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My Blue Note Obsession

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Jimmy Smith: A New Sound, A New Star, Vol. 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1512 and 1514

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Listening to Jimmy Smith's early recordings is like listening to Chuck Berry play “Johnny B. Goode." Today, every rock guitarist from junior high school on knows the riff and can play it by heart. But Chuck Berry did it first, and arguably best. There were no great rock guitar licks before Chuck Berry. He created the template. It's the same with Jimmy Smith. Today, there are dozens of jazz organists who can play bop, blues and beyond. They're all funky, they all have chops. But without Jimmy Smith, there would be no jazz organ. So listening ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Milt Jackson and the Thelonious Monk Quintet

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And now, a crossroads: At what price do I pass? It's the dilemma all collectors face eventually. At first, you buy the commons. A used CD at $4 is a no-brainer. A new CD at $10 or $12, easy to justify. But what do you do when the easies are gone and the price makes you think twice? I've reached that point. My mission is to collect all the Blue Note CDs in the classic 1500 series. For stubborn, stupid reasons, I've decided to do this chronologically. So I started with 1501 and worked my way ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Thad Jones: Detroit-New York Junction – Blue Note 1513

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Before he became famous as the leader of a big band, Thad Jones was a trumpet player, and a damn good one. In 1956, Jones led his first jazz group. It was a small sextet--unlike his later, more celebrated ensemble, co-led by Mel Lewis. This short album, which chronicles that session, has only five songs and runs just 34 minutes. There are no alternate takes. It's a pleasant album, but not a great one. There is nothing innovative here, or particularly memorable. Jones has a nice tone and decent chops, but he won't make you forget ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Thelonious Monk: Genius of Modern Music, Volume 1 – Blue Note 1510

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There's bebop, there's hard bop--and then there's Thelonious Monk. It's not hard to imagine where the bebop pioneers found their new sound in the late 1940s, after World War II. It emerged from the big bands, which were dying. It was a natural progression. Hard-charging, uber-fast soloists pushed the limits of speed and rhythm, to the chagrin of the jazz establishment, but to the thrill of listeners. It was new, but it wasn't a giant leap--more of an incremental step. Thelonious Monk was there. But it's clear from Genius of Modern Music, Volume 1, that Monk ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

My Pet Peeve: The Mislabeled CD – Clifford Brown Memorial Album – Blue Note 1526

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And now it's time for a personal pet peeve, something far worse than a squeaky sax or a fumble-fingered pianist: The mislabeled CD. Today's example: The Clifford Brown Memorial Album. Let's start by noting that this is a terrific record--recorded in 1953, released in 1956, shortly after Brown's tragic death in a car crash at age 25. This is early Brown, the great hard bop trumpeter, on the verge of stardom. It's a 4-star record that might be even better if only I knew the names of the songs and who's playing on them!

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

The Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1507 and 1508

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Is it possible for a band to be both legendary and underrated? The Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia makes that case. Jazz fans know the Jazz Messengers is the definitive, go-to band for straight-ahead hard bop. Art Blakey was both master drummer and master talent scout--the man who co-founded and sustained the celebrated group. For all his talents as a trailblazing harp bop drummer, Blakey's probably better known for discovering and nurturing several generations of jazz in the Messengers. It's a long, impressive list. Fans may debate which incarnation of the Jazz Messengers was the ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

J.J. Johnson: The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Volumes 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1505 and 1506

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Think of jazz, and the trombone almost never comes to mind. Didn't used to be. In the beginning, every jazz band had a trombone. But that was the Dixieland era, and Dixieland bands aren't much in vogue anymore. (Unless you're a fan of HBO's Treme and you listen to Trombone Shorty. Sadly, not enough people do, or Treme would still be on the air.) Then came the big band era, and suddenly lots of trombones were the fashion, all in one band. Think Tommy Dorsey or Juan Tizol of the Duke Ellington band. And ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

The Amazing Bud Powell, Volumes 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1503 and 1504

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In the pantheon of bebop's Founding Fathers, there are three giants. Everyone knows Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Everyone forgets Bud Powell. Like Bird and Diz, Powell could spit out notes faster than anyone before or since. Also like Bird and Diz, Powell sometimes fell in love with his own speed, so some recordings became exercises in ridiculously frantic keyboard runs because... well, he could. Fortunately, these two early Powell discs emphasize the quirky, fun, inventive Bud Powell. While no pianist was ever quite as quirky and original as Thelonious Monk, Powell might place a close ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

Miles Davis, Volume 1 and 2 -- Blue Note 1501 and 1502

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Miles Davis didn't record much for Blue Note Records, just three sessions in three years. So it's odd that the very first two CDs in Blue Note's classic 1500 series--the 100 albums from the 1950s that made Blue Note the top label in hard bop--are from Miles Davis. They're not bad records, but they're not essential Miles Davis. This isn't classic muted Miles, or modal Miles, or Miles with orchestra. And, of course, it's many years before classic fusion Miles. AllMusic.com lists six definitive Miles Davis CDs, which you probably know by heart, and this isn't one of ...

MY BLUE NOTE OBSESSION

My Blue Note Obsession: A Ridiculous Quest Begins

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Two years ago, I bought 31 Agatha Christie novels--all at once. Then I wanted more. It didn't seem nutty at the time. My local library sells used books. One day I was in the store and there they were: a set of blue-covered, leatherette books. It was the Agatha Christie Mystery Collection by Bantam Books. I like Agatha Christie; I used to like her a whole lot. I had a notion that someday I would read all her novels. So a matching set of 31 Agatha Christies--at the ridiculous price of $1 a book-- was something I could ...



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