April is Jazz Appreciation Month

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History created Jazz Appreciation Month in 2001. Experience some of jazz’s greatest performers for yourself!

New Orleans

Putumayo provides a nice introduction to Nawlins jazz here, with a pretty good mix of the classic and the contemporary. The music remains, despite its era or performer, fully of the New Orleans style. The patron saint of the city, as well as the genre, Louis Armstrong, is presented with one of his later recordings with an all-star band in 1966 (it's somewhat disappointing not to hear the Hot Fives or Sevens, but this one still ain't bad). Other mainstays of the city are here as well, with Dr. John playing "Basin Street Blues" as only he could, following a rendition of the same song by Louis Prima. Doc Cheatham's here with some classic vocals as well. Beyond the well-known, though, there are some members of the newer groups of influence here. Kermit Ruffins has become a contemporary revivalist of the old sound and starts off the album as such. Kevin Clark and Michael White provide contemporary versions of the classic style as well. Through and through, it's a fine introduction to a given genre.

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True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter

Following his foray into the uber-contemporary pop production of 2015's That Would Be Me, Harry Connick, Jr. returns to his swinging big-band sound with 2019's True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter. The singer's first album since signing with the storied Verve label, True Love is also his first extended exploration of a single composer's work. A burnished set of Porter standards, the album brings to mind Connick's late-'80s and early-'90s work, especially We Are in Love, Blue Light, Red Light, and his beloved soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally. Helping to capture this energy is Connick's big band, featuring seasoned players like bassist Neal Caine, New Orleans trumpeter Mark Braud, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, and others. On some tracks, he even brings in a full orchestra, creating a sound that evokes classic albums by his heroes Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. The best moments on the album are the punchy, midtempo swingers like "Anything Goes," "Just One of Those Things," and the buoyant "I Love Paris," all of which showcase Connick's vocal charisma and his band's dynamic instrumental skills.

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Best of Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Opened in 1961 to preserve the rich and vibrant history of New Orleans Jazz, Preservation Hall, located in the city’s French Quarter, was one of the first venues to welcome both Caucasian and African-American musicians. Soon after the venue’s invent Preservation Hall Jazz Band was formed hosting an esteemed group of local musicians which would prove popular with residents and tourists the world over. Showcasing the likes of Kid Thomas Valentine, Punch Miller, Louis Nelson, Jim Robinson, Joseph Robichaux, Billie Pierce, Percy Humphrey, George Lewis, Sweet Emma Barrett, and Willie Humphrey, the band’s early members represented the jazz elite.

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Gershwin’s World

Gershwin’s World is a tour de force for Herbie Hancock, transcending genre and label, and ranking among the finest recordings of his lengthy career. Released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth, this disc features jazzman Hancock with a classy collection of special guests.

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Kind of Blue

The best-selling jazz record of all time is a universally acknowledged masterpiece, revered as much by rock and classical music fans as by jazz lovers. The album is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Kind of Blue brought together seven now-legendary musicians in the prime of their careers: tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and, of course, trumpeter Miles Davis.

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Women of Jazz

As Putumayo builds its genre base to include a little more than its initial world pop, jazz appears to be one of the first targets on their continued march. Hearkening back to some of their older releases focusing on women, here the label collects a series of female jazz performers. Luckily for the listener, the stereotypical torch singing is kept to a minimum. These women indeed lean heavily toward the vocal-only end of affairs, but there's enough innovation in their styles to keep the album afloat and out of sheer torch territory.

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Turn Up the Quiet

Diana Krall spent the better part of the 2010s exploring byways of American song -- her 2012 set Glad Rag Doll drew heavily on obscure jazz from the 1920s and '30s, its 2015 sequel Wallflower concentrated on pop and rock tunes -- but 2017's Turn Up the Quiet finds the pianist/singer returning to well-known standards from the Great American Songbook. Reuniting with producer Tommy LiPuma for the first time since 2009's bossa nova-inspired Quiet Nights, Krall works with a trio of lineups on Turn Up the Quiet, alternating between a trio, quartet, and quintet.

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The Standard

There are two ways to interpret the title of the famed multiple Grammy- and Dove Award-winning vocal group's debut on Heads Up Records. First and most obviously, it's a reference to the way they have been setting high bars in the jazz and gospel worlds for 20 years, scoring as many Grammys as Doves (ten) with their beautiful and snazzy vocal textures. Then of course there's the wonderful choice of classic jazz material, ranging from their whistle and fingersnappin' approach to "Sweet Georgia Brown" to Nat King Cole's exuberant suggestion to "Straighen Up and Fly Right" and Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," featuring her own charming vocals from a session done in 1938! In taking a traditional jazz approach to some of the Great American Songbook's foundational treasures, the sextet ensemble has had so many guest artists they could temporarily be dubbed Take 7, 8, or 9.

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Nina Revisted…

Nina Revisited is attached to the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, a loving tribute itself, but also a painfully honest one. This possible soundtrack takes a more abstract route while offering the same love and reverence, and it's also an almost-solo album from Lauryn Hill, the driving force behind six of the album's 16 tracks. A traditional and stately take on "Feeling Good" is the obvious pick for the artist, but her bold and vicious delivery of "I've Got Life" is equally as grand. Her "Wild Is the Wind" is elegance with an edge, while "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" is surprisingly spacy but solidly built, and with Robert Glasper's name among the album's producers credits, the backing band is expectedly red hot. Glasper surrounds Mary J. Blige with a tight and small R&B band on "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and they make the song sound rightfully huge, and on the other end of the spectrum, there's Usher going full Michael Jackson as he turns "My Baby Just Cares for Me" into a sweet "The Girl Is Mine"-soundalike. The jazz-rap gift of "We Are Young, Gifted and Black" (Common and Lalah Hathaway), a funky and furious "Sinnerman" (Gregory Porter), and a reggae take on "Baltimore" inspired by the Tamlins version (Jazmine Sullivan) display how Simone's influence is felt far and wide to this day. Add a closing number from the artist herself and this free-form tribute becomes a fine and soul-lifting celebration.

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Their Greatest Hits

Compiling all the major hits that legendary jazz alto saxophonist Stan Getz had with Brazilian songwriter and vocalist Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz/Antonio Carlos Jobim: Their Greatest Hits is a nice single-disc collection. While there are deeper double-disc anthologies available, Their Greatest Hits is a perfect summation of what made the '60s bossa nova sound so popular. Included are such iconic tracks as "The Girl from Ipanema," "Aguas de Marco (Waters of March)" and "Desafinado."

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Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society

Spalding has assembled an intriguing collection of tunes, is accompanied by stellar backing musicians -- drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, pianist Leonardo Genovese, and percussionist Quintino Cinalli with a pair of string players -- and guests that reveal her exquisite taste in both compositions and arrangements (the latter with intermittent help from Gil Goldstein). The album opens with a Spalding composition to illustrate William Blake's poem "Little Fly"; her vocal is understated yet fully articulate. She is backed only by her bass and a graceful, small, unintrusive string section. "Winter Sun" is a standout with its fingerpopping breaks and a melodic nu-soul vocal that touches on scat with astute syncopation, and features taut, imaginative bass and piano solos. It walks the line between modern jazz and adult contemporary R&B.

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Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Larry Appelbaum, the recording lab supervisor at the Library of Congress, came across this tape by accident while transferring the library's tape archive to digital. What a find. Forget the Five Spot recording that sounds like it was recorded inside of a tunnel from the far end. The sound here is wonderfully present and contemporary. More importantly, this band -- which also included drummer Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik -- had it right on November 29, 1957, at Carnegie Hall. The John Coltrane on this date is far more assured than he had been four months earlier on the Five Spot date and on the initial Prestige side Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. He'd been with Monk for four months and had absorbed his complex, multivalent musical system completely. It's clear from the opening track, "Monk's Mood," where the pair play in duet, that Coltrane is confident and moving into his own. Monk feels that confidence with his nearly Baroque entrance on the tune. This is a hard-swinging band with two front-line players who know how to get the best from one another. Coltrane knows the music inside out and his solos reflect an early version of his sheets of sound methodology.

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Billie’s Best

Towards the end of Billie's career, her once clear and energetic voice now reflected her internal struggles. But even her inner demons transformed into heavenly angels when she recorded for Verve in the mid-1950s. Includes Lady Day and small jazz-combos performing What a Little Moonlight Can Do; A Foggy Day; Comes Love; He's Funny That Way; Gone with the Wind; They Can't Take That Away from Me; Stormy Blues; All the Way , and more.

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Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was one of the most important creative forces in the music of the twentieth century. His influence on classical music, popular music, and, of course, jazz, simply cannot be overstated.

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The Essential Charlie Parker

Another anthology that has less value due to the exploding reissue market. These cuts were among Parker's most influential compositions and performances, but they've been reissued many times, both in anthology packages and on re-releases of their original albums. But it's part of the Essentials sampler line, and if you only want a little Parker, it's a good choice.

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Best of the Big Bands

The Best of the Big Bands features the music of: Glenn Miller Orchestra; Duke Ellington; Benny Goodman Orchestra; Count Baise and Woodie Herman. Chatanooga choo choo (Glenn Miller Orchestra) -- Pennsylvania 6-5000 (Glenn Miller Orchestra) -- Woodchopper's ball (Woody Herman) -- Seven come eleven (Benny Goodman) -- Taking a chance on love (Tommy Dorsey) -- Ain't misbehavin' (Count Basie) -- Take the A train (Duke Ellington) -- Tootie for cootie (Duke Ellington) -- One o'clock jump (Benny Goodman) -- Autumn in New York (Tommy Dorsey) -- Jumping at the woodside (Count Basie) -- String of pearls (Glenn Miller Orchestra)

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The Best of Miles Davis & John Coltrane

This compilation is taken from the masterful and wondrous box set issued late in the year 2000. It is assembled with the kind of care only producers such as Bob Belden and Michael Cuscuna could muster. Featuring nine selections, it begins with the first recorded appearance of the new Miles Davis Quintet in 1955 that featured the two principals, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. Aside from an alternate take of "Straight, No Chaser" and the inclusion of "Dear Old Stockholm" -- standard enough in the quintet's repertoire but not a signature number -- the disc traces the evolution of the band through its extension into a sextet. The quintet tracks are the opening two and "Bye Bye Blackbird," as well as "Round About Midnight." The showcase continues on the tracks "Straight, No Chaser" and the modal masterpiece "Milestones," both by the sextet that added Cannonball Adderley. The band evolved further with the departures of Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones, who were replaced by drummer Jimmy Cobb and Bill Evans for the Kind of Blue recording -- which also included piano contributions from Wynton Kelly, who would later replace Evans. Tracks from that classic session included here are "So What" and "Blue in Green." The album closes with a further evolution of the sextet, and the last that included Coltrane. Hank Mobley joined the band to replace Adderley and Kelly was the band's full-time pianist. The last cut, "Someday My Prince Will Come," features the most searing and melodic solo Coltrane ever played during his tenure with Davis. Its intensity is white hot and his lyricism is unrivaled. It was the way to go out -- swinging. The choices here may be obvious, but there is the alternate take of "Straight, No Chaser" that is worthy as an unreleased gem. And for those looking for a powerhouse glimpse of the Davis/Coltrane collaboration, this is a fine one.

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Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women In Jazz

Lady Be Good reveals the lost stories of female jazz musicians from the early 1920s to the 1970s. Narrated by musician-composer Patrice Rushen, the film charts the influence of female players from the struggles and successes of early innovators (Sweet Emma Barrett, Lil Hardin-Armstrong), through the rise of the all-woman big bands (Ina Ray Hutton & Her Melodears, the Hollywood Redheads), to the female musicians that were instrumental players (Dorothy Donegan, Mary Osborne) and arrangers (Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston) for more famous male band leaders, including Benny Goodman and Quincy Jones. Unfolding over nine parts, director Kay D. Ray's debut film weaves provocative and often humorous interviews with female musicians, big band leaders, jazz authors, and historians throughout a film stuffed end-to-end with archival photos, recordings, and performance footage to create a documentary that restores an essential part of our musical history.

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Tony Bennett: Duets II – The Great Performances

Bennett again recorded his greatest hits with a celebrated list of artists and Duets II made music history by debuting top of the Billboard chart. Duets II: The Great Performances is a visually stunning accompaniment to the album, featuring full song performances as they were recorded live in the studio. Tony Bennett and his duet partners provide their insights along the way, offering an inside look into the making of a landmark album.

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