Over the last five years, much to my surprise and delight I’ve been playing regular gigs around London and beyond with two non-professional bands: The Equinox Jazz Quartet and Footprints. Following fifty years of being a jazz observer I can now draw on the experience from the other side of the bandstand of being a jazz performer. Both bands cover similar musical territory playing some of the great modern jazz classics from the playbook of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Oliver Nelson. Audiences have been responding well to our repertoire of great modern jazz standards.

In the last year my two grandchildren, Ella, 23 and Clem, 20 have attended some of our gigs and in recent weeks Ella has expressed an interest in learning more about the secret garden of jazz music. So much so that she has now taken Ted Gioa’s How To Listen To Jazz off my bookshelves as she deepens her interest in her grandfather’s strange musical obsession. I can certainly recommend Gioa’s book to jazz neophytes.

Ella and Clem

This chimes with some of the feedback I have received from subscribers who are totally new to jazz and would welcome a general introduction to it with an accompanying playlist. And, of course when I launched my blog a core wish of mine was for it to demystify jazz and to reach out to new audiences for jazz. Particularly younger people (which is where Ella & Clem come in).

The Jazz Singer – Eddie Jefferson

The Playlist

So Ella and Clem’s pleasing interest in jazz got me thinking about a bespoke playlist for them, and of course for you that would bring together a range of jazz performances, many celebrated, some obscure all a core part of my own jazz experience that would constitute a good and varied introduction to jazz to newcomers to this distinctive musical genre.

The brief that I gave myself for this playlist was as follows, 

  • not too challenging (so no excursions on this occasion into free jazz) but definitely nothing resembling smooth jazz (ugh!).
  • music that would showcase some of the keynote styles and performers in modern jazz. That indefinable mixture of swing, feel, mood, concentration, freedom, daring and form.
  • while the majority of the tracks were made in the USA I wanted to include selections from beyond the American mother ship (Europe, South African townships, bossa). 
  • interesting pairings of classic instrumental versions with vocal and scat interpretations- a great excuse to include Mark Murphy’s wonderful version of Parker’s Mood complete with an improvised scat to a libretto from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Eddie Jefferson’s classic scat on Miles Davis’s trumpet solo on So What and Abbey Lincoln’s vocal interpretation on Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk.
  • I also wanted to include some tunes that Ella and Clem have heard me playing; Horace Silver’s Song For My Father, Joe Zawinul’s Mercy Mercy Mercy, indelibly associated with Cannonball Adderley, Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments from his quintessential album The Blues and The Abstract Truth and Sonny Rollins’ score for the movie Alfie
  • and a couple of short tracks of Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie band blowing the roof off at the Sands in Las Vegas in the early 60’s.

Sinatra at the Sands – with Count Basie & The Orchestra

As an important historical footnote, the Sinatra recording was part of a residency at the Sands which ran for many weeks. Sinatra insisted on booking the predominantly black Basie band and also insisted that the band were accommodated at the Sands at a time when Vegas remained a deeply segregated city. Sinatra may have been a mafioso, and a misogynist but he wouldn’t tolerate racism on or off the bandstand. And in my opinion Sinatra has a great jazz voice and impeccable jazz timing.

This playlist was both tough and enjoyable to put together. A good reminder as to why I fell in love with jazz all those years ago. I hope that you enjoy it, and I hope that Ella & Clem will too.