Wynton Marsalis Chooses His Top 50 Essential Jazz Recordings

Last week, Wynton Marsalis shared his "12 Essential Jazz Recordings" with Rolling Stone. As it turns out, there was a whole lot more where that came from. Check out his top 50 essential jazz recordings, culled from an eclectic array of categories:

  1. First true intellectual of jazz possessing encyclopedic knowledge on and off the bandstand (to his eternal damnation): Jelly Roll Morton’s The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
  2. Disarmingly honest and soulful melody: Charles Mingus’s“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Marcus Roberts’s “Spiritual Awakening”
  3. Manifestation of genius and an unparalleled set of unique achievements (playing, composing, arranging, mentoring): Mary Lou Williams. As a player: “Night Life”; As a composer/arranger: “Walkin’ & Swingin‘”; As a mentor: “In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee” (Dizzy Gillespie’s recording); Composing range: “Scorpio”
  4. Profound insight into the true meaning and nature of jazz across time, space and cultural misconceptions: Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing”
  5. A boogaloo church shuffle in a funky 7 – damn!: Eddie Harris’s“1974 Blues”
  6. Super imaginative integration of European, African, American and Hispanic elements: Machito’s “Kenya,” Duke Ellington’s“Afro-Bossa”
  7. Textbook genius Improvisation: Charlie Parker’s “Embraceable You,” Thelonious Monk’s “Sophisticated Lady,” John Coltrane’s“Crescent”
  8. Destination: Soul: Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story,” Duke Ellington’s “Blues in Orbit,” Ben Webster and "Sweets" Edison’s “Better Go”
  9. The Sweetest of Sweet / The Hottest of Hot: Paul Whiteman’s“Whispering,” Jean Goldkette’s “My Pretty Girl”
  10. Supreme ambassador through effusive, ebullient, infectious playing: Errol Garner’s “Nightconcert”
  11. Extremely sophisticated, yet lyrical melody/harmony combination: Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” Duke Ellington’s“Creole Blues,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Thelonious Monk’s“Ask Me Now,” Bill Evans’s “Very Early,” Horace Silver’s “Peace,” Hermeto Pascoal’s “Farol que nos guía todo,” Chick Corea’s“Humpty Dumpty”
  12. Audience clearly enjoying themselves: Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”
  13. Textbook study of thematic development in a long-form composition transforming a very basic four note motif into modal jazz, original counterpoint, and a beautiful ballad, while still swinging the whole time: Duke Ellington’s “The Tattooed Bride”
  14. Otherworldly display of flat-footed improvisational skills: Stan Getz’s “I’m Late, I’m Late” from Focus, Louis Armstrong (second cornet) on “King Oliver’s Snake Rag”
  15. Deep, deep groove of the Americas: Tito Rodriguez’s “Como mi ritmo no hay dos”
  16. Sounds of protest and affirmation: Louis Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” (1929), Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (1939), Duke Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” (1941), Charles Mingus’s “Original Faubus Fables” (1959), Max Roach’s “Driva Man” (1960), Max Roach’s “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace” (1960), Dave Brubeck’s“The Real Ambassadors” (1961), John Coltrane’s “Alabama” (1963), Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Clickety Clack” (1973), Betty Carter’s “Bridges" (1992)
  17. Making a horn sound exactly like someone singing: "Tricky Sam" Nanton on Duke Ellington’s “Chloe (Song of the Swamp)”
  18. Insightful integration of the blues with disparate elements: Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk”
  19. Uncommon psychological complexity while maintaining a lyrical intention: Ornette Coleman’s “Peace”
  20. Floating over 4/4 swing in a long-meter subdivision of three: Billie Holiday’s "Getting Some Fun Out of Life”
  21. Trumpets, trumpets, trumpets: Tommy Dorsey’s “Well, Git It!"
  22. Classic bebop (despite poor recording quality): Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology" from One Night in Birdland
  23. Harmonically challenging offspring of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor”: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Wayne Shorter’s “Fee-Fi -Fo-Fum”
  24. Commitment to an original and sophisticated conception over time with absolute integrity and seriousness — Steve Colemanfrom On the Edge of Tomorrow (1986) to Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. 1 & 2 (2018) and any other subsequent volumes that demonstrate the same level of belief
  25. All-time Baddest MF: Duke Ellington’s “Choo Choo" (1924), “Daybreak Express” (1933), “Happy Go Lucky Local” (1947), “Track 360” (1958), and “Loco Madi" (1972)
  26. Stunning and invigorating talent: Cécile McLorin Salvant (her choice of songs, compositions and unrepentant seriousness)
  27. Unprecedented improvised development with least amount of thematic material: John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”
  28. Great deal of ambition in a fallow period: Marcus Roberts’s“Blues for the New Millennium”
  29. Absolute improvement through improvisation of a classic American popular song (that didn’t need to be improved): Louis Armstrong’s “Stardust”
  30. Profound uncompromisingly spiritual intention: John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord”
  31. Merlin of the keyboard: Art Tatum’s “Tiger Rag,” “Tea for Two,” and “Too Marvelous for Words”
  32. Most angelic singing: Doris Day (and Les Brown and His Band of Renown) on “Sentimental Journey”
  33. Extremely mature jazz improvisation on an American popular song: Miles Davis’s “Stella By Starlight” (from My Funny Valentine)
  34. Trombones trombones trombones: Duke Ellington’s "Bragging in Brass"
  35. Relaxation in the face of chaos: John Coltrane’s “Interstellar Space”
  36. Clear demonstration of how to sing the blues through a horn in all registers: Sidney Bechet’s “Blue Horizon”
  37. Great consolidator of past and present with no concern for cliques: Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um
  38. Multifaceted genius of vocalese: Jon Hendricks’s “Freddie the Freeloader”
  39. Creative use of form: Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Pearls,” Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners,” Louis Armstrong & His Hot Fives’s “Skid Dat-De-Dat,” Gerry Mulligan’s “K-4 Pacific”
  40. Saxes saxes saxes: The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra’s"Tiptoe" from Consummation
  41. Solo with an organic integration highlighting the relationship between a modern instrument and its ancient purpose: Louis Armstrong’s “Tight Like That”
  42. Definitive master of playing the piano with both hands: Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag” and “Handful of Keys”
  43. Mind-bogglingly nimble, flexible, intelligent and omnidirectional rhythm section: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams with Miles Davis from E.S.P. to Filles de Kilimanjaro
  44. Small ensembles that consolidated while innovating: Modern Jazz Quartet, Bill Evans Trio, Marcus Roberts Trio, Ahmad Jamal Trio, Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet
  45. Most meaningful concert: Benny Goodman’s The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, Jazz at the Philharmonic (various concerts)
  46. Most meaningful composition: Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige”
  47. Significant long-form compositions: Woody Herman’s “Lady McGowan’s Dream,” Duke Ellington’s “A Tone Parallel to Harlem,” Igor Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs," Chico O’Farrill’s “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite”
  48. Great compositional diversity with no sacrifice of quality: Wayne Shorter with Art Blakey’s “Lester Left Town” (1960) and “This Is for Albert”(1963), Wayne Shorter with Miles Davis’s “Fall” (1967) and “Nefertiti” (1967), Wayne Shorter’s “El Gaucho” (1966), Wayne Shorter with Weather Report’s “Palladium” (1977), and Wayne Shorter’s “Atlantis” (1985)
  49. Two people who did a lot of practicing (individually and together): Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie’s “Shaw ‘Nuff”
  50. Definitive shout chorus: Eddie Durham’s arrangement for Bennie Moten’s Orchestra of “The Blue Room” (1934)

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