April is Jazz Appreciation Month!

The words "Jazz Appreciation Month" in a dark brown Art Deco-style font, with a liquid gold honey background

Do ya like jazz? A genre steeped in a rich, hundred-year history, jazz continues to inspire generation after generation of budding musicians and listeners alike. Since improvisation is at the core of jazz music, no two versions of a song are ever exactly alike (even by the same artist!), creating endless variety and new discoveries every time you listen.

Jazz developed in the early part of the 20th century, with the first jazz recordings being made in 1917. The diversity of the city of New Orleans made it a hot spot for all types of music and cultures to blend together, especially African-American music, and the blend of musical styles like blues and ragtime eventually evolved into jazz. The jazz style continued to develop through musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington, and eventually there were several styles of jazz with their own individual sound, such as bebop and swing. You can learn more about the history of jazz at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History website, and even listen to some classic jazz tunes!

Here at the Alachua County Library District, we have a variety of ways to dive in and appreciate jazz music. You can check out our extensive music CD collection, watch some great concert and documentary DVDs, and download songs and even full albums (up to five songs a week) with our Freegal database. Here are a few samples of classic jazz artists to get you started!

The cover of "Ken Burns Jazz" CD. The title is at the top, beneath are 6 photos of jazz artists: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday.
Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music
CD 781.65 KEN 2000

For the ULTIMATE sampler of jazz music, this five-disc collection is the way to go! Compiled for the PBS miniseries of the same name, it spans nearly a hundred years of legendary jazz hits, from Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, and Thelonius Monk, to Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and Wynton Marsalis.

The cover of jazz album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. His name and the album title are at the top, the background is a bust photo of Davis playing trumpet
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

One of the most influential jazz albums of all time, Kind of Blue was released in 1959. Miles Davis on trumpet is joined by six other jazz legends: John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley on saxophone, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Though the album only contains five songs, its influence has had a ripple effect on almost every genre of music for the last 60+ years.
(If you like this album, you should also check out Miles Ahead and the DVD documentary Birth of the Cool.)

The cover of "The Best of Louis Armstrong: The Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings" music CD, which has the title at the top above a sepia-toned photo of a young Louis Armstrong holding his trumpet on his knee.
The Best of the Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings by Louis Armstrong

Originally recorded in the late 1920s, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven bands' sessions are some of the most definitive examples of the style. According to the National Recording Registry, "Louis Armstrong was jazz's first great soloist and is among American music's most important and influential figures. These sessions, his solos in particular, set a standard musicians still strive to equal in their beauty and innovation." Armstrong's solos and improvisations in these sessions, particularly, changed the course of jazz, redefining it forever.
(If you like this album, you should also try The Definitive Collection: Louis Armstrong, Essential Jazz Classics [with Ella Fitzgerald] and the DVD Louis Armstrong Live in '59.)

The cover of "Ellington at Newport 1956" album which has the title in white and orange across the top and down the side, and has a color photo of Duke Ellington smiling with his chin on his clasped hands.
Ellington at Newport 1956 by Duke Ellington

This two-disc collection is the complete recording of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. It contains the 3-part Newport Jazz Festival Suite, and contains both the originally released "live" album (which was dubbed over with a studio recording due to bad microphone placement), and an actual live recording that was discovered years later.
(If you like this album, you should also check out The Great Summit [with Louis Armstrong], his Sixteen Most Requested Songs album, and the DVD Duke Ellington: Live in '58.)

The cover of "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane, which has his name and the album title at the top in red, above a low-angled, color photo of Coltrane playing the saxophone.
Giant Steps by John Coltrane

Remembered as one of the greatest and most important musicians of the twentieth century, John Coltrane was incredibly innovative and dedicated to improving himself both as a saxophonist and as a person. This album, Coltrane’s 1959 debut for Atlantic Records, is when he started to use ‘Coltrane changes’, harmonic sequences that are based on key centres moving quickly in thirds. Difficult to improvise over, this style remains one that is studied by jazz musicians to this day.
(If you like this album, you should try The Best of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and the DVD documentary Chasing Trane.)

The cover of the album "Pure Ella" by Ella Fitzgerald, which features a black and white bust photo of Ella Fitzgerald on the right and the title on the left
Pure Ella by Ella Fitzgerald

As she is one of the most popular jazz singers of all time, this compliation of some of Ella Fitzgerald's best known hits is a great place to start. Recorded between 1956 and 1965, Ella's songbook albums from Verve Records were incredible collections of her powerhouse talent and skyrocketed her to international fame.
(If you like this album, you should also check out The Best of the Song Books CDs and the DVD Ella Fitzgerald Live in '57 and '63.)

For another example of Ella's amazing gifts (and why they call her the First Lady of Song), check out this fun video of her jazzing up the classic children's tune "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" on the Ed Sulivan Show in 1964.


Now the next time someone asks if you like jazz, you can say, "Jazz is cool!"
The words "Jazz is Cool!" in a retro purple and teal font on top of the 1990s Dixie cup design "Jazz", which is an abstract crayon-like squiggle of teal with a smaller squiggle of purple on top.

Posted by CrissyH on April 14, 2021