Always thinking about what to play at the next Listening to Jazz session, realising that I must be careful not to repeat a disc I had played in recent months whilst still wanting to provide a varied programme for the fifteen or sixteen souls who crowd into our front room every month, I found myself recently contemplating the idea of Jazz Greats. Who are the greats of jazz – the musicians who made or shaped the music? Every jazz fan will have his own list, many such lists will overlap with others, and arguments would rage as to why X is included and Y not. Here are a few of my own Jazz Greats – musicians whose sounds cover a large part of my shelves full of jazz. I start with Louis Armstrong, perhaps for two reasons. First, he was the first jazz man to introduce the idea of an extended solo into the music, and second because as Miles Davis once said, no other jazz trumpeter has played a sound which Louis did not. I’d follow with Duke Ellington, sometimes recognised as the greatest American composer who wrote so many of my favourite tunes in jazz, the composers of the Great American Songbook notwithstanding. The two great tenor sax players, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, completely opposite in style, but from whom all subsequent tenor men descend – at least until John Coltrane. Then we have Charlie Parker, the alto sax player who helped invent be-bop and whose alto work remains the outstanding example. Trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and the aforementioned Miles Davis would figure in my list – Dizzy again for his contribution to the development of be bop and Miles, if only for his giving us the best-selling jazz record of all time – Kind of Blue, and much more besides. And how can I possibly leave out Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, but also for his small group jazz, and Count Basie, who orchestra epitomises the essence of swing. But then there are trombonists such as Kid Ory (tailgating away); Jack Teagarden (perfection?) or JJ Johnson (modern jazz trombone innovator). And there are the pianists – Earl Hines ‘trumpet’ sound, through Teddy Wilson (swing) to Bud Powell (bebop and beyond) to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett….and of course the great Art Tatum.
Clearly I have a problem – the list would be never ending. I’ve forgotten Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson, Ornette Coleman, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Carla Bley…. the list is indeed endless. Who would YOU put onto your list of great jazz musicians?