Building a Jazz Library

There's more to jazz than Kenny G and Wynton Marsalis. That's why we created Building A Jazz Library. With this resource, you can home in on the players and styles essential to the past and future of jazz. Each section in this series features a brief introduction which provides some background and biographical information to shed light on each particular artist or style.

Then we list the discs. You'll find landmark material here, true high-water marks worthy of respect and attention. We recruited a special enthusiast to assemble each section in this series. These people have spent a lot of time with the subject (and probably bought way too many records to back it up). We assure you that the nuggets listed here are carefully considered and on-target. If you're new to Jazz -- or new to an artist or style -- treat Building A Jazz Library as a primer of sorts. It will provide you with enough information to step confidently into the store (or the library) and find something tasty. Or if you're a serious collector, you might just find that a few of these recommendations may fill some gaping holes on your shelf. Building A Jazz Library throws its doors wide open to all different kinds of Jazz fans and interests. Certain sounds may mesh with your particular tastes, and this series aims to bring you and the music together in perfect harmony.

So dig in, and enjoy!

Related: Essential Buying Tips for Building a Jazz Collection on a Budget.


Jon Hendricks: An Essential Top Ten Albums

Read "Jon Hendricks: An Essential Top Ten Albums" reviewed by Peter Jones

Considering he reached the ripe old age of 37 before recording an album, Jon Hendricks' jazz legacy is remarkable. Although a singer, in his head he was more of an instrumentalist. When he improvised, he would imitate the tenor saxophone, the flute, the trombone, or the double-bass. His professional singing career lasted from 1932, when he was 11, to 2015 when, aged 94, he recorded some of his own lyrics to a collection of Thelonious Monk tunes (these recordings are ...


Wayne Shorter: An Essential Top Ten Albums

Read "Wayne Shorter: An Essential Top Ten Albums" reviewed by Chris May

At the start of September 2021, trumpeter Terence Blanchard released Absence (Blue Note), dedicated to saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, who for health reasons had recently been obliged to retire from performing, at least temporarily. Some people celebrating their eighty-eighth birthday, as Shorter did the previous month, might not welcome being the dedicatee of an album with such a title. They might consider a more appropriate choice of words to be Presence or even I'm Feeling Fine Thanks For Asking. ...


Mark Murphy: An Essential Top Ten Albums

Read "Mark Murphy: An Essential Top Ten Albums" reviewed by Peter Jones

Revered by jazz singers the world over, Mark Murphy is barely known to the general public--which is curious, since he enjoyed a recording career that lasted more than half a century, made 48 albums in his lifetime, and played thousands of gigs with hundreds of musicians from Norway to Australia. A notoriously mercurial and secretive character, he was gay at a time when homosexuality was not merely frowned upon but illegal. He was a white man when many thought that ...


Charlie Parker: Remastered Highlights From His Peak Years

Read "Charlie Parker: Remastered Highlights From His Peak Years" reviewed by Chris May

Charlie Parker's recorded legacy has been repackaged, reissued, reshuffled and refried so often that newbies and connoisseurs alike are spoilt for choice. Parker's oeuvre has not been meaningfully remixed, however, due to the technical constraints attached to late 1930s through early 1950s recordings--but much of it has been remastered, sometimes with excellent results. Not one of the remastered collections released since digitization, however, delivers the splendiferous sonics of four Celebrating Bird At 100 discs released by the Swiss-based ezz-thetics label ...


Unconventional Instruments

Read "Unconventional Instruments" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

ECM regularly tops lists of the best jazz labels though their full name--Edition of Contemporary Music--would argue for a broader scope of content. A substantial number of their most popular albums, such as Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill (1974), Egberto Gismonti: Dança Dos Escravos (1989), Nils Petter Molvær's Khmer (1997), and many more, are not jazz per se. At least not by the traditional criteria. Looking at the presence of unusual instruments in jazz requires that we ...


Charles Mingus: An Essential Top Ten Albums

Read "Charles Mingus: An Essential Top Ten Albums" reviewed by Chris May

Charles Mingus was rarely a happy man and yet his music possessed a power to uplift listeners unlike that of most other composer / bandleaders before or after him. It still has that power in 2021, four decades after his passing and on the eve of his hundredth anniversary in 2022. In his personal life, too, Mingus was a mass of conflicts and contradictions. He was by turns depressed and exuberant, though mostly depressed. He could be violent one moment ...


John Russell

Read "John Russell" reviewed by John Eyles

On Tuesday 19th January 2021, one month after his 66th birthday, guitarist John Russell died peacefully at home after a long battle against cancer. A flurry of obituaries furnished details of Russell's life and fifty-year career as an improvising musician, some also praising his many music-related achievements far beyond his skills as a guitarist. Some obituaries alluded to key recordings and landmarks from Russell's long recording career. The selection below goes from the start of that recording career ...


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