Late last year I posted an article, The Art of Improvisation celebrating French Jazz Magazine’s selection of the 500 greatest solos in the 100 years of recorded. Quite an undertaking! 

My playlist featured several of their selected recordings running from the late 1920’s through to 1959, a pivotal year in recorded jazz. The year that saw the appearance of stellar recordings, with continuing relevance and resonance from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman & Dave Brubeck.

Interestingly their focus was on solos rather than tunes or albums. Their interest may well be on a soloist other than the nominal session leader, for example trombonist Jimmy Knepper’s solo on Gil Evans’s Where Flamingos Fly or McCoy Tyner’s gorgeous piano solo on Coltrane’s Lonnie’s Lament or drummer Ben Riley’s brief solo on Monk’s quirky take on Lulu’s Back in Town.

In this blog I want to take the story forward from 1960 through to the early 80’s and plan a further and final blog devoted to this mammoth undertaking later this year.

The Paris-based magazine has been published continuously for just over 70 years. Currently edited by Fred Goaty, its distinctive cultural and intellectual approach to reporting jazz sets it apart from its English language comparators. I like the breadth of its coverage, its strong interest in the cultural and political undercurrents of jazz through the ages, and the frequency with which it dives back into its archives for articles and reviews which give an interesting historic sense of how, say Charlie Parker, or Albert Ayler were seen very close to the times when their recordings and live performances were being made and experienced.

It is not unusual for Jazz Magazine to devote 30 pages to a particular artist or genre. The September 2022 issue on which I am basing this article runs to 40 pages of text and images. While retaining a strong focus on the leading movements, styles, and players from the U.S. it provides very useful background and analysis of both current and historic trends within the European jazz scene. Subscribing to it reminds me of the depth and range of jazz located in France specifically and in Europe more generally. And it helps keep my French up to scratch.

My playlist features my own selection based on theirs, featuring almost three hours of music, all of it distinctive and compelling, some of it challenging.

Many of Jazz Magazine’s featured recordings have particular resonances within my own jazz listening, including the following,

  • The haunting, plangent presence of Jimmy Knepper’s trombone on Gil Evans’s shimmering arrangement of Flamingos- a tune he returned to many times.
  • Eric Dolphy, a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and modernist who died tragically young. He took no prisoners in his playing, and it is great to hear his distinctive live performance of God Bless The Child on bass clarinet, an instrument which he made his own.
  • Art Farmer and Benny Golson are both name-checked for their beautiful playing on flugelhorn and tenor sax on Golson’s languid classic, Whisper Not, A tune which our quartet are planning to feature in future gigs.
  • The much-missed Chick Corea soloing on one of his first albums as a leader, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.  It sounds and feels ahead of its time even at a distance of over 50 years.
  • Finally, an oddity, Rufus Harley’s contribution on bagpipes on Swing Low Sweet Chariot taken from Sonny Rollins’s Cutting Edge album. I saw this band live at Ronnie Scott’s in the year it was recorded with Harley resplendent in tartan kilt and Tam O Shanter, a visual image I have never forgotten.