Dispatches from Quarantine: Revisiting 3 Foundational Jazz Albums

Morning Light, GreenwoodBeing stuck inside for all these weeks gives me lots of time to think about things. Like the music I grew up with.

I know a lot of my generation grew up listening to their parent’s classic rock collection, thus getting introduced to the Stones, the Beatles, Hendrix and such at an early age.

My parents didn’t listen to rock music. In fact, my mom liked pop vocal stuff (Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, etc.), and my dad was more into classical and jazz. As I grew older, they branched out and explored other music in fits and spurts: disco, outlaw country, Mac Davis. But before we were able to really develop our own tastes and buy our own music, my brothers and I had our parent’s albums.

Well, mostly my dad’s albums. So today I’m sharing three albums that I grew up listening to. Albums that helped inform my musical tastes. Albums that, even now, transport me to the faded photograph memories of my childhood. I would have done five, as is my way, but a few of those were predictable: Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out and Miles Davis Porgy and Bess (both from 1959), for instance. Both are classic, but you already know that.

Today, I wanted to feature jazz albums that might be a little more overlooked.

Here we go!

Keith Jarret — The Köln Concert (1975)

I would wager that most of you have never heard this live double vinyl album, which shows just how niche jazz music can be. It’s made several lists of essential albums. Not simply essential JAZZ albums. Essential. Period. With sales of more than 3.5 million, it was released to critical acclaim and is the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the all-time best selling piano album.

Recorded in the Opera House of Cologne, Germany, and organized by seventeen year old Vera Brandes, Germany’s youngest concert promoter, it’s kind of a miracle this concert happened at all. For one, they had accidentally procured the wrong kind of piano, “tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register, and the pedals did not work properly.” Secondly, Jarrett had come in from Zurich the day of the show, exhausted, in a brace because of back problems, and due to confusion at the restaurant where they sent him for dinner, he barely got a few bites in before he had to rush off to the concert. Bonus points: the damn thing started at 11:30 PM because it was scheduled for AFTER an opera.

Despite all of this, Jarrett decided that he’d go ahead with the show since the recording devices were already set up. And compensating for the piano’s shortcomings by varrying his playing style, he went on to knock out four improvised jazz pieces (the first song was over 25 minutes long), just him, a piano, and his occasional sub-vocilzations.

For reference, here’s the forth piece, the shortest, at just under 7 minutes.

Claude Bolling & Jean-Pierre Rampal — Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (1975)

It seems this album was everywhere when I was a kid. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance, curiously enough, despite 3/4 of the musicians being a jazz trio. But renouned classical flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal qualified if for the chamber performance category, apparently. The following year, they recorded a video performance of the album at Versailles.

Not only did my dad have this album on constant repeat in my adolescent years, my piano teacher and the music store where I had lessons also had this playing quite a lot. If memory serves, my dad had this on cassette, so we would frequently end up listening to it on the long car rides across Colorado to visit our grandparents. I’m honestly a bit surprised it’s not better regarded now because it was such a constant soundtrack for several years of my life.

The crossover styles of jazz trio and classical flute work incredibly well and hold up even now. It’s a sparkling, rolling storm–perfect music to put on in the background while I’m working on things wher I need to focus.

Chuck Mangione — Feels So Good (1977)

Some people know Chuck because of a reference in the movie Doctor Strange. Some know him from King of the Hill. Some, like me, know him for being everywhere in the seventies. It was, after all, the seventies. A cheerful hippie playing jazz fluglehorn was pretty much par for the course in those days.

How much par for the course? The title track was released (edited for length) as a single where it hit #4 on the Billboard adult contemporary list. And the ablum itself hit #2 on the album chart, cockblocked by the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (which held the top spot for six months).

An amazing musician and composer in his own right, Mangione was also one heck of a band leader and had a lot of top notch talent like guitarist Grant Geissman. Boy can Mangione play. Clear and crisp like a bell. Pretty sure my dad had four of five of his albums (the soundtrack to Children of Sanchez being a personal favorite), but this one was the cornerstone for us. I put it on, close my eyes, and I’m eight years old again. It is absolutely music of its time, evoking sweeping desert vistas and driving up the California Coast with the top down. It is carefree and joyous making it a perfect pick-me-up for dark days.

What are a few of your foundational albums? Ones that take you back to your childhood and wrap you in a warm blanket of nostalgia? I want to know!

2 thoughts on “Dispatches from Quarantine: Revisiting 3 Foundational Jazz Albums

  1. If my memory serves the cover art for Suite for Piano and Flute was pretty subversive (at the time). :::sigh::: remember album cover art?

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