As is always true, no “best of” list of jazz recordings for a particular year is complete because no one individual can listen to every jazz CD released in that time. When one considers recordings from all over the world and in every jazz style, the quantity is quite overwhelming. While some magazines and headline writers love to trumpet that “jazz is dead,” there is more than enough evidence to the contrary. Jazz is very healthy artistically, there is no shortage of creative artists on the scene, and the music’s future is bright.
For my best of 2018 list, I have limited myself to 55 releases (35 new and 20 reissue/historic CDs) covering a wide variety of styles and listed in alphabetical order by the leader’s name. All of these sets are special in their own way and belong in your jazz record collection.
Aimee Allen – Wings Uncaged – Azuline Music
Tiffany Austin – Unbroken – Con Alma
Sam Braysher & Michael Kanan – Golden Earrings – Fresh Sound New Talent
Amy Cervini – No One Ever Tells You – Anzic
Anat Cohen Tentet – Happy Song – Anzic
Alexis Cole with One For All – You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To – Venus
Ted Daniels – Zulu’s Ball – Altura
Neville Dickie – Salutes The Jazz Piano Greats – Self-Released
Marty Elkins – Fat Daddy – Nagel Heyer
Greg Fishman Quintet – So You Say (with Doug Webb) – Greg Fishman Jazz Studies
Tia Fuller – Diamond Cut – Mack Avenue
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet – Passion Reverence Transcendence – Whaling City Sound
Dayramir Gonzalez – The Grand Concorse – Machat
Rebecca Hardiman – Rain Sometimes – Self-Released
Monika Herzig – Sheroes – Whaling City Sound
Azar Lawrence – Elementals – High Note
Jacques Lesure – For The Love Of You – WJ13
Dave Liebman & John Stowell – Petite Fleur: The Music Of Sidney Bechet – Origin
Harold Mabern The Iron Man: Live At Smoke – Smoke Sessions
Erin McDougald – Outside The Soiree – MHR
Don Menza – Sonny Daze – Alessa
Sally Night – So Cosmopolitan – Global Soul
Nutty – Live At The Purple Pit – NuMu
On the Levee Jazz Band – Big Al Records
Chris Pasin – Ornettiquette – Planet Arts
PJ Perry Quartet – Alto Gusto – Cellar Live
Charlie Porter – Charlie Porter – Porter House Press
Joshua Redman – Still Dreaming – Nonesuch
The Shotgun Jazz Band – Steppin’ On The Gas – Self-Released
Dave Tull – Texting And Driving – Toy Car Records
Zack Varner – Blues In The Nude – Self-Released
Mike Vax & Ron Romm – Collaboration – Summit
Claudia Villela – Encantada Live – Self-Released
Roseanna Vitro – Tell Me The Truth – Skyline Productions
Michael White III. – Tricentennial Rag – Basin Street
Sidney Bechet – Five Classic Albums Plus 3, Second Set – Avid
John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once – Impulse
Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour – Columbia/Legacy
Duke Ellington – In Coventry, 1966 – Storyville
James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra and Others – The Product Of Our Souls – Archeophone
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Cheek To Cheek – Verve
Erroll Garner – Night Concert – Mack Avenue
Dexter Gordon – Tokyo 1975 – Elemental Music
Jim Hall – Concierto/Big Blues/Studio Trieste – BGO
Tubby Hayes – A Little Workout – Acrobat
Hotsy Totsy Gang – 1930 – Retrieval
Bunk Johnson – Rare & Unissued Masters Volume Two, 1943-46 – American Music
Stan Kenton – Concerts In Miniature Vol. 24 – Sounds Of Yester Year
Kirk Lightsey/Harold Danko – Shorter By Two – Sunnyside
Wes Montgomery – In Paris – Resonance
Oscar Peterson – Plays – Verve
Woody Shaw – Tokyo ’81 – Elemental Music
Lucky Thompson – Complete Parisian Small Group Sessions 1959-1959 – Fresh Sound
Various Artists – The Savory Collection – Mosaic
Teddy Wilson – Classic Brunswick & Columbia Sessions 1934-1942 – Mosaic
One of jazz’s top trombonists of the past 30 years, Wycliffe Gordon can play New Orleans jazz, swing, bop, John Coltrane tunes, freer explorations, gospel, and blues with the very best, not only on trombone but trumpet and tuba. He made a rare Los Angeles appearance recently at Vitello’s in Studio City.
Wycliffe led his International All-Stars, a high-quality quintet that included Adrian Cunningham (from Australia) on tenor and clarinet, Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer Alvin Atkinson Jr. The high musicianship of the group was equaled by their joy, expressive abilities, enthusiasm, and knowledge of earlier styles. Starting with a medium-tempo shuffle blues (“Pie Eye Blues”), the group was outstanding. Gordon punctuated his trombone statement with plenty of growls, Cunningham took a rhythmic tenor solo that built up to some outstanding high notes (perfectly in-tune), Asherie created an improvisation that went from Bud Powell-style bop to stride piano, and the lead voices traded choruses with Atkinson who quoted “One O’Clock Jump” on the drums. That was just the start.
Gordon played trumpet and sang a charming version of his “I Give You Love,” and began John Coltrane’s “Impressions” with some unaccompanied trombone before the piece cooked hard (with Holt quoting “So What” in his bass solo). Cunningham created some tonal distortions on Gordon’s blues “Sweet Spot” that at times sounded like either Ben Webster or Pharoah Sanders. The trombonist’s vocal on that piece (which asked in an old-time style “Is my baby done left me?”) was both humorous and timeless. Gordon and Cunningham sang Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair” (which included many of the famous quips of Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden) and then Cunningham and Asherie had a hot clarinet-piano duet on “China Boy.” Wycliffe sang a sensitive version of “What Did I Do To Be So Black And Blue” and Atkinson (both chanting and playing melodic patterns) was featured on “Caravan.” The trombonist performed an emotional version of “Stars Fell On Alabama” for an ailing Jeff Clayton before the memorable set concluded with a Mardi Gras type celebratory song.
Throughout the night, the music was swinging, witty, and uplifting with each of the musicians in outstanding form. Hopefully Wycliffe Gordon and his group will come back to Southern California in the near future, and Vitello’s will keep on booking bands of this caliber.
The story behind the “Great Day in Harlem” photo has been told many times. The very first assignment that photographer Art Kane (1925-95) had was to gather together a bunch of jazz musicians in 1958 and take a photo of them for Esquire. Somehow he got 56 great musicians (from Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie to Luckey Roberts and Charles Mingus) in front of an apartment house in Harlem and miraculously took a photo in which all of their eyes were open and all but a couple were looking at the camera. A second earlier or a second later and the photo would not have been half as good. Jean Bach’s A Great Day In Harlem documentary was pretty definitive in discussing this unique episode and resulted in the famous photo becoming even better known than it had been.
Art Kane – Harlem 1958 (published by Wall Of Sound Editions) tells the rest of the story, not so much in words but in the photos. There are forwards by Quincy Jones and Benny Golson (the latter’s is particularly informative), three pages from the late Art Kane, a fine introduction by his son Jonathan Kane, and biographical sketches about each of the musicians.
But the bulk of this book is comprised of the photos, and Harlem 1958 includes every shot that Art Kane took that morning. Willie “The Lion” Smith, who missed the main photo because he was tired and sat down, is included. One gets to see some of the musicians arriving, greeting each other happily, and having reunions while Art Kane is shouting to them from across the street to go up the stairs and pose for the photo. Gradually the musicians followed his directions while he kept on taking photos.
Many of these “alternate takes” had not been published before and some are quite wonderful. Whether it is Mary Lou Williams, Pee Wee Russell, Gerry Mulligan or any of the other giants, the musicians all look pretty happy to be in each other’s company.
Art Kane’s Harlem 1958 also includes photos from his other Esquire article in that issue (which focused on Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Lester Young) and his work on the movie Pete Kelly’s Blues (mostly the opening New Orleans scene), an article on Harlem Soul, and a 1967 feature on Aretha Franklin.
But get Art Kane’s Harlem 1958 for those wonderful photos from jazz’s Great Day. It is available from www.wallofsoundeditions.com.
William Claxton (1927-2008) was the most important photographer of West Coast jazz of the 1950s. In fact, during a period when it seemed that most jazz photos showed hard-working artists in smoky nightclubs, Claxton’s shots had them at the beach, in the sunlight, at unusual venues, and enjoying life. His photos of Chet Baker helped to build up the trumpeter’s image, and Claxton’s work for the Pacific Jazz label matched the music of the label and was partly responsible for its success.
While Claxton earned a living as a fashion photographer, he is best remembered for his jazz photographs. Jazz Images, which has an introduction by Howard Mandel and a page written by Pascal Anquetil, is otherwise mostly filled with Claxton’s photos. Some are famous and have been published in other books, but 35-40% are lesser-known. One gets several Chet Baker photos but also photographs of such notables as Cannonball Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Wynton Kelly, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Dinah Washington among others.
Jazz Images, available from www.elemental-music.com/books, will be of great interest to jazz fans who love seeing the giants of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, every CD deserves informative liner notes, and important events benefit from press releases.
I write all of these and more at reasonable rates. Contact me (www.scottyanow.com) at 661-724-0622 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about my services.