist, and as a member of the group The Leaders is all worth investigating. I was also fortunate to see him perform live only a few years before his death, and that is still my favorite jazz show I ever attended. For the purposes of this jazz series, we’ll focus on his project called Brass Fantasy. Recorded in 1985, I Only Have Eyes For You is the first of seven Brass Fantasy albums released before Bowie’s death in 1999. It is truly a brass fantasy, consisting of eight horns and a drummer. The main reason this music works with such a limited rhythm section is that the horns all play as if they are rhythm instruments. The tuba drops the bass lines, the trombones and trumpets comp underneath each other. The music of this group is always a swinging horn-fueled groove.

More than any other album on this list, I Only Have Eyes For You presents all of the aspects of horn playing that can be found in jazz. Big band horn arrangements, horn comping, solos, duos where two horns solo together, solitary horn intros and outros – all of this can be heard throughout the album. There aren’t any saxophones (this is all brass) but there is French horn, tuba, and two trombones to compensate. The dynamics are also presented in full range, from barely perceptible solo horn moments to ear-crushing blasts of energy. The Brass Fantasy records are not very well-known, but they continue to be my favorite big band horn albums thirty years after first discovering them.

Alternate Listen

Black, Brown, and Beige by The Duke Ellington Orchestra

I didn’t include a true big band album on this list, so I’ll include one here. To be honest, big band jazz is arguably the most popular form of jazz, from its origins in the late ’20s up to today. My main criticism of big band jazz is that it is the most conservative form of jazz, having seen very little progress in sound or group makeup for almost 100 years. I guess the positive way to recognize this lack of overall change is that it was perfect from the start and you don’t mess with a good thing. Most fans of the style will agree that Duke Ellington was its greatest leader and composer (at least that appears to be a common feeling over the last few decades). Therefore, I selected one of several Ellington albums that I enjoy. This 1958 recording of an older composition titled Black, Brown, and Beige features Mahalia Jackson on vocals and was recorded at a period which found Ellington enjoying newfound success and renewed interest in his music.

Number 7: Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus

One of the great mysteries of jazz is how Charles Mingus was able to compose some of the greatest tunes ever composed for horn players, even though he played bass. Mingus went at composing like a big band leader rather than a combo player. Much like Duke Ellington or Count Basie, Mingus was perfectly happy playing in the background while his musicians presented the genius of his compositions. Selecting one Mingus album for this list was a toss-up because I could have easily included three or four. In the end, I selected Mingus Ah Um because it contains my favorite Mingus tune, “Better Git It In Your Soul.”

What is especially telling about the genius of Mingus shown by this album, especially when discussing horns, is that there isn’t a single horn player on this album whose name would be recognized by anyone but Charles Mingus fans. Many of Mingus’ albums are like this. He seldom stuck with the same horn players for more than a few albums, but the performances he was able to produce by those players are often the highlights of their careers. Since this week’s show is supposed to be a wide discussion of horn playing in jazz, this album is one of the best examples to show how a solid horn player can sound like the greatest ever when the compositions, band direction, and rhythm section are all designed to make them shine.

Alternate Listen

The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady by Charles Mingus

Everything I said above about Ah Um is true here. Black Saint is a masterpiece of jazz composition, melding jazz, classical, Spanish, and African music into a cohesive collection of tunes. It is part ballet, part chamber music, part jazz, and all glorious horns.

Number 6: Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Rahsaan Roland Kirk is the third of my top five sax players to make this list (5-Pharoah Sanders, 4-Wayne Shorter, 3-Roland Kirk). As I said at the start of this list, I believe Roland Kirk is “The Holy Ghost” of saxophonists. His best works combine adventurous spirit with virtuosic skill and a unique talent that have never been duplicated. As a straight ahead sax player, he is great, but he left straight ahead sax playing behind him early on in his career. Unlike almost all other saxophonists (old or new) he combined two special techniques into his playing that make his recordings exercises in musical expansion. First of all, he was a master of the technique called circular breathing. This allows the player to inhale through their nose while exhaling through their mouth. The end result is the ability to hold notes for minutes at a time. His live recordings from the ’70s are especially great examples of this, although he incorporates these sounds into his studio recordings as well. Secondly, he would often play multiple horns at one time. The most iconic images of Kirk are of him with three horns between his lips with his cheeks puffed out Dizzy Gillespie style. Either one of these two unique techniques offer a different ability to interpret and perform tunes, but together they allowed him to push his music into other-worldly soundscapes by laying unending drone notes on one or two horns underneath another horn playing melodies or solos. Add to all of this his mastery of jazz flute and his love of playing other odd instruments such as whistles and nose flutes, as well as his propensity to vocalize along with his playing, and there is no one who sounds the same.

Much like Charles Mingus, it was difficult for me to select just one Kirk album for this list, but I went with what I believe to be his masterpiece. Recorded in 1973, Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle was his ninth album on Atlantic Records (his most prolific label experience) but marks the start of an adventurous string of albums that lasted for five years until his tragically young death at the age of 42. Attempting to describe the music of this album cannot do it justice. One must hear it to understand the sonic world of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Alternate Listen

Rip, Rig, and Panic by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Although not as out there as Prepare Thyself, most Kirk recordings are pretty out there. The 1965 album Rip, Rig and Panic is my favorite of his ’60s period. Kirk’s playing during this period is more straight ahead than in the ’70s, but this is still a more adventurous album than most of the time period. In addition to his playing, the rhythm section is of the highest quality, with Jaki Byard on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Everyone thinks of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane as the creators of psychedelic music, but Roland Kirk was years ahead of them in envisioning a world of sounds beyond the norm.

These next five albums are interchangeable on a list of my favorite jazz albums. They feature many of the same musicians and are five of the most famous jazz recordings. As an introduction to jazz horn playing, these five releases are all that you need.

Number Five: The Blues And The Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson

The Blues And The Abstract Truth was released in 1961 and is one of the most acclaimed jazz albums of the decade, and of all time. If you ask me on the right day, I will tell you that the first track on the album, “Stolen Moments,” is my favorite jazz standard. Every tune on the album is fantastic. The rhythm section of Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Roy Haynes (drums) is as good as any ever collected for a recording. But, most of all, the horns on this album are played by three of the best of their time – Oliver Nelson (tenor sax), Eric Dolphy (alto sax and flute), and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet). As if that isn’t enough, George Barrow is included on baritone sax (the coolest of the saxophones and one that is often neglected but always a pleasure to hear).

Alternate Listen

Bashin’: The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith by Jimmy Smith

Oliver Nelson was more than a saxophonist and composer. He was an amazing arranger and conductor. I could have made a list of 20 albums that Oliver Nelson was involved in creating and the list would be eclectic and amazing. Of all of the artists he worked with as an arranger and producer, none were more successful or recorded as many albums with Nelson as Jimmy Smith. Jimmy Smith was the most popular jazz organ player for decades, and this album is one of his best. Oliver Nelson arranged the tunes and conducts the big band. This is an amazing mix of big band horns with a small organ combo.

Number 4: Somethin’ Else by Cannonball Adderley

Somethin’ Else is credited to Cannonball Adderley, but it was recorded in 1958 while Adderley was part of Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and Davis was influential in selecting the tracks and helping arrange the album. Still, this is a Cannonball Adderley joint, and Adderley selected an incredible rhythm section to round out his quintet. Adderley (tenor sax) and Davis (trumpet) are joined by Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Art Blakey (drums). The album starts with arguably the best jazz version of the standard “Autumn Leaves” and then drops four more incredible tunes. Every time I listen to this album, it ends too quickly and I have to hit repeat.

Alternate Listen

Caravan by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

There isn’t enough room on a Top 20 list to include every album and artist you want to include. Since Art Blakey is the drummer on Somethin’ Else, this is a perfect spot to mention Blakey and his long-time group The Jazz Messengers. This group went through dozens of lineup changes over their 35-year existence. The 1963 album Caravan has always been my favorite album and lineup for the group, featuring Blakey (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Cedar Walton (piano), and Reggie Workman (bass).

Number 3: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

I have heard that if you go into someone’s house and look at their CD collection, and there is only one jazz album on the shelf, Kind of Blue will be that album. I can’t argue that this is not true. This is one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, and it is by the artist that is most universally recognized as the greatest jazz musician. I don’t agree that Miles Davis is the greatest jazz artist, but it can’t be denied that he was instrumental in developing almost all forms of modern jazz, from Cool to Hard Bop to Modal to Third Stream to Fusion.

Kind of Blue (1959) creates a perfect trio of recordings with Somethin’ Else (1958) and Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961). They share multiple musicians and represent this era of jazz perfectly. Kind of Blue adds John Coltrane to the Somethin’ Else horns of Davis and Adderley, and the piano/bass combo of Bill Evans and Paul Chambers are on Kind of Blue and Abstract Truth. All three of these albums are common entries on best jazz albums of all time lists, and I agree, but most importantly for this show (which is focused on jazz horns), these three albums are a masterclass in the how trumpets and saxophones can work together in a small combo setting to their fullest effect.

Alternate Listen

Milestones by Miles Davis

Milestones adds a fourth album to the trio selected above. It is just as important as those other albums, and is yet another example of the same musicians working together – Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Number 2: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane

For some people, John Coltrane is the beginning and the end of saxophone genius. He is not my all-time favorite sax player, but he is close. If you are keeping score, that is (5-Pharoah Sanders, 4-Wayne Shorter, 3-Roland Kirk, 2-John Coltrane). There are several Coltrane albums that I would have included in this Top 20 list if I chose more than one per artist. Giant Steps (1960) is a good option, Blue Train (1958) was the first Coltrane album I owned, and My Favorite Things would be Number 2 on this Top 20 list if I didn’t have to include A Love Supreme. But I have to include A Love Supreme because it is a masterpiece.

Recorded in 1965, A Love Supreme transcends jazz. It is a musical composition that can stand with any work of any composer for the last five hundred years. This is Coltrane’s entry into the realm of classics that includes Beethoven’s Fifth, Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, and the other ten or twenty compositions you would put on your list. It is arguably the greatest American composition, and would be Number 1 on this Top 20 list if I didn’t love the next artist so much.

Alternate Listen

My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

The title track of this album may be the best jazz performance of a pop standard ever recorded. The rest is great, too. Get some headphones, close your eyes, listen to track one for the next thirteen minutes, and discover how one song can transport you to another dimension in time and space if you let it.

Number 1: Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins

Saxophone Colossus is my favorite album by my favorite sax player (5-Pharoah Sanders, 4-Wayne Shorter, 3-Roland Kirk, 2-John Coltrane, 1-Sonny Rollins). Looking back at the early recordings of young Sonny Rollins, it is obvious that he was bound for glory from the start. The first listed Sonny Rollins recording is a 1951 recording with three members of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis on piano, recorded when Rollins was 21 years old. In 1956, at the age of 26, he recorded an album with Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet as his session musicians, including John Coltrane on one tune. That is a lot of greatness with which to surround yourself at such a young age, so it is not surprising that later in 1956 he recorded the album Saxophone Colossus. His rhythm section on this album was Tommy Flanagan (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), and Max Roach (drums). The pairing with Roach was especially important as it showcased Rollins as a collaborator and made him a jazz superstar. Rollins continued performing well into the 21st century and during all of those decades he recorded with a who’s who of stars from Thelonious Monk (see Number 16 on this list) to Dizzy Gillespie to The Rolling Stones. He was a constant innovator and always open to adapting his range into new styles, but in the end there is one album that still rises above them all as his masterpiece – Saxophone Colossus. It is aptly named and presents the tenor sax in all its glory, providing one example after another of how one horn can save the world.

The five tunes on this album are all highlights, especially one of my personal favorite Rollins tunes (“Strode Rode”), but it is the bookends that place the record on the greatest of all time list. The opener, “St. Thomas,” is a jazz standard. The Max Roach drum intro leads into a simple but unforgettable melody. This is followed by a great sax solo, an extended Max Roach drum solo (arguably the solo he is best known for), and then two more solos on sax and pianos before closing with a return to the melody. The high quality of every moment of the tune make it one of the greatest jazz album openers of all time. The closer, “Blue 7,” starts with an extended walking bass line by Watkins before Roach gently enters the tune, quickly followed by an almost unstructured melody line by Rollins. It is a blues, but unlike any blues you will ever hear. This was the absolute first jazz tune I heard that made me realize that there is something in this music that goes beyond simple listening enjoyment. Hearing “Blue 7” for the first time is an experience to be savored. This is everything that jazz has to offer in one 11-minute song.

This wraps up the first set of shows in this Intro to Jazz series. I’m not sure what the next Faux Show will cover, but I’m sure I’ll return to this jazz series soon. For now, I think I have provided a very good introduction for anyone who would like to learn about this misunderstood and often ignored genre of music. I hope that it serves its purpose and opens up a new world of jazz appreciation for you.

If you know anyone, especially youngsters, who are interested in expanding their knowledge of music, please forward this show on to them. And, as always, thanks for listening and reading!

As usual, I have also provided a playlist for this Top 20 list. It includes one track from each album.

The Spotify Playlist

The Amazon Playlist

Track One: Pharoah Sanders with Floating Points and The London Symphony Orchestra – “Movement 1” from Promises

Track Two: Sidney Bechet – “Blue Horizon”

Track Three: Arturo Sandoval – “Manteca”

Track Four: Lester Young & The Oscar Peterson Trio – “Almost Like Being In Love”

Track Five: Thelonious Monk – “Bemsha Swing”

Track Six: Spyro Gyra – “Shakedown”

Track Seven: Herbie Hancock – “Maiden Voyage”

Track Eight: Chet Baker – “Let’s Get Lost”

Track Nine: Wayne Shorter – “Chaos”

Track Ten: Fela Kuti – “Expensive Shit”

Track Eleven: Eric Dolphy – “Something Sweet, Something Tender”

Track Twelve: Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto – “Desafinado”

Track Thirteen: Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy – “I Only Have Eyes For You”

Track Fourteen: Charles Mingus – “Better Git It In Your Soul”

Track Fifteen: Rahsaan Roland Kirk – “Salvation & Reminiscing”

Track Sixteen: Oliver Nelson – “Stolen Moments”

Track Seventeen: Cannonball Adderley – “Autumn Leaves”

Track Eighteen: Miles Davis – “So What”

Track Nineteen: John Coltrane – “A Love Supreme Pt. 1 Acknowledgment”

Track Twenty: Sonny Rollins – “St. Thomas”

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