THE FIFTY BEFORE THE FIFTY
Norman Warwick heard recommendations from the Jazz Times
It must have seemed great news to Jazz Times managment,to learn how their responded to that first list of the the fifty best albums of the last fifty years. However a success like that has to be followed up if you don´t want to be just another one-list- wonder. So the guys at Jazz Times thought about it for a while, decided a second list, this time of the top 50 jazz albums from the 50 years before the magazine was first published, 1920 through 1969, a period often considered to be the Golden Age (or several Golden Ages, depending on how you look at it) of Jazz.
Such a list, however, presents a problem that the original JT 50 did not. Because the long-playing vinyl record wasn’t introduced to the global marketplace until 1948, a large chunk of the era jazz Times was surveying—including all of the ’20s and ’30s—didn’t have albums, at least not albums as we know them today.
And so they decided (yes, they freely admit it) to play a little fast and loose with the definition of what constitutes an album in the early going of our “Pre-JT 50.” Most of our critics’ picks for the pre-album era are groups of songs that were recorded and released within the same timeframe but only compiled in a single package many years later; on some of them, the music goes beyond the confines of a given decade, but the selections from the decade for which we chose them were so strong that we felt that couldn’t be helped. In a few cases, we’ve picked only one track, either because it’s singularly significant in itself or because we believed that including a whole compilation by the same artist—Paul Whiteman, for example—would dilute that track’s impact. Once we reach the ’50s, it’s albums all the way.
As with the original JT 50, we stuck to a few basic ground rules. The most important:
1) Ten albums (or, if you will, “albums”) for each decade.
2) No more than one album per decade by any single “headline” artist.
3) No ranking. Chronology, based on the release date of the original recordings, is the only determinant for our final order.
We’re rolling out our list online just as we did the last one: beginning Monday, July 18, with the first 10 (the 1920s) and continuing on, a decade per day, through Friday, July 22 (the 1960s).
In closing, we’ll say the same thing we said in 2020: You can (and probably will) disagree with much of what we’ve picked and what we haven’t, but you certainly can’t go wrong listening to any of the recordings listed here, which contain some of the best music ever made on this planet.
And now … let the arguments begin! –Mac Randall
Well, it seemed that Michael J, West was the first Jazz Times writer to have his top ten published.
His choices were
James P. Johnson: “Carolina Shout” (OKeh, 1921) The Dead Sea Scroll of jazz piano. (Literally a scroll; a generation of pianists learned the song from its player-piano roll.) Johnson’s performance of his self-composed rag codified the Harlem “stride” flavor of syncopation, ornamentation, and improvisation. It inspired Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, and Jaki Byard; in the likes of Jason Moran and Christian Sands, its spirit lives on today.
Fats Waller: Messin’ Around with the Blues (The Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1) (JSP, 2007) [recorded between 1922 and 1926]
James P. Johnson’s apprentice, Waller was the man who developed his mentor’s ideas, brought them to a worldwide audience, and—crucially—wrote them down. His virtuosity and melodic genius are on ample display in these recordings. Even more prominent, though, is his showmanship: wild, cascading flourishes, musical witticisms, and a rollicking swing whose every note telegraphs fun.
King Oliver: Oh Play That Thing! Original 1923 Recordings (Naxos, 2003)
Yes, King Oliver’s recordings introduced Louis Armstrong to the world. That alone would win them a spot on this list. But consider as well the vast number of devices—breaks, stop-time choruses, a bevy of cornet mutes for Oliver—that were startling at the time (but quickly became part of the jazz vocabulary). Jazz was already a craze when Oliver appeared in Chicago, but even its most ardent fans didn’t know it went this deep.
Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra: The Chronological Classics, 1923-1927 (Chronological Classics, 1996)
While jazz mania was centered on Chicago and New Orleans, a rhythmic insurgency was brewing in Kansas City. Pianist Moten’s band incorporated the Stomp beat from his hometown’s rough-and-rowdy nightlife and doubled down on the blues, making these some of the most vital, danceable, and forward-thinking recordings of the era.
Fletcher Henderson: A Study in Frustration (Poll Winners [originally Columbia], 1961) [recorded between 1923 and 1928]
The shape and sound of big-band jazz is largely Fletcher Henderson’s doing. A Study in Frustration (so named because he never got the fame and fortune he deserved) captures the bands and arrangements that would define an era, along with breakthrough recordings by Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and a brash young New Orleanian trumpeter they called “Satchelmouth.”
Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Sony Legacy, 2003) [recorded between 1925 and 1928]
The most important recordings in jazz history—among other things, they’re the records that put the soloist at the music’s center—are still vital and joyous today. In their time, they were … well, “revolutionary” is an understatement. Sides like “Heebie Jeebies,” “Muggles,” and “West End Blues” blazed trails that every jazz musician since has had to follow.
When Ferdinand Morton claimed to have singlehandedly invented jazz, he was only exaggerating a bit. Although his Red Hot Peppers didn’t record until 1926, Morton was jazz’s first important composer. Tunes like “Black Bottom Stomp,” “Grandpa’s Spells,” and “Wild Man Blues” remain in the repertoire. As for the band’s playing … suffice to say that 100 years later, when we talk about “New Orleans jazz,” this is the sound we mean.
The first two tracks on 1926-1929 show Waters chasing the blues-shouter paradigm of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. From there, though, she softens her approach. Her signature hits “I’m Coming Virginia” and “That’s My Home” show a gentler, slinkier vocal and a Tin Pan Alley polish that then and now distinguishes the jazz singers from the blues shouters.
White Chicagoans (mostly) developed an antsier, jumpier, less ensemble-driven style of jazz, and banjoist Eddie Condon was its nucleus. His earliest recordings not only exemplify the best of Chicago style (“There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with Condon on vocal, is a de facto theme song) but also feature nearly all of its essential players, from saxophonist Bud Freeman to cornetist Jimmy McPartland to clarinetist Frank Teschmacher. There’s even a teenage Gene Krupa on drums.
Today, the idea of Whiteman as “the King of Jazz” (as he was billed) is laughable, but in the 1920s his was the most popular band in the country. And at times he came close to the real deal, most especially on “From Monday On.” Get past the barbershop opening, and you reach a flawless scat passage; a solo from the legendary Bix Beiderbecke; and a truly swinging and inventive lead vocal from 25-year-old Bing Crosby. It ain’t Pops, but it’s got some real magic.
As he went on to a smooth crooner and all round tv entertainert, iut is easy to forget what Bing Crosby brought to the jazz scene.
In fact “Now You Has Jazz” is a song written by Cole Porter for the 1956 film High Society in which it was introduced by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. The song describes what instruments are needed to create jazz.
So you see Bing may have been definitive crooner of the 1930s, but he had started his career a decade earlier as a jazz singer and he always retained his love for New Orleans jazz, Louis Armstrong, and superior standards.
Thinking back to jazz, where this article all began: It must be very flattering and rewarding for any radio broadcaster to be thanked on social media by an artist he has played on his show. So at the top of the Steve Bewick facebook postings today is one such vote of thanks.
A great surprise for me today to be included in this broadcast by Steve Bewick with a track from our recording Coltrane’s Colours with great musicians and great friends Tito Mangialajo Rantzer and Massimo Pintori. Lovely memories! Thanks Steve!
If you´d like to hear the programme being referred to, Mr Bewick offers the following guidance.
Hot Biscuits offers this week a live set from the Tom Thorp Quartet with Patrick Hurley, keys, Grant Russell Bass, and Luke Flowers drums. The broadcast also includes music from Simone Manunza, Adam Fairhall, Maurício Soulz, Matt Carmichael and Daniel Karlsson. If this sounds interesting tell your friends and catch Steve Bewick at
Thinking of Mr. Bewick, we should also mention that has Hot Biscuits programme is currently the sixth most globally accessed (mix cloud) jazz broadcast. Thar means that any artist playewd on his show can be sure of fidning an audience and creat or maintain a high profile
An artist he has played regularly on his programme. Beverley Beirne and who has also featured on these pages on more than one occasion is Beverley Bierne. She has just begun a residency of at least six concert until the end of 2022 at The Ticket Office in Ilkley.
Last night she gave her first gig of her season and was joined by the fantastic Jason C Scott on piano and the equally fabulous Emlyn Vaughan on double bass. All the tables were booked. so it was standing room only. I’m told that Beverley, and the cocktails, too, were worth standing up for.
The breadth of Beverley’s skills and repertoire can be seen by the listings on the blackboard shown here. I’d be very interested to hear her selection of songs from contemporary writers, but I am also sure that jazz can offer plenty of tasty tricks and treats for the Halloween event, and of course for the Christmas Jazz Party in December.
Beverley´s new-ish album Dream Dance is admired by respectged online critic The Jazz Mann, Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019. He calls it án album of Assured vocals and intelligent, imaginative arrangements. An album that will continue to enhance Beirne’s reputation nationally and she is now emerging as far more than just a good ‘regional’ jazz singer.
Beverley Beirne is a Yorkshire based jazz vocalist who has released two previous albums under her own name, 2012’s standards based “Seasons of Love” and 2018’s “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun”. The latter is a collection featuring jazz arrangements of 70s and 80s pop songs and was particularly well received. In addition to her work as a performer she also runs the annual Ilkley Jazz Festival, alongside her husband Mark Beirne-Smith.
For her latest release Beirne has returned to the standards repertoire with the album taking its title from one of the tracks, Cole Porter’s song “Dream Dancing”, written in 1941. A loose theme of dreams and dancing informs the rest of the programme, which includes two songs written by the late saxophonist, composer and songwriter Duncan Lamont (1931 – 2019). The songs were recorded when Lamont was still alive and he actually got to play on them.
Given Steve Bewick´s high ratings for his Hot Biscuits programme and our high number of Sidetracks and Detours readers around the world, and that Steve and I each fairly often mention the opther´s work, there is every chance that the shaded part of any Venn diagram of our readership and Steve´s listenership would include a high number of Beverley Beirne fans. With The Jazz Mann covering her so positively on his site, and this residency to hone her live talents, Beverley Beirne couyld become a big name on the international jazz scene. If there are any promoters here on Lanzarote reading this I´m sure she would find an audience here !
The prime source for this article was published in a recent edition of Jazz Times. Check out the magazine excellent, thought-provoki.ng work. We have also extrapolated from
Published since 1970, JazzTimes (left) —“America’s Jazz Magazine”—provides comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the jazz scene.
In our occasional re-postings Sidetracks And Detours are confident that we are not only sharing with our readers excellent articles written by experts but that we are also pointing to informed and informative sites readers will re-visit time and again. Of course, we feel sure our readers will also return to our daily not-for-profit blog knowing that we seek to provide core original material whilst sometimes spotlighting the best pieces from elsewhere, as we engage with new genres and practitioners along all the sidetracks & detours we take.
This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.
Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.
As a published author and poet Norman was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.
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