Growing up on a strict musical diet of pop and rock, I once viewed jazz as this formless gunk that intellectuals would roll around in to make themselves feel superior to the unkempt masses. It was art for intimidation’s sake: indulgent, self-congratulating and worst of all, boring. Something tells me I wasn’t alone in that view. People deride jazz not so much for its musicianship, but more so for those insufferable assholes who listen to it. Turtleneck-wearin’, finger-snappin’, rock ‘n’ roll-hatin’, ivory tower elitists! They guard their cultural clubhouse like prepubescent boys on cootie patrol. And who would want to join that sort of club, anyway?
Well, it took awhile, but I eventually had a conversion experience to jazz, not to mention its appreciators. I received my baptism at college (where else?), via a music appreciation course and a psychology professor who would rock stuff like Jaco Pastorius over the speakers before he began his lectures.
My first lesson: Every musical genre is a big tent, and jazz might have the broadest reach of them all. Clearly, any genre that could fit both Sun Ra and Kenny G under its boughs had something to offer for just about any music fan. And so I began my first timid purchases of jazz albums, in search of what worked for me.
Which brings us to the list below. Collected here are some albums that I think work as great entry points for jazz newbies. I write this compendium not as any sort of jazz aficionado or historian... just an amateur explorer, still trying to find his own way.
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