Finding Monster Bargains at Online Music Stores

Mark Sabbatini BY

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For 99 cents you can download a one-hour live performance by trumpet star Wynton Marsalis and his septet. Or a few seconds of him suggesting audience members use the restroom first.

The same spare change buys more than 30 minutes of Miles Davis, or a moment of him chatting in studio with various personnel. And a mere 25 cents is all that's needed for an hour-long session with Bill Evans as he discusses and demonstrates his technique.

They are among the hard-to-find gems representing in vastly different ways the more amazing and overlooked bargains at online music stores.

Online stores generally don't permit songs longer than about 10 minutes to be purchased individually, but the rare few that exist include some landmark performances. Ultra-short tracks can be even more of a bargain, despite the same single-song price tag: Use the preview feature to obtain any track of 30 seconds or less for free.

Getting marathon-length tracks is no trick - if they can be found. So this article will focus on a couple of general search tips for both long and short tracks, and how to "keep" the short ones, before getting to the good stuff - a listing of bargain track highlights.

General Search Tips
Saving The Short Stuff
The Bargain List!
Short Stuff
Marathon Madness

General Search Tips

The easiest way to start is with well-established artists who have a bunch of albums to their credit.

A search for "Miles Davis" at the iTunes Music Store results in many hundreds of songs, a handful of which exceed 30 minutes or last less than 30 seconds. You don't even have to scroll through the list of songs to find them - click on the "Time" bar in the song window and the titles will be sorted by length (clicking on it again reverses the listing, allowing you to see the shortest and longest in mere seconds).

Another trick is searching for phrases likely to produce a long list of songs from albums that feature extreme-length tracks. "Live," "complete," "concert" and "studio" are commonly used in boxed sets and concert albums, for example.

User lists of such songs can often be found in postings at the site or on "unofficial" Web pages. eMusic.com has a "list" feature of members' favorite albums, for example, and a number of them focus exclusively on one- and two-track albums.

Finally, bargain hunting works for songs that don't fall in the extremes of the length scale. Apple demands $10 each for four albums by saxophonist Albert Ayler, for example, each of which are short and four songs long. Three of the four songs are available as individual 99-cent downloads, so if you don't mind missing one song from each you can download three-fourths of four albums for about the same price one album costs in its entirety.

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Saving The Short Stuff

If your computer can record internal sound, you're in luck.

Virtually every site offering music downloads also features free previews, typically lasting 30 seconds. Usually they're not "CD quality," but are still sufficient to be part of a music collection (the service is, after all, trying to entice you into buying whatever is being previewed).

This article can't provide a step-by-step "how-to" on recording the samples, since there are far too many programs to provide generic instructions (the freeware program Wiretap is the best Mac option; WIndows users have many more choices). But the concept is simple: Start the record feature of your program, select the song's preview function and refrain from doing anything else on your computer until the entire sample plays (unless you want error beeps and other program sounds as part of the recording, or are willing to risk having the stream interrupted because your computer can't keep up).

Since music stores are asking users to pay for these short snippets, some may ask if recording them is legal. My opinion (which is not legally binding, so please don't sue) is yes because users are not obtaining the files being sold. Instead they're getting a version with inferior sound quality that is being made freely available to anyone. Put another way, it appears to be no different than recording a radio broadcast and or TV movie and playing it back for personal use. However, that doesn't mean someone compile a CD of "Recording Studio Engineers Swearing At Jazz Legends Who Blew The Take" and offer it for sale.

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The Bargain List!

OK, here's where we sort through tens of thousands of songs so you don't have to.

The following are from Apple's iTunes Music Store and eMusic.com, but may also be available from other music services. It will be updated as time permits. Short tracks - sorted into categories such as music, studio talk and oddities - are first. Marathon tracks follow, beginning with artists offering an exceptional number in quantity or quality.

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Short Stuff

Musical Sprints...

  • A free one-minute concert. Here's a bit of fun courtesy of Gerry Mulligan. A big build-up for the sax player, followed by a 23-second performance of him signing off. The tracks are "Introduction by Norman Granz" followed by "Gerry Mulligan Signing Off."

  • "The Rings of Saturn" by Bela Fleck & Tony Trishka. Banjo jazz in 30 seconds or less.

  • "I'll See You Again (Breakdown)" by Bill Evans. A 20-second take from the pianist's "Trio 64" album.

  • Glen Miller: A bunch of short interludes and other pieces clock in at less than 30 seconds.

  • "Art Of Key Noise" by Dave Koz. A fascinating 27-second song that closes out one of the smooth jazz sax man's albums, with Koz using his horn as a percussion instrument.

  • "Ostrich Feathers Played on Drum" by Moondog. Just what the title says.

  • "Awright" by Greyboy. A 30-second electronic music taster.

  • "Interlude" by Bobby Lyle.

  • "Life Goes to a Party" by Benny Goodman.

  • "A Colloquial Dream" by Charles Mingus A short piece from the album "Tijuana Moods (Expanded)."

  • "Interlude" by Chris Botti. A 30-second taste of the smooth jazz sax star.

  • "Monteorlines" by Jesus Alemany from "Cubanismo!: Mardi Gras Mambo in New Orleans."

  • "Closing Theme" by the Dave Brubeck Octet.

  • "Frame (Il Più Crudele Dei Giorni)" (two versions) by Federico Sanesi.

  • "Deep Forest (Live)" by Earl Hines.

  • "Duke Loves You Madly" and "Fanfare" from Duke Ellington.

  • "Maybe Just One (Interlude)" by DJ Wally. A full set of jazz solos in 23 seconds?

  • "Punto Burro" by Willie & Lobo. Spanish guitar ditty.

  • Chief Sonne Reyna & Steven Halpern. Three short New Age pieces.

  • "Tributes to Annie Oakley, Dale Evans, & Annette" an a capella chant by Sweet Pie Pleasure Pudding.

  • "Joe Meek's Cat" by Swing Out Sister. No idea what this rock instrumental has to do with cats.

  • "This Magic Called Real" by George Winston. Solo piano fluff from a children's album about "The Velveteen Rabbit."

  • "Little Sally Walker" by Taj Mahal.

  • "Fanfare: Matanuska" by Tower of Power. A taste of - what else? - some horns.

  • "Souljourn" by Scott Huckabay. Fourteen seconds of soothing New Age.

  • "Entrance Music" by Sex Mob. Some kind of weird trance thing.

  • "Maturity" and "Fertility" by Shelly Manne. A bit of weirdness from the drummer.

  • "Introduction to Real Time" by Spyro Gyra from their "Three Wishes" album. Hey, they break the formula with something other than a radio-length track.

  • "Time Races With Emit (1990 Box Set Version)" by Roland Kirk. Big band meets free jazz in a hurry.

  • "DJ Apollo Interlude" by Russell Gunn.

  • "Gran Valzer (Il Gattopardo)" by Enrico Rava. A short live trumpet ballad.

  • "The New Anthem" and "The Military" by Ornette Coleman. These are orchestra pieces, but definitely free-form.

  • Frame (Il Più Crudele Dei Giorni)" by Federico Sanesi. There are two versions of this, both offering some world percussion moments.

  • "Orange Iguanas" by Antonio Hart. Some steel-drum calypso.

  • "Pictures" by Pat Metheny. Can you tell if you'll like the "Map Of The World" soundtrack in 20 seconds? M-a-a-a-ybe.

  • "Finale (Peace On Earth)" by the Disney Studio Chorus from "Lady and the Tramp." Somehow this is filed under Peggy Lee in jazz, so we'll list it here.

  • "Mary McLeod Bethune" and "Los Angeles Negro Chorus" by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And since we just did something from the chorus, here's some more.

  • "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love" and "Opus 1" by Mahavishnu Orchestra. They don't do anything ordinary, do they?

  • "Reprise" by Medeski, Martin & Wood from their "Uninvisible" album.

  • "Momento" by Monty Alexander. A nice harmonica moment.

  • "Mali's Bounce" by Najee. A solo sax bit. Even if you fear smooth jazz this isn't bad - and it's got a great surprise ending.

  • "Map of Bubbles (Short Version)" by The Lounge Lizards. Tiny bit of a live performance.

  • "Benny Frenchy's Tune (Concluded)," "Buddy Bertrand's Blues, No. 2" and "C.C. Rider (Begun)" by Jelly Roll Morton from the Library Of Congress recordings.

  • "By a Stream"by Jessie Allen Cooper. Got New Age?

  • "Monteorlines" by Jesus Alemany. Got Latin?

  • Jimmy Herring - six short clips of avant-guarde guitar.

  • Joshua Redman - sax guru on three short interludes.

  • "By the Fire" by Frank Vignola from an album titled "Blues for a Gypsy."

  • "Hip Hop Jazz Interlude" and "Funky Fresh Interlude" by J. Spencer.

  • "Goin' to the Chase (Soundtrack Version)" by J.J. Johnson.

  • "Interlude IV (White) Excerpt" by Dale Fielder. Some moody New Age stuff.

  • "Bridey Mae" by John Hammond. Bit o' harmonica as part of a soundtrack album.

  • "Satin Doll (Segue)" by Kenny Burrell in a tribute to Ellington.

  • "Poor Shakes" by Money Mark. A bizarre bit of noise, but it's filed under jazz, so...

  • "In the Meantime" by George Duke.

  • "Tendu" by Lisa Harris. A bit of light/classical ballet instrumental.

  • "Sativa" by Harleigh Cole. Sort of a big band introduction piece.

Musical Stumbles...

  • Billie Holiday: A great place to start, with at least two dozen short, abandoned and other takes, including some studio chatter.

  • Louis Armstrong: Just as good, if not better. Tons of sound, speaking and sputtering.

  • Charlie Parker (plus Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk): A large number of short takes and false starts.

  • Bud Powell: Eight incomplete and unreleased short takes.

  • Gil Evans and Miles Davis and Gil Evans: Five snippets of studio discussion from the boxed set of "The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings."

  • "Poor Butterfly (False Start)" by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian. Self-explanatory segment from a boxed set.

  • "I Won't Say I Will (Incomplete Take)" by Sarah Vaughan.

  • "Studio Conversation (Mahalia Swears)" by Duke Ellington. Pretty self-explanatory

Words of Wit and Wisdom...

  • Take 6: A lot of great snippets from the a capella group. If you don't get a laugh out of these and can't find a use for clips such as the totally overdone "we'll be right back" interlude your senses need an upgrade.

  • "Close the Door Joe, We're Making a Disc!" by Bing Crosby. Just what it sounds like.

  • "Introduction" by Dexter Gordon during a live performance at Carnegie Hall.

  • "Charles Brown's Thank You" by Charlie Brown. And an entertaining farewell from the blues man.

  • "Introduction to Little Royal Suite by Bill Cosby." The comedian introduces a piece featuring Charles Mingus.

  • "Big Bill Broonzy: Dialogue" by Big Bill Broonzy. No details? Oh, the suspense...

  • "For Our Next Tune" and "Without Any More Adieu (excerpt)" by Dizzy Gillespie. Says it all word for word.

  • "Welcome to New Orleans" by Galactic.

  • 101 Toddler Favorites: A number of pieces like "This Little Pig" are here and somehow filed in jazz. Hey, time to broaden those horizons.

  • Monty Python: Surprise the heck out of someone by putting tone of their many short clips - especially their "announcements" at the beginning of a custom CD.

  • "After the Game (Intro)" by Wayman Tisdale. The former basketball player doing a greeting in style.

  • "Evolution (And Flashback)" by Gil Scott-Heron. A bit of spoken poetry by the R&B artist.

  • "Call from Rita 1978" by Los Lobos. A strange telephone conversation.

  • "Dial: M-A-C-E-O" by Maceo Parker. Another odd bit of phone work.

  • "If I Only Had a Brain (Intro)" by Nnenna Freelon. We've all had days like this one.

  • "Introduction" by performers on an album paying tribute to the history of hemp.

  • "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (Intro)" and "Quincy Jones Commentary" by Quincy Jones. Some insight into a couple of Michael Jackson songs.

  • "Cannonball Adderley Intro" by Cannonball Adderley. Sets us up for a concert.

  • "Introduction" by Billy Taylor. Does the same thing for this player during his last live recording.

  • "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid (Excerpt)" by various artists. A very fun introduction on a Savoy jazz compilation.

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Marathon Madness

  • Wynton Marsalis. Maybe everyone doesn't appreciate his music, but nobody can fault his generosity. He easily offers the best marathon bargains available from iTunes, with eight songs of 15 minutes or more including the live 55-minute "In the Sweet Embrace of Life" and 40-minute "Citi Movement." Excellent stuff. Combine "Embrace" with his spoken introduction from the short tracks section and you have a full album for a buck.

  • Miles Davis. How about a few hours from the grand master of jazz for a few bucks? Several tracks exceeding 30 minutes each are available from his early '70s fusion period, with some other tracks such as "Sketches Of Spain: Concierto de Aranjuez" also available.

  • Branford Marsalis. Not quite as generous as his brother, but still better than most. A number of tracks exceeding 15 minutes, most of them live, are available.

  • "Bill Evans Piano Jazz" by Bill Evans. One-hour NPR show available as a single song from emusic.com as part of the Riverside boxed set.

  • Herbie Hancock. Several tracks, including some live compilations with Chick Corea.

  • Fela Kuti. This is actually world music filed under jazz for some reason, but with 10 tracks of 18 to 32 minutes available for a buck each we'll forgive whoever's responsible.

  • Lou Grassi. Three sections from his "ProGressions" clock in at a total of more than 57 minutes.

  • "The Real Thing (Remastered)" (18:56) by Taj Mahal.

  • "Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano" (17:53) by Richard Stoltzman. Classical filed under jazz.

  • "Little Royal Suite" (20:20) and "E'S Flat, Ah's Flat Too" (17:07) by Charles Mingus.

  • Gerry Mulligan & The Dave Brubeck Trio: Live At The Berlin Philharmonie: New Orleans (16:01)

  • "An American In Paris" (18:29) and "Rhapsody In Blue" (16:29) by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

  • "Concierto de Aranjuez" (19:16) by Jim Hall.

  • "Nomads" (17:21) by Keith Jarrett.

  • "School Days, Live At The Greek" (21:34)" by Stanley Clarke.

  • "The Lost Souls (Of Southern Louisiana)" (14:23) by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

  • "La création du Monde, Op. 81" (15:44). A "jazz in classical music" piece from NPR.

  • "Diminuendo in Blue" (14:19) by Duke Ellington.

  • "Avalon" (13:15) by Ella Fitzgerald.

  • "Honeysuckle Rose" (16:42) by Benny Goodman.

  • "New Orleans" (16:01) and Things Ain't What They Used to be (14:55) by The Dave Brubeck Trio.

  • The Main Attraction (19:35) by Grant Green.

  • "El Mar Mediterrani" (17:16) by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

  • "a La Carte" (20:48) by Joe Rosenberg.

  • Sixes and Sevens (15:26) by John Surman.

  • "It's Too Late" (16:23) by Johnny Hammond.

  • "Albert's Ladder" (16:35) and "Listen Tree" (15:25) by Ken Simon.

  • "Dream (Live)" (21:46) by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

  • "Training" (17:28), "The Miracle (15:35) and "Spanish Key" (15:25) by Mark Isham.

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