Can't Grow Up on Rock Alone, Kid: Nine Swingin' Jazz Albums
I know. You like to rock. If it doesn't kick ass, you don't need it.
Or maybe you're listening to a different genre, like hip-hop, but it's still the same. You like that hard-driving, in-your-face kind of stuff. That wonderful, rebellious, youthful music that makes you want to take another shot and get wild.
I get it. I felt the same way at some point. So did the people 10 years in front of and behind me -- when we were young. But here's the trick. You can't survive on aggressive music alone as you continue to -- gasp -- mature. Situations, companions, family settings, and changing tastes will demand otherwise. Here's another way to put it: Your wife won't let you play that loud shit.
Luckily, the ol' Record Store Geek is here to help expand your musical horizons without turning into a total wuss.
I'd Like You to Meet Mr. Coltrane The solution I recommend is jazz.
Not puppy jazz. Not smooth jazz. Straight-forward, jammin' jazz. The cool stuff. Something with a tempo and a bite comparable to the rockin', rappin' stuff you listen to now. At least to get you started.
That's what worked for me, anyway. First, I started listening to a little more jazz in the store, and asking our jazz-knowledgeable customers for advice. Then I brought home a few albums to listen to in more intimate settings with my girlfriend (now wife), and the next thing you know, I'm a jazz fan.
It took a little trial and error, and a bit of study, but eventually I learned more about America's genre. I learned that these jazz players and singers, in addition to being spectacular musicians, were rock stars before there was such a thing.
Drugs? Check. Groupies? Yep. These cats were just as rowdy, drunken, and troubled as rock's best.
From the perspective of a hoodlum, I've always liked that sort of character in my artists. When you look at musicians, painters, actors, or writers, the legends are usually pretty flawed. I don't know if it's okay to say I think that's cool . . . but I do.
Best of all, I discovered that a good jazz song, or album, can get your body movin' just as much as heavy rock, soul, or hip-hop. In other words, jazz can rock, if you know where to look.
That's where I can help.
Nine Great Jazz Albums for Rockers and Rappers List notes: I tried to throw in a couple of different lead instruments, a mixture of vocal and instrumental, and a couple of jazz's more colorful characters. As always, I only include albums to which I regularly listen.
Blue Breakbeats - Volume 1 (Blue Note) This list could easily be all Blue Note, a primarily hard-bop jazz label that has produced countless jazz legends and albums (see The Blue Note I'll Never Sell for more). But this compilation is a great place to get a mixed dose. The liner notes claim that Blue Note is the "most sampled label in the world" and connects many of the songs to their usage in various hip-hop songs.
John Coltrane -- Blue Train (Blue Note) Any jazz list should include Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Except this one -- because that's the kind of rebel I am. But seriously, I am only going to include Coltrane, because I'm not really into Miles' rock stuff (I do like A Tribute to Jack Johnson, but I don't listen to it much). This is Coltrane's only Blue Note release, and it just moves along. The supporting cast is excellent, and it never gets old for me.
Grant Green -- Matador (Blue Note) Any "converting rockers to jazz" list has to include a couple of guitar players, and there are a ton of great ones, but my all-time favorite is Grant Green. I've got over 20 different Grant CDs in my collection -- one for just about every mood or feel you could ask for -- but I figured this one would be a good place to start you off.
Wes Montgomery -- Talkin' Verve (Verve) Grant Green is my favorite jazz guitarist, but lots of jazz fans think Wes is even better. Especially when he's grooving. That's where this compilation comes into play. It's all the upbeat stuff from his days on Verve/CTI. Guitar players have been openly ripping off, er, borrowing these licks forever. Listen to "Movin Wes, Part 2," then listen to the Doors' "Peace Frog," and you'll see what I mean.
Guru -- Jazzmatazz, Volume 1 (Blue Note) I played this for my 15-year-old when I had him trapped in the van, and he's been listening to it on his own ever since. It's probably more hip-hop than jazz, but the former Gang Starr MC pulls together a host of artists, including jazz legends Donald Byrd and Ronny Jordan, to provide a perfect intro for fans of hip-hop, pop rap, or dance.
Lee Morgan -- The Gigolo (Blue Note) Reports vary, but Lee Morgan was either shot in the face on stage, or somewhere else in the club, by his jealous girlfriend/common law wife. How's that for a rock star death? It figures he'd have too many options for his own good, 'cause chicks dig musicians, and this dude can play trumpet like a badass. The title song on this album is worth 10 bucks by itself. By the way, that's Morgan blowin' on the Coltrane album as well.
Eddie Harris/Les McCann -- Swiss Movement (Atlantic) From the opening notes of "Compared to What" (the only song with vocals, and a great social song), you know you are in for a rollicking time on this soul-jazz classic. By the time they work the crowd into frenzy on "You Got It In Your Soulness" (listen, you can hear them whooping), you're wishing you had been in that audience.
Chico Hamilton -- The Master (Stax) I knew Chico was great from his Impulse! Records album, The Dealer, so when I saw this album in a used buy, I took a look. When I saw that his backing band was Little Feat (Lowell George included), I immediately put it on. I got what I expected: great jazz-rock grooves. Hard to find, but worth the search.
Diana Krall -- Live in Paris (Verve) There's so many cool, rock-type things about Diana Krall: She's married to Elvis Costello. She's a hockey fan from Canada. She's beautiful. That's all fine and good, but here's what will make her a jazz legend someday: This woman can play. And sing. Watch the first song (above) and tell me I'm wrong.
See the Blues for Rockers blog for a similar list of Blues albums.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.