Top 10 Nat “King” Cole Tracks

I discovered Nat “King” Cole’s trio work early enough in my developmental process that I can’t really imagine my conception of a) swing, b) touch at the piano, or c) jazz as a vehicle for fun without his music. It’s weird for the same musician to be simultaneously hugely famous and totally underrated, but so it goes for the King, a widely-admired singer whose instrumental prowess and influence are known by far fewer. A day after his centennial, I’m still reflecting on some of his music (particularly alongside guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Johnny Miller in the classic drum-less trio) that particularly shaped my own burgeoning musicianship – here’s some of it.

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Top 10 Favorite Roy Haynes tracks

Any day that Roy Haynes continues to walk the earth is a gift to humanity, and this, his 94th birthday, is a particularly opportune time to acknowledge that. His innovation, creativity, and technical mastery would already put him on the short list of drummers who’ve walked the planet. Factor in his longevity and the correspondingly long and diverse list of vital artists with whom he has played and there is really no parallel that I can think of. That I came up with 10 favorite tracks this happening is one thing, but it’s just kind of ludicrous that I did so while neglecting several of the most seminal albums in jazz history (Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” Chick Corea’s “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” etc.) and other noteworthy music by Lester Young, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Eric Dolphy, and so on. So here are just a few tracks that I particularly enjoy, both in totality and as examples (covering a span of over 50 years) of the wonder of the drumming of Mr. Roy Haynes.

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Top 10 Favorite Randy Weston Tracks

It’s hard to frame the loss of a 92 year old man who was productive and healthy virtually to the end as tragic, but we will greatly miss the great pianist, composer, and visionary Randy Weston all the same. He was a major figure in jazz and a huge influence on my own conception both sonically and conceptually. His powerful and ruggedly individualistic piano style was an underpinning force throughout his music, his partnerships with distinctive arrangers modeled effective collaboration, and his exploration of the cultural and musical roots of Africa were ahead of their time and unprecedentedly deep for someone whose jazz bona fides were also so unimpeachable. And if you ask me, he never lost any speed off his fastball, as his output in his 80s was as potent as that of his 20s. Safe passage Maestro Weston, and for everyone else, here are 10 of my favorites tracks of his, listed chronologically.

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Top 10 Favorite Aretha Franklin Tracks

Aretha Franklin, the appropriately named Queen of Soul, has battled health problems for years, but it is still jarring to hear that she is gravely ill at this point. While she is still with us, let’s all “Say a Little Prayer” for this regal and exceptionally potent artist, whose singing, piano playing, and overall conception have inspired and taught me like few others have. Here are some of my favorite tracks.

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Top 10 Favorite Tracks Featuring Mickey Roker

About 6 months after saying goodbye to Bob Cranshaw, we do the same with his batterymate in Milt Jackson’s group and on literally dozens of other records, the fabulous drummer Granville “Mickey” Roker. Few have swung as hard, and while he was not the most famous of drummers, the feeling in his beat speaks to me in a unique way. Here are some of my personal favorites from his discography.

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Top 10 Favorite Larry Coryell Tracks

I think Larry Coryell (1943-2017) has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in modern music. Aside from his clear historical significance in melding jazz and rock guitar traditions and techniques, the pure artistic brilliance with which he straddled those lines is rather stunning. While nowadays it may be more common for guitarists to be fully fluent in both of those arenas, Coryell broke tremendous ground for all of the youngins. Many rock guitarists lack the rhythmic nuance and harmonic fluency to play jazz authoritatively, and many jazz guitarists sound comparatively wimpy and/or cerebral when they play rock. Larry pulled off both with utter conviction, and I’ve always been particularly enamored of the contexts in which he has been able to do both.

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