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If you've been collecting music for any considerable length of time, you know the answer to this question is: Plenty.
Because if you've been collecting music, you've been shopping for music. Shop for music long enough and experience will teach that you enjoy the work of some artists better than others. Explore the work of some of these artists more deeply and you may be rewarded to discover that you enjoy certain chronological periods of their work, or that you enjoy their work with certain producers or for certain record labels, more than you enjoy others.
Rather than explore the music of a particular artist or genre or instrument, Building a Jazz Library: Fantasy Jazz spotlights music released on labels under the umbrella of Fantasy Records. Based in Berkeley (CA), Fantasy has recovered, restored, and re-issued music that might otherwise have been lost, mainly from companies that for one reason or another seemed headed for certain obscurity, rejuvenating jazz in the process. Major jazz figures such as pianists Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and others, recorded some of their most enduring work for Fantasy labels.
This series of Fantasy label samplers opens a window into some of the best music, drawn from some of the best albums, that jazz has ever seen.
Contemporary Sampler (OJC) Producer Lester Koenig, who already had a label releasing traditional jazz, took a leap of faith by launching the Contemporary label for more modern jazz. Located in Los Angeles, Koenig was in the right place and time to release nearly 200 titles documenting the "cool jazz" sound of Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Barney Kessel, and others who thrived in southern California from the mid-1950s to the mid-?60s.
Compilation includes: Title track of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West; Art Pepper with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, at the time Miles Davis' rhythm section; "Invisible" from Ornette Coleman's free jazz landmark Something Else!!!!; and the Lighthouse All-Stars, led by Howard Rumsey, bassist and owner of the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa Beach (CA), which hosted some legendary cool jazz nights.
Recommended: Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman (1958); Shelly Manne & His Men: The West Coast Sound, Volume 1 (1953 - '55); Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics (1959); Art Pepper: Meets the Rhythm Section (1957); Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (1957); Cecil Taylor: Looking Ahead! (1958).
Debut Sampler (OJC) Debut was one of the first labels to be musician owned and operated, founded in 1952 by bassist Charles Mingus with his wife plus drummer Max Roach. Lasting only about five years, Debut released one of the most famous jazz albums of all time, documenting "The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever" a/k/a Jazz at Massey Hall, a live performance by Mingus, Roach, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.
Compilation includes: Massey Hall selections "Embraceable You" by the Powell, Mingus, Roach trio, and the quintet barnstorm through "Perdido"; "Orinthology," another Parker classic, recorded by Bird Live at St. Nick's ; the recorded summit of traditional and modern on "Swing to Bop" by Charlie Christian with Thelonious Monk; and cuts from the first sessions led by Thad Jones and Kenny Dorham.
Recommended: Paul Bley: Improvisations - Introducing Paul Bley (1953); Miles Davis: Blue Moods (1955); Kenny Dorham: Kenny Dorham Quintet (1953); Thad Jones: The Fabulous Thad Jones (1955); Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell Trio: Jazz at Massey Hall Volume 2 (1953); The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall Volume 1 (1953).
Fantasy Sampler (OJC) Dave Brubeck made the first recordings for Fantasy, a label he helped commandeer through its early San Francisco days with brothers Max and Sol Weiss. The flagship label released prime material from Latin sensations Mongo Santamaria and Cal Tjader, almost the entire catalog by Vince Guaraldi of enduring Peanuts fame, and the classic Gerry Mulligan / Chet Baker piano-less quartet sides.
Compilation includes: Some genuine hits, such as the famous Mulligan / Baker "My Funny Valentine" and Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which won the Best Instrumental Jazz Composition Grammy Award; "I Wish That We Were Young and Foolish Again" from The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album; and Latin jam from The Cal Tjader Sextet with Stan Getz with Guaraldi, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro and Eddie Duran.
Recommended: Dave Brubeck: Jazz at the College of Pacific (1953); Bill Evans / Tony Bennett: The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album (1975); Stan Getz Sextext: Stan Getz with Cal Tjader (1958); Vince Guaraldi: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1964); Mongo Santamaria: At the Black Hawk (1962); Cal Tjader: The Cal Tjader Latin Concert (1958).
Pablo Sampler (OJC) Norman Granz was an accidental label executive: His first love was presenting concerts such as his famous Jazz at the Philharmonic series in Los Angeles, which featured Parker and Gillespie plus Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, both of whom he managed. He left the business then returned in the mid-1970s to found Pablo, recording Gillespie, Coltrane, Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and others.
Compilation includes: Ellington's piano in duet with bassist Ray Brown; drummer Louis Bellson gunning the engine of a propulsive Latin jam, and Gillespie dancing with the Machito big Latin band through "Calidoscopico"; a live recording by the classic Coltrane quartet; and Sarah Vaughan moaning "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues" with guitarist Joe Pass, who also whispers a solo "Willow Weep for Me."
Recommended: Count Basie with Zoot Sims: Basie and Zoot (1975); Ella Fitzgerald: Ella in London (1974); Milt Jackson with Joe Pass and Ray Brown: The Big 3 (1975); Jazz at the Philharmonic: In London 1969 (1992); Jazz at the Philharmonic: Live at the Nichigeki Theatre 1953 (1992); Oscar Peterson with Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Peterson: The Trio (1973).
Prestige Sampler (OJC) Founder Bob Weinstock proved prescient by encouraging from his roster longer playing tunes for the emerging 33 1/3-rpm long-playing (LP) record format instead of three-minute tunes for 78-rpm singles. His talent eye also proved prophetic: Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet (each member individually plus the ensemble), Monk, Coltrane, and other modern masters all recorded early sides for Prestige.
Compilation includes: Davis, Rollins, and Parker together on "Compulsion"; one of the first Caribbean jazz strains, Rollins' "St. Thomas"; and King Pleasure's lyrics set to the melody of a Parker solo ("Parker's Mood"), Annie Ross' celebrated "Twisted," Mose Allison's rocking "Seventh Son," and the biggest pop hit for the label, and one of the biggest for the singer, Etta James' "Don't Go To Strangers."
Recommended: John Coltrane: Lush Life (1958); Miles Davis: Cookin' (1956); Miles Davis & The Modern Jazz Giants: Bags' Groove (1956); The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django (1955); Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (1990); Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus (1956).
Riverside Sampler (OJC) Riverside was home base for Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, leaders of the "hard bop" movement, be-bop's funky, energetic younger brother. Yet the crushed romanticism of Chet Baker, bossa nova bop guitarist Charlie Byrd, and the cerebral delicacy of pianist Bill Evans also found a home at Riverside, as did Thelonious Monk, who recorded most of his masterpieces for the label.
Compilation includes: A rare recording of Billy Strayhorn playing piano, in tandem with Duke Ellington; Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery ascending "Stairway to the Stars"; Baker's deliciously hushed "Alone Together"; the composers' classic versions of Evans' "Waltz for Debby" and Timmons' "This Here"; "Thermo" from a classic Jazz Messengers lineup; and Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins together with Monk on "Epistrophy."
Recommended: The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco (1959); Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Live) (1961); Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956); Thelonious Monk: Monk's Music (1957); Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960); Bobby Timmons: This Here is Bobby Timmons (1960).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.