It's insomnia, and this is the cure, finding a way to do this in some organized fashion. Maybe a tree structure, in which, if you find a point you like, just peruse one branch further -- you're not expected to like every single, varied, toplevel choice. This is a work in progress, and one that may take a few months to finish.

There are canonized recordings out there, but in many cases, you can substitute from a bunch of similar recordings made roughly the same time. It's often more important to see the recording date or the personnel than it is to simply buy it because so-and-so's name is plastered in Big Letters on the front of the CD.

This is a subjective list, not some definitive Rough Guide or something. But I'll try to add little notes here and there, and eventually mention specific CDs, the cheaper, the better.

At this top-of-my-head stage, I'll refer to vinyl LPs, since that has been my main turf; some of them may be out of print, or repackaged for the umpteenth time (by the zillionth corporate owner/licensor of the master tapes) under a different title or under someone else's name (not unlike some movie "starring Brad Pitt", in which a teenaged Pitt has a brief appearance as a street urchin). Unless you light your stogies with $100 bills, you're often better off getting tastes from individual CDs than you are from whiz-bang boxed sets documenting every sneeze, wheeze, and grilled cheese by Jazz Icon during his/her first post-detox recording date.

Those of you who have computers (show of hands, please) and have sound capabilities can always try-before-you-buy with Napster (or some such thang), so I'll give names, song titles, and CD titles to paste into the search engine. You'll likely find nothing, or you'll find results skewed to what's out there -- e.g. a "john coltrane" search, turns up, for me, a list heavy on the 1955-58 output, when he was in groups led by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but it's something, at least. Likewise, a search for titles like "salt peanuts" or "closer" might get you Lawrence Welk's version of the former, and a bunch of Joy Division MP3s for the latter -- not what I had in mind.

There's also the radio, but that's a problem. There may only be one broadcaster in the world that features a lot of real jazz, literally from the beginning of recorded jazz to today, and that's WKCR in New York City. Nowadays, they're also webcasting, so, again, those of you with computers can try

In the US, there will often be a public radio station that has some jazz programming, but it will always be of the sanitized, avant-garde-filtered-out, mainstream variety -- that's still better than nothing, and not without its joys. There are a handful of all-jazz stations (no, not that "smooth jazz" R&B crap), like WBGO in Newark and KLON in Long Beach, California -- they're NPR/PRI jazz as well, minus that pesky Nina Totenberg telling you about Rehnquist's nice penmanship.

Also on many stations: all-night via-satellite simulcasts from PRI or Chicago's WFMT, the latter hosted by Bob Parlocha, who's good people; again, this is somewhat watered-down stuff (compared to what could be played), but enjoyable nonetheless, and more jazz than you'll get out of the CBC or the BBC, etc. (But the Beeb offers quality over quantity -- start at -- as does De Concertzender -- start at

For internet-only stuff, I highly recommend a show called Nubian Roots at; try also Radio Free Jazz at

There will also be, eventually, links to "The Next Generation" -- stuff that is stylistically more modern, but with roots in whatever branch of the tree contains it.

Here we go (and I can feel the insomnia lifting already)...

roughly bebop-era

Charlie Parker
  • 1a) The Savoy Records recordings (ca. 1945-1949)
    Various quintet recordings, including his first ones from after the lifting of the WWII recording ban; a young, tentative Miles Davis is introduced to the world. This was once packaged (by Arista) as a both a 5-LP set (with the grilled cheese, etc.) and a 2-LP set consisting of the performances that were actually released on 78s; I'm sure there are single CDs out there nowadays. As post-WWII jazz goes, much of the musical language derives from Parker, so this is a good place to start.

    1b) The Dial Records recordings (ca. 1945)
    Ditto this, done while Parker was visiting in, then stranded in, Los Angeles, plus some that were done after he was institutionalized at Camarillo State Hospital. From what I remember, there's a wider variety of thematic material here -- the Savoy sets are usually blues-based or use Rhythm Changes (a slightly-expanded near-blues, in practice). This was once a 4/5-LP set from Warner Bros., but I bought them as single LPs from a British indie -- I suspect they're available in single-CD bites these days.

    • For more: just about anything. There's the all-star quintet (Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach) assembled for a 1953 concert at Massey Hall in Toronto -- named (natch) Jazz at Massey Hall in various of its incarnations, and literally hundreds of other CDs out there. Live material (and studio recordings from after 1949 or so) have the added advantage (sometimes) of a Bird freed from the time constraints of a 78-rpm disque.
    • The Next Generation: maybe one of Ornette Coleman's quartet recordings on Atlantic Records -- the melodies are simpler, at first listen, than bop, but the complexity comes from the heightened spontaneity of improvising without the fixed rhythmic and harmonic background.
Bud Powell
  • 2) The Amazing Bud Powell (ca. 1948)
    An early series of compilations by Blue Note Records, making the transition to the new medium of the long-playing 33-rpm disque. Mainly trio material, about three volumes at the time, and probably now in the form of one or two CDs.

    • For more: again, just about anything, though with Bud's personal troubles, mental and financial and geographic, they're considered to be of varying quality from the early 50's to his death in the 60's -- still, it's all good. Maybe try something from the early 50's (while under contract to record impresario Norman Granz) or something from his years in Paris. And here again, you're freed from the enforced brevity of the 78 with just about any of these choices.
Thelonious Monk
  • 3) Genius of Modern Music (ca. 1948)
    This was also an old series from Blue Note, but oriented towards groups with horns, i.e. quintets and such; the version I have is 1 CD, but I'm not sure if it includes everything from the original LPs.

    4) Brilliant Corners (ca. 1956)
    Part of the relaunch of Monk's career, this may have been the first LP of Monk-playing-Monk in the era that he was regaining his right to play in New York City clubs (see cabaret card); this had been preceded by trio LPs of Monk playing Ellington tunes and standards, meant to be a way to reach the jazz public without scaring them away with those "far-out" originals. Sonny Rollins makes a guest appearance, as a member of the quintet.

    • For more: tons of stuff, after Monk was successfully relaunched. He had a full-time working quartet throughout the 60's, recording for CBS (now Sony), so presumably there's a lot to choose from. If you like the compositions, there are a few CDs featuring Monk leading big bands playing his tunes. An interesting sidebar to pre-Giant Steps John Coltrane would be the recordings he did in 1958 as a member of Monk's quartet; you get two legends for the price of one.
    • The Next Generation: maybe one of Chick Corea's solo piano CDs that feature Monk compositions; examples are Piano Improvisations, Vol 2 (1971), Expressions (1994), and Standards (2000). Try also one of Cecil Taylor's 1950's recordings (these may be mentioned later in more detail).
Dizzy Gillespie
I confess that this is a blind spot for me. His recorded career spanned five decades, so there's certainly much to choose from; the recordings of historical note would have been those from the 40's and 50's -- small-group recordings, with material like "Salt Peanuts", "Groovin' High", "A Night in Tunisia", and big-band recordings (a first for bebop, though many boppers had passed through bands led by Cab Calloway and Earl Hines, et al), with tunes like "Manteca" that got the Latin Jazz thing going in earnest for our English-speaking friends.

More names to stick into Napster: Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro...

More titles: Good Bait, The Chase, Half Nelson...


Miles Davis
  • 5) Birth of the Cool (1949)
    A low-budget compromise between a small group and a big band, with arranger skills (Gil Evans, et al) that made it sound like no compromise was involved.

    • For more: I think there was more of this material in circulation, with titles like Pre-Birth of the Cool -- it's probably all collected in some handy-dandy 2-CD package now (update: yes -- The Complete Birth of the Cool). This music more or less inspired a genre known as cool jazz, and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartets (with either Chet Baker or trombonist Bob Brookmeyer as the second horn) kept the faith quite nicely over the next decade -- he'd played, written, and arranged on Birth of the Cool, so he was in on the proverbial ground floor of all this. Davis and Evans would, much later, collaborate on full LPs -- Porgy and Bess, Miles Ahead, and Sketches of Spain.
    • The Next Generation: recordings, if they can be found, by three groups from New York's early-60's free-jazz scene, with overlapping memberships -- the New York Contemporary Five, the New York Art Quartet, some of Bill Dixon's productions for Savoy Records (I'll dig out the particulars later, for a future section), and (especially) a large group assembled by Archie Shepp for his debut LP Four for Trane, featuring reworkings of John Coltrane compositions.

    6a, b, c, d) ______ with the Miles Davis Quintet (ca. 1955)
    Four quickly-recorded masterpieces (Workin', Steamin', Cookin', Relaxin') done to finish out Miles' contract with Prestige Records (he'd signed a new, lucrative deal with CBS). Take your pick. This group was "the (first) classic Davis quintet" -- Miles snd Coltrane, with a rhythm section of Red Garland, Paul "Mr. P.C." Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones -- and, alongside Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, set the standard for working groups ("working" as opposed to one-off groups assembled for an LP recording) in a genre often called "hard bop", or "the Blue Note sound".

    • For more: collect 'em all! See also the section on hard bop further down the page, if it's there.
    • The Next Generation: Miles' own "second classic quintet" from the mid-60's. They'll be mentioned further down the page. Their early live recordings, such as those done at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago, are interesting because they feature these freewheeling young turks slicing and dicing the repertoire of the first quintet in ways no one could have imagined in 1956.

    7) Milestones (1958)
    Everybody says Kind of Blue, but this one's better and more representative (blues, bop, ballads, and a modal tune) of the quintet/sextet of that era; you'll end up buying Kind of Blue anyway, so why encourage you? The sextet had a third horn, altoist Cannonball Adderley, who was Coltrane's replacement during the latter's "vacations" from the group, and ended up playing alongside Trane.

    • For more: more 1958/59 Miles disques. From roughly 1960-65, the pre-second-quintet only had Cannon and Trane for brief cameo appearances (e.g. Trane on Someday My Prince Will Come), so stuff from that era is probably a little inferior, but still good at the very least. And, of course, peruse the hard bop section below.
    • The Next Generation: Again, the second quintet.

    8a) E.S.P. (1965)
    8b) The Plugged Nickel Recordings (e.g. Cookin' at the Plugged Nickel) (1965)
    9) Nefertiti (1967)
    The Quintet v2.0, incorporating the improvisational freedoms brought about by Ornette Coleman, and the quirky compositional style of its tenor saxophonist, Wayne Shorter. This was the bestest jazz group ever -- but that's just my opinion, of course -- able to incorporate the changes of the avant-garde while simultaneously keeping an 11-foot-pole's distance from their commercial ghetto; still, as they became more esoteric, and the overall jazz market tanked, post-Coltrane (or post-A Love Supreme, perhaps), legend has it that CBS, insisting on some return for their large-for-jazz cash advances to Miles, pushed him toward the next paragraph as the 60's ended.

    • For more: another of those "collect 'em all" situations -- other LPs include Miles Smiles and The Sorcerer in this 1965-1967 period. The rest of the group (except bassist Ron Carter) were already signed to Blue Note when they joined the quintet. More on that later. This music was the hip-mainstream center of gravity from the late-70's onward, so try, perhaps, something from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from the 80's, or something from alumni like pre-egomania Wynton Marsalis (i.e. prior to the late 80's or so), his brother Branford (e.g. Crazy People Music), or Terence Blanchard. The group that may have started this New Mainstream was Miles' own quintet, via VSOP, meant to be a Very Special One-Time Performance of the old repertoire at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival, with Freddie Hubbard in place of the wouldn't-touch-jazz-now-with-an-11-foot-pole Miles. They kept at it, when schedules permitted, so there's a CD or two out there; the later VSOP II was a cross-generational thing, with the Marsalis brothers handling the horns.
    • The Next Generation: The aforementioned Marsali and Blanchard, plus the many new faces foisted upon the marketplace in the 80's/90's, by record companies hoping for "the next Wynton". A random smattering of names (if you watched episode 10 of Ken Burns' thing, or saw the accompanying short piece from 1995 shown on WNET in New York, some of these people briefly appeared on your TV screen): James Carter, Nicholas Payton, Javon Jackson, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Geri Allen, Joe Lovano, Donald Harrison, Greg Osby... I don't know enough to say which CD is The One, so I'll remain silent. I'm sure that the bigger the name and the bigger the recording deal, the more likely it is that an artist's CD will include a version or two of a reconfigured pop tune (or some "cutting-edge" hippity-hoppity collaborations), to drive sales a little. All the names mentioned and unmentioned are excellent musicians (go see them live), but I'm not interested in hearing what so-and-so can do with "Butterfly Kisses" or some such thing -- leave that kind of crap on the cutting-room floor.

    10) Bitches Brew (1969)
    By the time of Filles de Kilimanjaro and Miles in the Sky (1968), there were experiments with electric keyboards and electric guitars, most of which weren't released for another decade, on outtakes collections like Water Babies, Circle in the Round and Directions. But the quintet as a traditional acoustic jazz ensemble was over -- they'd even (*gasp*) given up wearing suits and ties. There are supposed to be some nice bootlegs out there of the final (1969) version of the quintet, with a rhythm section of Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, but who knows. The official break with the past was In a Silent Way (1968), with an expanded group that pointed the way to Bitches Brew, which became an RIAA-certified Gold Record (CBS were well pleased), and almost as much a user-friendly must-have as Kind of Blue. Miles didn't really invent fusion, but the big-event proportions of this crossover success (into the rock market) made it the "official" beginning of fusion. The differences between Bitches Brew and the two years of experiments that led up to it are a) multiple percussionists, b) more of a pronounced funk/rock feel in some spots, not just in the drumming, but in Holland's occasional groove-based electric bass playing, c) a permanent guitarist (the great John McLaughlin, to whom Miles would dedicate a tune here), and d) full-time multiple keyboardists. A bunch of small incremental changes adding up to One Big Change -- the quintet transmogrified into the ultimate jam band.

    • For more: the aforementioned pre-BB CDs, for instance. And some immediate post-BB stuff, like Miles Davis at Fillmore (Fillmore East -- there's also now a "Live at Fillmore West" set, Black Beauty, that hearkens back to the mythical Corea/Holland/DeJohnette bootlegs). The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions has all of these expanded-group 1969 experiments, and is a bit different from what has been officially released, since Miles and his producer-sidekick Teo Macero were forced to edit down the original jams to fit finite-length vinyl-LP sides. This newer release gives you all the sprawling messes in all their unedited glory; pack a box lunch, or a large bong-and-shroom combo. Or something. See also, below, the "Sons of Miles" section.
    • The Next Generation: (see the next paragraph)

    11a) Pangaea (1975)
    11b) Agharta (1975)
    At the time, a pair of double-live LPs culled from one Osaka concert -- the former was released in Japan, and the latter in the US and Europe. For years, people said "Agharta sucks -- you should hear Pangaea". I don't know. The 1972-75 period had Miles in an afrocentric jam-band mode, and this was, more or less, the group's swan song prior to The Boss' retirement. Louder, rockier, funkier than the Bitches Brew era -- Miles was playing wah-wah trumpet and (in lieu of a conductor's baton) weird electric organ during this period -- and the music was much despised at the time, by those over the age of 40 or so, but it has aged well, especially in comparison to all the lame sellout crap that was going on by then in the name of con-fusion. Better to grab this idiosyncratic piece of acid rock than to spend your plastic money on some of the atrocities CBS' "jazz" division unleashed upon the world at the time, like Herbie Hancock's Headhunters band, or the discoid recordings done by Freddie Hubbard and Maynard Ferguson. (The other major labels have their fair share of skeletons-in-the-closet as well).

    • For more: other releases from this period include On the Corner, Miles Davis in Concert, and Get Up With It. Try also Dark Magus, a 1974 Carnegie Hall concert.
    • The Next Generation: Hmmm... Guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, two heavyweights from the free-jazz side of things, have a fairly-recent CD out, Yo! Miles, featuring performances of selections from the 1972-75 Miles repertoire. And there may be a band in your town that fashions itself after the musics Miles made in this period.

hard bop

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
  • 12) (something from the era)
    The Messengers evolved from a big band led by Blakey, to a not-so-big band, to a quintet co-led by Blakey and (see below) Horace Silver; then came the name and the format that lasted for three decades. But only the drummer and the format stayed the same -- the music evolved as the personnel changed from era to era. And Blakey's loud drumming gradually did his hearing in, à la Uncle Pete, but that's another story. The hits from the early years -- "Moanin'", "This Here", "Dat Dere", "Blues March", and more -- helped define hard bop, so anything from, say, before 1960, with people like Silver or (especially) Bobby Timmons on piano, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Bill Hardman, or a young Donald Byrd on trumpet, and Benny Golson, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, or Johhny Griffin on sax, will be a fine choice. Just stay clear, at least in terms of grabbing one representative CD, of one of Blakey's "Drum Orgy" LPs, where guest percussionists augment the quintet.

    13a) (something with Wayne)

    13b) (something with Billy)

    13c) (something with Bobby)

    13d) (something with Wynton or Terence)

Horace Silver
Sonny Rollins
The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet
Jackie McLean
Cannonball Adderley
Lee Morgan

Names for Napster: Johnny Griffin, ...

Titles: Valse Hot, Along Came Betty, ...


The New Thing

Archie Shepp
Albert Ayler
Cecil Taylor
Steve Lacy


post-Coltrane: Chi-Congo and elsewhere

Anthony Braxton
Art Ensemble of Chicago
Revolutionary Ensemble
Muhal Richard Abrams
Fred Anderson
Hal Russell

post-Coltrane: Europe

Peter Brötzmann
Evan Parker
Spontaneous Music Ensemble
Derek Bailey
Globe Unity
Irène Schweizer and Rüdiger Carl
Peter Kowald / Leo Smith / Günter Sommer

Blue Note, 60's style

Wayne Shorter
Herbie Hancock (1)

fusion: Sons of Miles

Weather Report
Herbie Hancock (2)
Mahavishnu Orchestra


Soft Machine
Nguyên Lê

The lofts

what got left out

Charles Mingus
Eric Dolphy
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Sam Rivers
Woody Shaw
Bill Evans
Sun Ra
Wynton Marsalis
Carla Bley
Paul Bley

reading matter

This section focuses on the post-1960 parts missed/dissed by Ken Burns' Jazz; this isn't a comprehensive list, but I'll add to it later.

  • Valerie Wilmer: As Serious as Your Life
  • Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka): Black Music
  • John Litweiler: The Freedom Principle
There's also Walter Davis' So You Wanna Be an Avant-Garde Fan?, which grew out of a thread in -- point your browser machine to If Deja lives again, you can also dig out the resultant threads. And there's a general free-jazz bibliography at

From the musical-analysis side...

  • Ekkehard Jost: Free Jazz
  • George Russell: The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization
  • David Liebman: A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody

From the periodicals side...

Cadence ( and Coda ( are the oldest, most consistently good magazines on this (west) side of the Atlantic (I don't count things like Down Beat or similar trade publications, just because; passion and wisdom tend to be lacking from the "major" dead-tree zines, but they're OK otherwise).

To be (*yawn*) continued.

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