(Pictured: pianist Bill Evans at work, shortly before his death in 1980.)
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. This April also marks 10 years since I started using LastFM to keep track of what plays on my laptop. So this is a post about the most-played jazz artists in my library these last 10 years.
10. Houston Person. I first saw Person’s name in the first chart book I ever owned, Star File, detailed data on the American and British charts of 1976, which my girlfriend brought home to me from a trip to England in 1977. As many jazz players had done by the middle of the 70s, Person had moved away from straight jazz toward a pop style, and he was rewarded with a minor two-sided hit on the Hot 100, “Disco Sax” and “For the Love of You.”
9. Bill Evans. Evans’ early 60s recordings at New York’s Village Vanguard with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian are magnificent, including my most-played Evans track, “My Romance.” Evans’ life and career were dogged by tragedy. LaFaro died in a car wreck just days after the Village Vanguard sessions, and in 1980, Evans completed what a friend called “the longest suicide in history,” dying from various maladies complicated by drug use in the wake of his brother’s suicide the year before.
8. Miles Davis. I cannot always follow where Davis went: we start parting company at In a Silent Way, and I am not sure I have ever made it all the way through Bitches Brew. I am much more interested in Miles as he sounded with his small combos in the 1950s. My most-played track, “Dear Old Stockholm,” recorded in 1957, features a Murderer’s Row of players: John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. All but Jones played on the legendary Kind of Blue in 1959—and so did Bill Evans.
7. Jack McDuff. Soul jazz is my favorite thing, R&B-influenced, often found on urban jukeboxes in the 60s, and occasionally on the singles chart. McDuff is one of the great soul-jazz organ players. His lone Hot 100 hit, “Theme From Electric Surfboard,” charted as 1969 turned to 1970.
6. Richard “Groove” Holmes. Another master organist, another soul-jazz star. Holmes’ biggest hit charted 50 years ago this summer: “Misty,” which was released on 45 in a sub-two-minute edit.
5. Willis Jackson. Sax man, often accompanied by Jack McDuff. Can honk like he’s dancing on the bar, but can also whisper in your ear like he wants to take you home from the bar. His best-known song is probably “Bar Wars” from 1977, on which Jackson is accompanied by organist Charles Earland, who had the best nickname in jazz: “The Mighty Burner.”
4. Kenny Burrell. Guitarist, Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, and a giant with a highly recognizable style. Most-played track: “If You Could See Me Now,” which proves that smoky, late-night Burrell is the best make-out music in the world.
3. Jimmy McGriff. Philadelphia was quite the hotbed for soul-jazz organists: Holmes, McGriff, and Jimmy Smith (see below) were all natives of the area. McGriff scored a huge R&B and pop hit with the Ray Charles song “I Got a Woman” in 1962, and he hit the Hot 100 four other times in the 60s.
2. Grant Green. Guitarist often found in the company of organ players including Big John Patton and Charles Kynard, and a sideman on recordings by other bandleaders, including Houston Person. Most-played track: “Sweet Slumber.”
1. Jimmy Smith. The master of the Hammond B3 organ, who ranged across more styles than any player this side of Miles Davis. He recorded with a full orchestra and in small combos and even took a vocal now and then. Most-played track: “Back at the Chicken Shack,” which features Burrell on guitar.
Honorable mention, or bubbling under the top 10: the aforementioned Charles Earland, John Patton, and Red Garland, plus Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphonist and sometime collaborator with Green and Patton.
Each of the artists mentioned here, including the honorable mentions, are among my 50 most-played artists according to LastFM. Smith, Green, McGriff, and Burrell are in the Top 10. Before this week is out, I’ll write about some of the top pop and rock artists on the list.