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With a century of output, collecting jazz records can be a daunting prospect. Martin Kelly brings you the definitive guide to some of the best records by the most creative artists from the genre’s most collectable and productive period on vinyl…

This year is the centenary of the first jazz recording. It was not an auspicious start when the Original Dixieland Jass Band entered the Victor Talking Machine Company’s studio on the 12th floor of its New York off ces to record a novelty million-seller hit, Livery Stable Blues, only to see it become the subject of a lawsuit. Yet the events of 26 February 1917 gave birth to a rich new artform.

The sheer size of jazz’s recorded history makes selecting just 40 essential records an almost impossible task. For every record included here, just as strong a case could be made for five, or even 10 others to take its place. The only way to reduce the size of the challenge is to apply some constraints.

So we’ve limited the timeframe covered to what many people consider to be the Golden Age of jazz records: 1955 to 1970. It may seem controversial to go for such a short period, but it’s logical in the context of jazz record collecting. 1955 was a pivotal year for recorded jazz, because it was the point when the 12-inch LP format usurped the 10-inch LP. This change affected all forms of recorded music but, for jazz, it was a unique artistic liberation that gave the musicians extra time to stretch out and improvise in the way they already did on live dates. The end-point of our chosen era was just as significant to jazz, but for a difierent reason: the 1970 release of one LP, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, changed everything. Jazz was in commercial decline and Davis’ move to a band playing electric instruments that fused jazz with rock and funk set the direction for the next decade.

The second rule we’ve applied is to limit each artist to one selection (and to exclude compilations). That necessarily means that some fantastic records have been edged out: John Coltrane’s Giant Steps lost out to A Love Supreme; Sonny Rollins’ A Night At The Village Vanguard missed out to Saxophone Colossus; Hank Mobley’s Workout made way for Soul Station – and that’s just among the tenor saxophonists! At least half a dozen of trumpeter Miles Davis’ seminal LPs were excluded in favour of Kind Of Blue.


Our final decision was to keep things accessible. Before 1955, jazz had already evolved many sub-genres, and the period from then until 1970 only served to accelerate the variety, as the artists became ever-more adventurous. Some forms are easier for the newcomer to appreciate, while others can sound to the uninitiated like a chaotic cacophony. While experienced jazz devotees may mourn the exclusion of important recordings from the likes of Peter Brötzmann or Cecil Taylor, we’ve aimed to off er starting points for the exploration of more challenging material.



The quintet co-led by trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach recorded five LPs (plus a sixth under tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins) in a brief but blistering two years before Brown’s tragic death in a car accident aged 26, which also claimed pianist Richie Powell. This is a prime example of his brilliant ringing tone, bravura solo style and compositional skill.

£Rarest 1955 EmArcy MG 36037 £7-£70 (median £21) Latest EmArcy/ Jazz At 33 rpm Series MG 36037 £N/A



This shows jazz on the cusp of the 12-inch LP era. It debuted as a four-track 10-inch, featuring fellow members of the original Jazz Messengers Art Blakey and Horace Silver; two years later, it re-appeared as a 12-inch LP supplemented with three extra tunes. Dorham’s percussionenhanced Latin influences made him perhaps the nearest trumpeter in spirit to the legendary Dizzy Gillespie.

£ Rarest 1955 Blue Note BLP 5065 £195Latest 2014 Blue Note 75th Anniversary BLP 1535 £12



Here’s another example of jazz coming to terms with the possibilities of the then-new 12-inch LP. This session finds the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded with the longer playing time of the new format in mind for the first time, and with their new drummer, Connie Kay, making a subtle but distinctive contribution. Their music is sometimes unfairly derided as “chamber jazz”, but despite the influence of European classical music, the blues was never far from the heart of their recordings.

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