Getting into Jazz can seem a bit overwhelming with a multitude of eras, styles and offshoots of both of those, but there are a number of good entry points that can help you get your feet wet as you wade into that massive ocean of music. Any of these albums can help you get acclimated and can help steer you to your preferred style. Honestly, these are all incredible albums and each are considered classics of the genre, so you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Released in 1959, Kind of Blue is considered by many to be the greatest Jazz album of all time. It’s move further into musical modes (modality) from his Hard Bop style led to a greater sense of individual creativity from the musicians involved in the recording. The opening track, “So What”, is 9 minutes and 22 seconds of perfection and is perhaps the finest song in Davis’ repertoire. With sales of over 5 million copies, it’s one of the most successful Jazz albums of all time and still sets the benchmark when it comes to critical and sales success. Even if you don’t like Jazz, this is one that may draw you in.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out
Also released in 1959, Time Out Would be the first Jazz album to sell a million copies, would hit #2 on the Billboard Pop charts and the single “Take Five” would also go on to sell over a million copies, the first for a jazz single. Using time signatures that were unusual for Jazz, Time Out works so well because of the smoothness of the playing and the Cool Jazz/West Coast Jazz styles melded together throughout. It’s easy to argue that “Take Five” is the greatest Jazz single of all time and represents the best that the genre had to offer in the 1950’s & 1960’s.
Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch
Moving on to 1964 and getting a bit more abstract, Eric Dolphy’s classic, Out To Lunch, may be your first foray into Avant-Garde Jazz. More free form and random than the previous two albums, Out To Lunch is one that you will either completely fall in love with or it will pass you by entirely. Dolphy plays Bass Clarinet, Flute and Alto Saxophone with Freddie Hubbard joining in on Trumpet, along with Bobby Hutcherson on Vibraphone, Richard Davis on Bass and Tony Willaims on Drums. It’s a brilliant piece of work that can feel completely random on first listen, but when it clicks, and it eventually will, you will be swept up in its vortex. Avant-Garde & Free Form Jazz aren't for everyone, but if you crave spontaneity in your music, this will be a mind-blowing spin.
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
Released in 1965, A Love Supreme is an absolute masterpiece from one of the masters of Jazz and perhaps its greatest Saxophone player. Composed as a four-part quite, the music moves between modal jazz, avant-garde jazz, free jazz, hard bop, and post-bop throughout the album. The passion and power in Coltrane’s playing is mesmerizing and it's hard to not be completely drawn into the complexity of the music. It’s one of the most emotional jazz albums out there and each listen feels like it hits you right in the soul. This is possibly my favorite Jazz album in my collection.
Weather Report - Heavy Weather
Jumping ahead a decade to 1977, Heavy Weather finds jazz and rock music fused into one style. For some, myself included for quite a few years, Jazz Fusion is a style that misses them completely, probably due more to the light Jazz Rock styles of the 1980’s. At first it feels like it’s the lesser of both styles, Jazz & Rock, but on further listen, the melding makes sense. Heavy Weather may be the greatest Jazz Fusion album that isn’t Miles Davis Bitches Brew, another album that can scare off many listeners. With the amazing fretless bass work of Jaco Pastorius, the saxophone playing of Wayne Shorter and the keyboard mastery of Joe Zawinul, the music of Heavy Weather really starts to make sense. It’s fluid, talkative and blends the myriad of styles involved together perfectly. I didn’t “get” this album for years, but once I did, it all made sense.
So, if you’re a casual fan of Jazz or someone trying to dive right in, these albums may just give you a few places to start out and if one doesn’t hit you, just keep trying until one does.