Wednesday, November 20, 2013

All That Jazz in the Armacost Library

Louis Armstrong by samkling

Are you interested in jazz? Did you know that the Armacost Library has an impressive music collection, encompassing many genres, including jazz? Whether you’re new to jazz, or a long-time fan, you’re sure to find many recordings that will enhance your enjoyment of this swinging, emotive, and unique form of musical expression in our library.

For a broad overview of jazz, from the very beginning to the 1970s, the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz is a comprehensive anthology spread out over 5 compact discs. For a more detailed listening experience of the beginnings of jazz, you might consider the recordings of Scott Joplin (The Complete Rags of Scott Joplin) and Jelly Roll Morton (The Jelly Roll Morton Centennial: His Complete Victor Recordings), both innovative composers and pioneers in laying the groundwork for what became jazz.

Louis Armstrong, a towering figure in the history of 20th century music, was known as the ambassador of jazz from its early days in the 1920s to his death in 1971. A trumpeter and singer, he probably did more to popularize and bring worldwide attention to jazz, than any other performer. His early Columbia Record recordings from the 1920s can be found on Louis Armstrong and The Best of Louis Armstrong. His recordings from the 1930s through the 1950s are included on The Complete RCA Victor recordings.

Duke Ellington, another titan in the world of jazz, was a composer, pianist, and band leader of jazz orchestras. One of his most famous ensembles, the Blanton-Webster band (named for the bass player, Jimmy Blanton, and the tenor saxophonist, Ben Webster), was active during the early 1940s and many of their best recordings are included on The Blanton-Webster Band. Ellington was interested in expanding jazz beyond the restrictions of the traditional song, and one of his first ventures into writing longer, thematically related compositions was the collection known as Black, Brown, and Beige. One of his last albums, And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967), was recorded after the death of his frequent collaborator, Billy Strayhorn. It is a fine collection of Strayhorn compositions, including one of my favorites, the hauntingly lovely “Lotus Blossom.”

Billie Holiday, one of the most famous jazz vocalists, recorded during the 1930s to the 1950s. Her early work on Columbia Records can be found on The Quintessential Billie Holiday. Vol. 1 and several other volumes in the series. Her middle period work during the 1940s-50s can be found on the compilation Billie Holiday's greatest hits, and her mid to late 1950s recordings are collected on Billie's best.

Ella Fitzgerald, known as the “First Lady of Song,” was (arguably) the most famous of all jazz vocalists. The Ultimate Ella Fitzgerald is a collection of her recordings from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Love Songs: Best of the Verve Songbooks, highlights her recordings of the great American songbook during the 1950s and 1960s, and Ella and Basie is a delightful album that Fitzgerald made in 1963 with another jazz great, Count Basie.  A wide-ranging overview of jazz vocalists can be found on the anthology The Jazz Singers: A Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Vocals from 1919-1994.

The saxophone has played a prominent role in jazz; two of the early masters of the instrument, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young are featured on Classic Tenors, a compilation of songs recorded in 1943. Another highly influential saxophonist, Charlie Parker, can be heard on The Legendary Dial Masters, Bop: Bird’s Best Bop on Verve (“Bird” being Parker’s nickname), and The Essential Charlie Parker. John Coltrane was another important horn player and composer who pushed the boundaries of jazz. He collaborated with many famous musicians at the beginning of his career, notably with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but his first major album as a leader was Blue Train recorded in 1957. Other notable Coltrane albums are Giant Steps (1959), My Favorite Things (1960), and A Love Supreme (1964).

The musicians that I’ve written about and the recordings that I have mentioned are only a small fraction of the world of jazz that is available at the Armacost Library (look for another post in the coming year, there’s so much more to discuss). If you are interested in further resources, including DVDs and books, consult the library’s catalog or ask a librarian for assistance. If you wish to check-out compact discs or DVDs, simply bring a list with the Call Numbers of the titles to the Circulation Desk; the Student Assistant will retrieve the CDs or DVDs for you.

Catch you on the flip-side!

Susan LaRose
Serials Assistant
Armacost Library

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