Top 10 Favorite Ralph Peterson Jr. Tracks

The jazz world was devastated earlier this week by the passing of Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, composer, bandleader, educator, entrepreneur, and all-around volcano of a musician and human, at the age of 58. It feels (and indeed is) soon to be digging in to his vast discography, but I wanted to be able to share some memories with those who might find that nourishing and to point some folks on the margins of the jazz world in the direction of some starting points from which to go down the Sir Ralph rabbit hole that I and many others have been in this week.

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Top 10 Classic Soul Covers of Pop/Rock Songs (Originally by White Artists)

As much as my life revolves around original music (whether my own or that which the artists I love have composed) I also have an interest in cover performances that transform a song. While that’s so common in the jazz world that the term “cover” isn’t even really used there, I have a particular soft spot for Black artists finding the innate soul in a song not initially presented in that way. A lot of attention has been paid to great Black blues and R&B songs that only achieved mainstream success once covered by White artists, but for this Black History Month I wanted to go in the other direction.

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Top 10 Favorite Chick Corea Tracks

The news of Chick Corea’s passing is difficult to process, since he was not only a true giant of music but so alive, so vibrant. The reverence for his artistry, mastery, and versatility is near-universal. He simultaneously modeled unbridled joy and presence, intimidating chops, and unassuming humility and would be a beloved figure for that even if he didn’t have a truly incredible discography and 23 Grammys (not a typo – putting him in the top 10 all-time, regardless of genre/context). His distinctive style as a pianist, his compositional body of work, and his vision as a multifaceted bandleader (SO many remarkable and intricately-conceived ensembles) are all things that alone would make him superlative, a giant among mortals, but of course he accomplished all these things. I would call him inimitable except that few musicians in modern jazz are as literally imitated as Chick.

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Top 10 Favorite Howard Johnson Tracks

When news spread yesterday of Howard Johnson’s passing, I reflected on how he was in many ways the consummate musician. If all he had ever done was evolve jazz tuba to an unprecedented level, his place in the history books would be secure. But there was so much more – brilliance on the baritone saxophone, skillful work on multiple other brass and wind instruments, visionary bandleading, capacity to thrive as a soloist or as a supportive ensemble member across a vast range of styles. And the couple times I had the pleasure to hang out with him a little confirmed why I’ve literally never heard a single person suggest he was anything but a joy to be around, which is a major part of the gig too.

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20 Tracks that Moved Me in 2020

There need be no more words uttered on the challenges of 2020, but MAN was there a lot of great music that came out. I agonized over all that I left out (I kept a running list this year and there were literally over a hundred things on the list of records I really dug) and here’s what I came up with.

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Top 10 Favorite Stanley Cowell tracks

Yesterday, a couple hours before I heard about the passing of jazz giant Stanley Cowell, Kate was doing ordering some supplies for Wesleyan’s Art Department and I saw the piece of paper full of hyper-specific color names – indigo blue, poppy red, royal blue, and so on. As I think about Prof. Cowell’s legacy as a pianist, composer, and conceptualist, it is like that. He may not have invented “blue” or “green,” but you can be sure that there is a shade that is uniquely and identifiably his and so much jazz of the last 50-plus years has been enriched by that indirectly and directly.

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Top 10 Favorite Tribute Songs for Musicians/Friends

The recent release of my Love Right project has made me reflect on the many others who have used music to paid tribute to those who have departed, whether loved ones or heroes and whether musicians or not. This list centers on those in the middle of this Venn diagram – musicians paying tribute to fellow musicians who were also their friends, and doing so with music created for that purpose.

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Top 10 Favorite Toots and the Maytals Tracks

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert has been my favorite reggae singer (and indeed one of my favorite soul singers, period) since I first heard him when I was around 15. Because 2020 is relentless, we now only have his recordings (including his latest studio album, released soon before he suddenly fell ill), but my goodness are there gems in his discography.

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Top 10 Favorite Sonny Rollins Tracks

What a gift that a soul as wise and deep and creative as Sonny Rollins has been around for 90 years as of today and is still with us, playing retirement notwithstanding. Even if he never played a note, I would be moved by his approach to art and his wise words about life. But fortunately for us he did play notes, sometimes lots of them. I’m reticent to describe his style in a setting like this, but his mixture of stunning fluency (on the horn and with harmonic structures) and relentless pursuit of idea-development is incredibly inspiring, and if you add to that his robust sound and the extreme clarity of his articulation, the results are incredible. And I mean that literally – I listen to Newk sometimes and think “how is this even possible for a human to come up with this?” I can confidently say (and, mind you, I would cite John Coltrane as my favorite musician, period) that no greater saxophonist has ever lived than Walter Theodore Rollins.

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