1959 – 50 Years Ago and Still the Best Year in Jazz

25 May

50 years ago certainly told some sad stories in jazz, including the death of Billie Holiday and Lester Young. But 1959 still appears to be the year that produced some of the most influential albums in jazz history. Here is a list of the best from 1959 (and thanks to Robin Lloyd for the list, and pointing out their similar anniversary).

1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

kind of blueThe most legendary album in jazz history easily takes the top spot on this list. The original album still sells 5,000 copies a week. A two-CD “Legacy Edition” version of this album was released celebrating the 50th anniversary, including alternate takes, false starts, and a 17-minute live version of So What.

2. Time Out – Dave Brubeck

time outThe album that left the 4/4 time signature behind, was the first jazz album to have a single (Take Five) that sold one million copies. Sony will release its own 50th Anniversary edition of Time Out this Tuesday, featuring three discs. Disc one will feature a newly remastered edition of the original. Disc two is a 30-minute DVD interview with Dave Brubeck talking about the making of Time Out, with never before seen footage, and Disc three is a compilation of recently discovered tapes at the Newport Jazz Festival from 1961, 1963, and 1964.

3. Giant Steps – John Coltrane

giant stepsAnother great album where every song became a jazz standard. The album features two different trios, with bassist Paul Chambers being the only member to participate in both. Constant chord changes and wonderful improvisation made this a classic.

4. Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus

mingusAs mentioned earlier, the great Lester Young died in 1959, and Mingus Ah Um is highlighted with a wonderful tribute to Young called Good Bye Pork Pie Hat. Columbia has also released a two disc “Legacy Edition” of this album this year, featuring unedited versions of tunes that were shortened for the original version, as well as some great outtakes.

5. The Shape of Jazz to Come – Ornette Coleman

shape of jazzReleased exactly 50 years ago last Friday, The Shape of Jazz to Come basically said “forget about the rules, just let me play”. That might sound sloppy (the description, not the music), but Coleman might have just looked at things differently than those before him. He always heard a melody, and managed to create great jazz with freedom that didn’t sound chaotic.

6 Responses to “1959 – 50 Years Ago and Still the Best Year in Jazz”

  1. Brianna May 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm #

    I listen to KPLU every and I NEVER hear Ornette Coleman. Maybe he’s too out there for Midday Jazz and Evening Jazz. Perhaps you just play him in the middle of the night? More please!

  2. David May 26, 2009 at 6:28 am #

    Ah Um is a great album, but I prefer Blues and Roots, also recorded in 1959. Mingus takes the blues to a new plateau on that album, and Jackie McLean is especially good on the album.

  3. Tim Nunnally May 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    I would have trouble not filling all of any list with Miles and Coltrane, but thanks for appreciating the Brubeck. His accessibility blinded some to his serious groove.

  4. Jeff May 29, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

    I personally think 1964 was a better year…
    Coltrane – A Love Supreme
    Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch
    Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles
    Andrew Hill – Point of Departure
    Wayne Shorter – Juju
    Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
    … and so on. Just my opinion though.

  5. Lee Ingalls June 8, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Jeff – you’ve already provided Kevin the fodder for an excellent post in 2014. 😉

    Another often overlooked gem from 1959 is Duke Ellington’s Jazz Party, which features the orchestra in fine form and guest appearances by Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Rushing.

  6. Michael McDowell November 10, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    One could easily make a case for either 1959 or 1964, as reflected in the respective posts here. In either case, you can’t lose. Both were watershed years for the jazz idiom.

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