Greatest Jazz Recordings
This page contains my choice of the best ensemble jazz recordings of all time.
Gordon Goodwin and Art Tatum play ‘Yesterdays’.
This track was such an incredible undertaking. Gordon found an awesome version of
Yesterdays recorded solo, by Art Tatum. The track was in and out of tempo, but despite that
Gordon was able write a background track that weaves in and out of what Tatum played and he
somehow synced it up seamlessly. This may be the most impressive arrangement that I’ve ever heard.
I just have to add one more chart by Gordon. There have been many big band versions of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’
but Gordon’s version is the only one as good, or maybe even better than the original.
In addition to showing the brilliance of Gordon’s adaptation, it shows how well Gershwin’s music stands the test of time. For comparison, listen to this track, the original Paul Whiteman version played for the world premiere of the piece with Gershman at the piano, himself.
Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band plays ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ arranged by Bill Holman
This is my favorite of all the charts that Doc’s band has ever recorded. It was arranged by my
favorite arranger of all time, Bill Holman. I had the privilege of studying with Bill for two weeks
at a jazz music seminar. Those two weeks changed my entire approach to jazz arranging. My goal is
to have my present jazz band here in Grand Junction play this chart the way it should be played.
with the nine (plus two) piece band. I’ve reduced the chart to four saxes, four brass and three
rhythm so we can work on it.
Gerry Mulligan and his Concert Jazz Band plays ‘You Took Advantage of Me’
The Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band is my favorite jazz big band of all time. It’s very
different than any other big band. It features an intimate sound, almost combo like and a limited
palate of soloists, baritone, valve trombone, trumpet and occasionally tenor sax. The band has no
piano or guitar, just bass and drums in the rhythm section although occasionally Gerry will play a solo
on the piano.
Clare Fischer – ‘Igor’ from the album Extension
I first saw Igor in Downbeat Magazine. I used to look forward to each issue because they’d have a musical
score in each one. When I saw the score for Igor, I couldn’t figure out what Clare’s chords were so I bought
the album ‘Extension’. Upon hearing the track, I still couldn’t figure the chords. They sounded so
different. Of course, I now know they were ‘polychords’. That’s when a chord is made up from two simpler
chords. It was an epiphany. The album also used very unique instrumentation, in the case of Igor, mostly
woodwinds and low brass including contra-bass clarinets in addition to the rhythm section.
Stan Getz – I’m Late, I’m Late – orchestrated by Eddie Sauter
Many composers have tried to combine jazz with classical music, usually with little success. It’s a
bit surprising that too unlikely suspects would do such a great job at it. Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter put
together the album ‘Focus’ that features strings, percussion and Stan on tenor saxophone improvising on top
of the orchestra. The results are astonishing.
The Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Big Band – Us – composed by Thad Jones
When I first heard the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band, it opened up a whole new way of thinking about writing big band
charts. Thad’s voicings and unique rhythms were different than any big band that I had ever heard. I
still enjoy hearing the bands charts played and playing them, to this day. This chart was the first
time that I heard a big band horn section play an extended period without the rhythm section.
Tommy Dorsey – We’ll Git It
As to my favorite big band chart from the 40’s, this is it. Tommy Dorsey‘s band playing ‘We’ll Git It. Now, just tell me that this
tune sounds like it’s from the 40’s.
For comparison, here’s the same tune, similar arrangement, played by the ‘Tonight Show Band’ featuring Buddy Rich
Count Basie – Vine Street Rumble – Benny Carter
No list would be complete without the iconic Count Basie, but it can’t be the updated recent Basie,
it must the the retro easy swinging Basie. Who better to write that….. Benny Carter. This chart is so
simple, easy to play and soooo Count Basie.
A more up to date version of Count Basie might include some of the wonderful charts that Sammy Nestico
did for the band. Ironically, my favorite is one of Sammy’s least favorites,Sweet Georgia Brown. He didn’t say why.
Recently discovered this wonderful chart by the Count Basie band
Duke Ellington – Upper Manhattan Medical Group – Billy Strayhorn
No list of best musical recordings would be complete without an Ellington (Billy Strayhorn) tune and this composition is my
all time favorite of all the Ellington band’s recordings.
Here’s a version of UMMG played by my friends and myself.
Buddy Rich – Love for Sale
Arguably the greatest jazz drummer of all time was Buddy Rich. My all-time favorite drummer was Mel Lewis, but I digress, that’s another story, . Buddy’s band was one of the best big bands of all time and my favorite chart that they played was ‘Love for Sale’. Enjoy this version…
Stan Kenton – ‘El Panzon’, composed by Johnny Richards
Stan’s band has never been my favorite but I recently was introduced to ‘El Panzon’ by Johnny Richards and it’s an awesome chart.
The Kenton band’s early Latin attempts drew criticism from the great Latin players especially one’s that were hired to play on the charts.
Stan asked Johnny to spend time learning what makes an authentic Latin sound and Johnny talked to many great musicians in the New York area to
learn the details of the Cuban jazz/latin sound. The Cuban Fire album was the result of this adventure and ‘El Panzon’ is one of the very
best examples which caused me to include it here.
After all these wonderful recordings of big band music, one fact remains. All these bands require their instruments
to sound this good. There’s one group out there that’s sounds awesome and they don’t even have any instruments. At lease not
in the sense of instruments made of brass, wood or any other substances. Even with this compromise, they’re producing fantastic
big band music. In thiis case, I think we need video to appreciate their proformance.
Doxy – George Stone Big Band
Sometimes great music comes from unexpected places. Here’s a chart from a band that I’d never heard of playing a tune that’s a typical be-bop combo riff. Listen to what he does with it, Wow!!