Have you seen Amazon’s list of the 100 Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time? It’s worth checking out – there’s some surprising entries on it, and by that I mean surprising good and surprising bad.

First the bad; I like music from Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, Patricia Barber, Pat Metheny and Jaco Patorius, but they don’t belong in the top 100, sorry. Even more so, the specific albums chosen from those artist are not even near their bets work (I think Barber’s “Mythologies” is awful, and Jaco’s “Word of Mouth” is a record that does approach greatness). There’s also, unfortunately, a selection of “jazzy” artists who, despite their talents, aren’t strictly jazz; Gershwin, Blossom Dearie, Madeliene Peyroux, Bela Fleck, Astrud Gilberto. And Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream” may be a hipster’s security blanket, but it frankly sucks as music.

There are some things that are either too new, so no perspective, or unknown to me; Cuong Vu, Robert Glasper, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet (wha’?), David Axelrod. And I’ve never been a fan of Abbey Lincoln and Carmen McRea, but still . . .

Ornette Coleman #1! Eric Dolphy! Sun Ra! Anthony Braxton! Cecil Taylor! The Art Ensemble of Chicago! Albert Ayler! Pharoah Sanders! Roland Kirk! I never would have expected. I’m impressed that Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” is there, that’s an important record. “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,” absolutely. Hello John Zorn – although “Naked City” is nowhere near as fine or important as “The Big Gundown.” Stanley Clarke’s “School Days!” That is truly one of the finest jazz-rock records ever made. And one of my personal favorites, Grant Green’s “Idle Moments,” made it.

Lists like this are made to inspire both sales and argument, and there’s a lot of great music within. Reading the complaints in the comments is interesting. There are the terminal squares:

– “To have Zorn in the top 25 instead of a disc like Light as a Feather?”
– “Where are Bob James, Earl Klugh, and Grover Washington?”
– “should have included more methey/mays work”
– “If it were me, Yellowjackets “Mint Jam” would have been on the list.”

And complaints about “Kind of Blue” not hitting #1, to be expected. I’m not going to make a 100 list (at least not now), but my list would have to include “Mingus Ah Um,” Miles and Gil Evans “Porgy and Bess” rather than “Sketches of Spain,” and his “E.S.P.” and “In A Silent Way,” some Herbie Nichols and something from Paul Bley. All food for thought, and listening.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.

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