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10 Classic and Essential Jazz Albums

Jazz is perhaps best experienced live, but some recordings are veritable works of art. Below is a list of ten albums that represent important periods in the development of jazz, and whose music is as fresh today as when it was recorded. The list ordered chronologically by the dates each album was recorded, functions as a mere introduction to classic jazz recordings.

When Charlie Parker, one of the creators of bebop, recorded with a string ensemble, he was criticized for pandering to a popular audience. His music was characterized in part by taking conventions of swing music and pushing them to their extremes; extreme registers, extremely fast tempos, and extreme virtuosity. Unlike swing music, bebop was considered art music and represented a hip musical subculture. Parker"s recording with strings, although perhaps more palatable for a popular audience, doesn"t display any sacrifice of craft or musicality. On each of these tracks, Parker"s sound is pure and crisp, and his improvisations display the impeccable technique and harmonic knowledge that bebop was famous for.

John Coltrane was said to have practiced up to twenty hours a day, so much that late in his career, it was rumored that by the time he was finished he had already abandoned some techniques he had figured out earlier in the day. His short career (he died at age forty-one) is underscored by constant evolution, shifting from traditional jazz to completely improvised suites. The music from Blue Train marks the pinnacle of his hard-bop stage before he moved on to more experimental improvisation styles. It also contains tunes that have worked their way into the standard repertoire, including "Moment"s Notice," "Lazy Bird," and "Blue Train." More »

In the liner notes to Miles Davis" Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans (who plays piano on the album) compares the music to a spontaneous and disciplined form of Japanese visual art. The simplicity and minimalist touch of this landmark recording are