Moanin’ in the Moonlight was the debut album by Howlin’ Wolf. The album was a compilation of previously issued singles by Chess Records and it is a stone cold classic. Smokestack Lightin’ is just about as close to a perfect blues song that it is possible to get, in my opinion that is, which is the only one that really counts as far as this blog post is concerned.
This is the only known filmed version of “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf. This was shot in England during the famed American Folk Blues Festival tours and features the legendary Hubert Sumlin on guitar.
Little Girl Blue (also known as Jazz As Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club) is the debut album by Nina Simone, released by Bethlehem Records in February 1959. Simone was in her mid-20s and still aspiring to be a classical concert pianist. Unfortunately, she immediately sold the rights for the album to Bethlehem Records for $3,000 (This is the equivalent of around $27,000 today) which would eventually cost her over a million dollars in royalties.
Though Simone would go on to write many great songs, (think of ‘Mississippi Goddam’, ‘To Be Young Gifted And Black’ or ‘Ain’t Got No, I Got Life’.) she didn’t write any that were included on this album, including her biggest hit ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ which was helped by being included in a 1987 Chanel advertisement.
In my list of Best Albums of 1959 I placed this at number 9 and there will be more from that list appearing in this one, because it was a hell of a year.
Saxophone Colossus is the sixth studio album by Sonny Rollins. Perhaps Rollins’ best-known album, it is often considered his breakthrough record. It was recorded on June 22, 1956, with producers Bob Weinstock and Rudy Van Gelder at the latter’s studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Rollins led a quartet on the album that included pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach. Saxophone Colossus was released by Prestige Records to critical success and helped establish Rollins as a prominent jazz artist.
In 2017, Saxophone Colossus was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
The Birth Of Cool and Kind of Blue were already both taken, but it matters not as this 1957 release is right up there. It wasn’t universally well recieved when initially released with one reviewer suggesting it was just a contractual obligation album and the The Penguin Guide to Jazz said that “the material is fine but somehow fails to cast quite the consistent spell which the Prestige recordings do” and Ralph Berton of The Record Changer called the album “orthodox, middle-of-the-road conservative progressive jazz.” They were both wrong.
Bob Rusch of Cadence wrote, “everything about this date, from the black-and-white cover photo, washed in red, of Miles Davis, removed in thought behind dark glasses, to the performances, is classic. Not surprisingly, careful packaging and exquisite artistry have created a legend and, in this case, one of the essential recordings in the history of recorded music.” I agree with Bob.
This is the first release on LP by Ray Charles. It was originally released in 1957 on Atlantic Records but it was also know as “Hallelujah I Love Her So” as it was re-released under this title in 1962. A number of the tracks had already been hit singles for Charles in the preceding years, such as “Mess Around” in 1953, “A Fool for You” and “I Got A Woman” in 1955, “Drown In My Own Tears” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So” in 1956.
You may well recognise ‘I’ve Got A Woman’ from Kanye West’s 2005 single in which it is sampled and, hopefully, pointing a lot of folks back in time to other work by Charles, so much of which is worth exploring.
Blue Train was John Coltrane’s only recording for Blue Note. It was the first album where he chosef the musicians he wanted to record with and it is the album in which he gets closest to hard bop, whicvh is a category that I don’t really understand. There are sub-categories in Jazz and if you asked me to listen and then tell you which category an album falls into I wouldn’t really know.
It has been said that “Blue Train” is uncharacteristic of Coltrane’s music and that it makes too many concessions to the Blue Note ‘sound’. Again, I really wouldn’t know, I just like it. I can certainly see the difference between this and the magnificent ‘Giant Steps’ but I can also see the difference between ‘Hard Days Night’ and ‘Let it Be’, and if there were no real difference then that would be a dissapointment.
At the time of recording, Coltrane had recently beaten his addiction to heroin that had been ongoing since 1953 and which had been overlaid on an earlier acquired addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, and much of the music on ‘Blue Train’ seems quite upbeat and, to me at least, has a sense of joy to it, a sense of release.
Here we are with an album I actually own, although my copy is a nice re-issue, with a different cover, that I bought in Portugal while I was on holiday a few years ago. By the time of this release in 1956 Holiday’s voice had noticeably deteriorated from her earlier recordings but it didn’t really matter, the imperfections are quite appropriate for the mood of the songs. Holiday’s autobiography was released the same year, with the same title, and the album is a companion for the book, possibly purposfully, possibly not.
Holiday and the song ‘Strange Fruit’ will be eternally linked and in her autobiography she suggested that she, together with her musical collaborators, set the poem to music. The writers David Margolick and Hilton Als dismissed that claim in their work ‘Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song’, writing that hers was “an account that may set a record for most misinformation per column inch”. When challenged, Holiday—whose autobiography had been ghostwritten by William Dufty—claimed, “I ain’t never read that book.”
Ella and Louis were accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Quartet for this 1956 release and it is primarily a vocal album, and a charming one. Having previously collaborated in the late 1940s for the Decca label, this was the first of three albums that Fitzgerald and Armstrong were to record together for Verve Records, later followed by 1957’s Ella and Louis Again and 1959’s Porgy and Bess.
Norman Granz, the founder of the Verve label, selected eleven ballads for Fitzgerald and Armstrong, all in a slow or moderate tempo, which gives this album an overall laid back feel and even though their voices are poles apart, they really do seem to work together quite beautifully.
This early Atlantic session in 1955 was one of the first of the bassist-composer’s workshop styled programmes. He felt that written music could not convey the true music of the composer as musicians would put their own invention on it. His method was to play each individual part to each musician on piano so that they fully understood the composer’s intention and would play it the way he “heard” it.
The title song was described by Mingus as a ten-minute tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots (Pithecanthropus erectus) to an eventual downfall. A section of the piece was free improvisation, free of structure or theme.
I know that to many, Jazz is sometimes just noise but these recordings bridge the gap in some ways. There are random noises within the compositions but there is always a melody and Mingus tends to stick to chord structures.
I only discovered this album recently and I am simply astounded that it was recorded as far back as 1955. I love strange cut ups such as those one might hear from Prefuse 73 and all sorts of strnage ambient music appeals to me so to discover that these two people who I have never heard of were basically doing the same thing on what can be considered to be primative equipment 65 years ago is fantastic, and it reminds me just how much music there is still out there just waiting to be discovered.
I haven’t been able to find much information in relation to this project but what I do know is that American composer, conductor, composition teacher, and flutist Otto Luening and fellow composer Vladimir Ussachevsky helped to establish the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in the 1950’s where they created on a landmark series of collaborative compositions for magnetic tape and synthesizer, as well as works for acoustic instruments in combination with electronic sounds.
The music they created, “tape music,” was a uniquely American synthesis of the French musique concrète and the German pure electronic schools.It is a revelation to me.
I had originally discounted this album as I wrongly assumed it was included in the 1001 Albums To Hear Before You Die book. I’ve no idea why it wasn’t really, although the 50’s isn’t well represented and I can think of 30 albums that should be in there off the top of my head. Even the wikipedia page for this album is pretty short which I find suprising.
It has had various covers over the years and the one i’ve included is the one I remember seeing in family homes in the UK when I was a small boy. I’m pretty sure I played it at somebodys house back in the early 70’s and the whole thing was an energetic delight. There is more to this album than the two openers, and for many in the UK back in 1956 it was their first proper introduction to Rock and Roll. This is why I feel it is important but alos because it’s a really fun listen.
This album from Sarah Vaughan is one of those albums where everything is just right, nothing seems out of place and it feels effortlessly crafted. Enhanced by the excellent trumpet playing of Clifford Brown each song follows into the next to create a wonderful atmosphere of late night jazz clubs.
Though it was not entirely without criticism on its release I really can’t see that any of the criticism was really deserved and it’s critical reception upon release was overwhelmingly poitive. A contemporaneous review in the music magazine Metronome lamented that “Sarah sounds like an imitation of herself, sloppy, affected and so concerned with sound that she forgets that she is a singer, forgets the lyric of the song itself to indulge in sounds that are meaningless.” To which I say, that’s bollocks.
Welcome to the oddness of Alt-folk and the world of Moondog. Louis Thomas Hardin, also known as Moondog, was an American musician, composer, theoretician, poet and inventor of several musical instruments. He was blind from the age of 16.
Hardin lived in New York City from the late 1940s until 1972, and during this time he could often be found on 6th Avenue, between 52nd and 55th Streets, wearing a cloak and a horned helmet sometimes busking or selling music, but often just standing silently on the sidewalk. He was widely recognized as “the Viking of 6th Avenue” by thousands of passersby and residents who were not aware of his musical career.
Moondog’s music from the 1940s and 1950s is said to have been a strong influence on many early minimalist composers. Philip Glass has written that he and Steve Reich took Moondog’s work “very seriously and understood and appreciated it much more than what we were exposed to at Juilliard”
When listening to this album today, it does not feel the weight of its almost 70 years at all and it doesn’t seem to me to fit in the decade at all. It still seems a little out there so in the 50’s it must have been almost copmpletly alien to most. It is a very short album at 28 minutes but this may have been as it was originally released as a 10“ rather than an LP (I haven’t checked this but it makes sense) and of the tracks on it, I would highly reccomend The whole of Suite No.1 and Suite No.2
It may seem odd to say it, but Black Coffee by Peggy Lee is a collection of songs that sound exactly as you would expect them to sound, which is exactly as they should sound. The mid fifties are preserved in amber in these songs that seem to contain the wholesome ideolised american dream and a hint of the reality of the seediness that existed but was hidden beneath the shimmering sheen presented to the world. America in the fifties was not the wholesome soda fountain world it now seems to be fondly remembered as the problems that still exist today where even deeper seated then and not even seen as being a problem.
I have always thought of Peggy Lee as being old but she was 33 at the time of recording this album, 20 years younger than I am today and when I clear my own misguided pre-conceptions and listen to the songs as though it were a woman in her thirties singing them it all makes much more sense to me. This was her first album, having previously been part of the Benny Goodman Orchestr since 1941 and, as was the standard practice at the time, the songs are all written by somebody else, often having already been performed on record by many other artist with the Cole Porter song ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ being a good example.
interestingly, to me at least, Joni Mitchell declared the album one of her favorites, leading off her torch song album of 2000, Both Sides Now, with her version of Black Coffee.
What is certaibnly true is that there is much more to Lee than just the song Fever!
The Anthology of American Folk Music is a six-album compilation released in 1952 by Folkways Records comprising eighty-four American folk, blues and country music recordings that were originally issued from 1926 to 1933. Experimental film maker Harry Smith compiled the music from his personal collection of 78 rpm records. He had begun collecting these records around 1940 when many Americans considered 78’s almost disposable and his collection grew to around 7000 recordings which he felt should be preserved and curated.
As the rights to the recordings were held by many different record labels, many of whom were still in existence, the 1952 release was, technically, a bootleg and it was not until a re-issue in 1977 that all the rights were obtained by Folkways.
The music on the compilation is generally thought to have been enormously influential on the folk & blues revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and brought the works of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, Dick Justice and many others to the attention of musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The “Harry Smith Anthology,” as some call it, was the bible of folk music during the late 1950s and early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene.
Moving forward from there, all the artists influenced by Dylan etc. and the artists they subsequently influenced can be traced back to some of the songs in this collection, which is one of the reasons they are so important. They are also offer an alternative snapshot of a place and time where history was usually written from a white perspective.
Ritual of the Savage is an album by American composer Les Baxter, released in 1951 often cited as one of the most important exotica albums. The album features lush orchestral arrangements along with tribal rhythms and offered such classics as “Quiet Village”, “Jungle River Boat”, “Love Dance”, and “Stone God.”
Nowadays there may be some who would have issues with the general concept, which is understandable, the world has in many ways changed since 1951, and, unfortunatly in many ways hasn’t
Baxter described the album as a “tone poem of the sound and the struggle of the jungle.”The album’s liner notes requested the listener to imagine themselves transported to a tropical land. “Do the mysteries of native rituals intrigue you…does the haunting beat of savage drums fascinate you? Are you captivated by the forbidden ceremonies of primitive peoples in far-off Africa or deep in the interior of the Belgian Congo?”
So this is probabaly a rather leftfield choice and a difficult album to kick proceedings off with as parts of it sound rather odd 70 years after it’s release, but odd in a rather brilliant way. Voice of the Xtabay is the first studio album by Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac, released in 1950 by Capitol Records and produced and composed by Les Baxter, along with Moisés Vivanco (whom she later married I believe, then divorced when he sired twins with another partner then remarried and subsequently divorced) and John Rose. Sumac sings magnificently on the album, accompanied by ethnic percussion and musical variations influenced by the music of Peru.
Sumac’s vocal range of 5 octaves (some say 4 1/2) is quite startling at times, particularly when in the high register, the control she has over that voice is amazing as she moves from baritone to whistle register.
The more I listen th this album, and others of hers, the more I like them. I’ve only very recently discovered her work and amd very pleased that I did so.