100 Jazz Albums

Jazz is a uniquely American art form because it is born from the mixing of different races. The energy and creativeness of the black experience combined with the discipline and instruments of classical music resulted in an improvisational musical form that is as unique as America itself. However, those in other countries have sometimes recognized the value of jazz more than its creator, America itself.

Such is the case with London’s Jazzwise Magazine and it 100 Albums that Shook the World. Your correspondent doesn’t know much about jazz—that is, he knew what he liked but he didn’t know that much—so he worked my way through all 100 of the albums, and here are three thing that were learned.

First, there are three kinds of jazz: the pre-recording era jazz such as Dixieland, the big band bebop era that led to the cool jazz of the most popular jazz record of all time, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (1959), and the free jazz that cast off all rules.

Second, although it is obvious, only snippets of many of the early jazz pioneers, such as Jelly Roll Morton, exist today because their performances simply were not recorded. And even if the technology did exist, they may not have been recorded because it didn’t seem important at the time or people felt that jazz was primarily a live experience. But the development and presence of recording equipment also changed jazz because Kind of Blue wasn’t a live performance for an audience—it was a live performance to create an album.

Third, the 100 albums that shook the world is necessarily dominated by historical albums whose value is known. However, there is a smattering of newer bands who have made already made an impact, like Bad Plus, but whose ultimate place in history is not yet known. These innovative up-and-coming bands are working in the tradition established by their predecessors but their presence will keep jazz alive into the future.

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