Today I revealed the results of the Expert Witness community’s first-ever jazz album poll over at Robert Christgau’s MSN.com music blog. For this poll I asked voters to choose their ten favorite jazz albums recorded in the 1960s. Voters could define “favorite” and “jazz” however they wished, and were asked to allocate points to each of their ten albums as per the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll's points system. A full list of the EW Jazz Poll's rules is available here. I wrote some pre-game commentary here, and some post-game commentary and individual ballots are available in the comments section of Christgau’s MSN blog. Below are the results, compiled from 29 ballots. Please note that Robert Christgau did not vote in this poll.
1. Miles Davis, In a Silent Way 238 (19)
2. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme 233 (17)
3. Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady 136 (9)
4. Miles Davis, The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 92 (7)
5. Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity 80 (7)
6. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch 79 (8)
7. Duke Ellington, Meets Coleman Hawkins 61 (6)
8. John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard 60 (5)
I am hosting the first ever Jazz Poll for the online community active at Robert Christgau’s Expert Witness blog. The rules and parameters for this poll are available here, and the poll closes Oct. 30. This first poll concerns the best jazz albums recorded in the 1960s. If anyone wishes to vote—and I hope you do!—please be sure to read the rules carefully and submit your ballot to the email address listed there. Voters are asked to provide their ten favorite albums within the poll’s parameters (or the ten “best,” or however else you wish to define your ballot). You may either rank these using the Pazz and Jop points system (as explained in the rules), or weight them each equally; either is just fine.
Since a lot of jazz was recorded in the 1960s, I put together this list of recommendations culled from the texts of two book chapters by former Village Voice critic Gary Giddins: “Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945-2001),” as reprinted in his book Weather Bird, and “Collecting Jazz Recordings,” in the appendix of Jazz, written with Scott DeVeaux. For a few of the recommendations below, Giddins had merely mentioned the existence of the album, or only explicitly recommends one song from the album (“Three Little Words” from Sonny Rollins on Impulse! for example). But I’ve sought out enough of these albums to know that when Giddins mentions one, it’s probably worth hearing.
Brief caveats: these are not the only great Jazz recordings of the 1960s. Notice Giddins does not mention Thelonious Monk’s work on Columbia, John Coltrane’s Ascension, or Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, nor any albums by Davis’s second great quintet in either of these chapters. Don’t get mad; he discusses and recommends each of them elsewhere, if memory serves, but just not in these two chapters. He doesn’t mention any singers either, except Armstrong with Ellington, nor any European recordings, unless you count the albums by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Albert Ayler, each of which is identified with American jazz anyway. He recommends such contenders elsewhere as well, just not here.
If you’re not as familiar with Jazz as you would like to be, or just have some gaps in your knowledge of ’60s Jazz, you’re going to have a good time with this list. Check these albums out, share them with friends, and don’t forget to have fun. Because Jazz is fun, and polls are fun. Most will be available on any one of several streaming services. I use MOG. Now dig in! The list is after the jump (click “Read More”).
"Well, my whole reason for doing music —it’s expression. It’s not to make cool sounding music or hip tunes—it’s storytelling… The problem with big band music is so few writers are writing with that serious intent that the music really means something beyond just being a really cool sounding chart."
— Maria Schneider to Eugene Holley, Jr., interview reprinted in Best Music Writing 2010, edited by Ann Powers and Daphne Carr, p. 191. To which my knee jerks, and I respond, “Hey, what’s so wrong with cool sounding music?” Academically, I can defend this response by directing readers to Lawrence W. Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow, a book which traces America’s cultural division into high and low culture c.1850-1900. In his book, Levine bemoans how, by 1900, “culture had become a manifestly serious and intricate endeavor that few could hope to master” (211). He explains that “what was invented [in the late-nineteenth century] was the illusion that the aesthetic products of high culture were originally created to be appreciated in precisely the manner late-nineteenth century Americans were taught to observe: with reverent, informed, disciplined seriousness” (229). My heart hurts when I witness first hand how high-culture perceptions of jazz have wrangled the fun out of so many of the great jazz recordings I cherish in my life. It’s not irreverent to play Louis Armstrong’s music and have fun—in fact, one could argue that that’s what it’s there for. When I listen to Schneider, I plead with her to include at least one really cool sounding chart. Just one. Then maybe have some fun with it, it can’t hurt. Hell, it might very well feel good. Perhaps that’s what makes fun so dangerous?