Every couple of months or so, I spend a few hours running my e-fingers through the iTunes' "bins" looking for jazz gems that have been quietly added to the store's inventory. At iTunes, it seems, albums are flipped in abstractly, like baseball cards, barely promoted and sometimes even mislabeled. That happened with a James Moody collection I found recently. As jazz lovers know, iTunes doesn't do much to market jazz titles, preferring instead to plow the glitz into rap and rock. This means many jazz albums enter the iTunes "bins" like faceless immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Until now.
Here are 10 superb jazz downloads that I plucked from the digital masses recently. (For links to my earlier lists, go to the search engine in the upper right-hand corner of this page and type in "Hidden Jazz Downloads"):
Gil Fuller—Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra (2008). This new download is comprised of two Pacific Jazz studio albums from 1965. Recorded when arranger Gil Fuller headed up the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra, the album features Dizzy Gillespie, who was touring at the time, and tenor saxophonist James Moody. What makes this CD particularly special are the snappy Fuller arrangements of originals and 1960s pop tunes, like Our Man Flint and The Shadow of Your Smile. Musicians on first eight tracks of download: Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hill, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Melvin Moore, John Audino (trumpets), Lester Robertson, Francis Fitzpatrick and Jim Amlotte (trombones), Herman Lebow, Sam Cassano, David Duke and Alan Robinson (French horns), Buddy Collette, Gabe Baltazar (alto saxes), Carrington Visor and William Green (tenor saxes), Jack Nimitz (baritone sax), Phil Moore (piano), Dennis Budimir (guitar), Jimmy Bond (bass), Earl Palmer (drums). Remaining tracks: Conte Candoli [Chuck Foster replaces Candoli on 17-Mile Drive, Latin Lady and Tin Tin Deo] Melvin Moore, Al Porcino and Jimmy Zito (trumpet), Lou Blackburn, Bob Enevoldsen and Ernie Tack (trombone), Sam Cassano, Alan Robinson and Gale Robinson (French horns), Gabe Baltazar and Bill Green (alto saxes), James Moody, Ira Schulman and Clifford Scott (tenor saxes), Bill Hood (baritone sax), George Samper (organ on Sweets for My Sweet), Mike Wofford (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass), Chuck Flores (drums) and Francisco Aguabella (percussion).
Lenny Breau—Guitar Sounds (1968). This is quite an interesting album by Breau, a Canadian guitarist who was strangled in 1984 and discovered in an apartment complex swimming pool. The download includes unusually compelling and tasteful interpretations of the day's pop songs. Included here is one of the smartest jazz interpretations of a Beatles song: A Hard Day's Night. Breau takes Music to Watch Girls Go By as a ballad, which completely changes the chemistry of the song for the better. And Call Me is more jazz-minded than bossa nova. Breau knew how to capture new beauty in almost any pop song. The guitarist was backed by Ronnie Halldorson (bass) and Reg Kelln (drums).
Benny Carter—Alone Together (1952). Recorded for Verve, this album features a large string section arranged by Joe Glover. There are serpentine originals on here, like Key Largo and Blue Star, as well as standards. What I like about this album is that Carter's out there with his fabulous tone, happily running through a field of strings. This is an often-overlooked Benny Carter entry that pre-dates Clifford Brown with Strings by three years and likely served as its model. Joining Carter and strings are Oscar Peterson (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums).
Woody Herman—Woody's Heat, Tito's Beat (1958). Even ardent Herman fans are unfamiliar with this one for Everest. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of Herman's best recordings from the period. Doubt me? Go sample New Cha Cha or Tito Meets Woody. Arranged by A.K. Salim and Al Cohn, the album features Ernie Royal, Steve Lipkins, Nick Travis and Marky Markowitz (trumpets), Frank Rehak, Billy Byers and Bill Elton (trombones), Woody Herman (clarinet and alto sax) Sam Marowitz (alto sax) Al Cohn, Pete Mondello and Paul Quinichette (tenor saxes), Danny Bank (baritone sax), Bobby Rodriguez (bass), Ray Barretto (conga), Gil Lopez and Ray Rodriguez (percussion) and Tito Puente (timbales).
Tito Rodriguez—Tito's Hits (1990). This roundup of Rodriguez's hits from the late 1950s and 1960s is a must-own. For those hip to the history of Latin music, vocalist and bandleader Rodriguez was considered the Frank Sinatra of mambo. His passion, delivery and enthusiasm was electrifying. Sadly, I don't understand a word of Spanish, but every note on this album goes straight to my heart because I can hear and feel Rodriguez' message and art. Even if an entire album is too much for you, download at least Cara de Payaso and Mantequita, and dig that band. Unfamiliar with Rodriguez? Catch his charisma on this video clip from the 1960s (and note that this monster band is playing without music).
Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden (1957). This download combines two Capitol albums by the dynamic duo from1957, and the download fidelity is terrific. What's more, you get 10 tracks for $5.99. Bobby and Jack were sublime together, no matter the year.
Art Pepper—With the Marty Paich Quartet (1956). This one originally was recorded for the Tampa label and featured Pepper on alto, Paich on piano, Buddy Clark on bass and Frank Capp on drums. It was the third recording Pepper made right after being released from Los Angeles' Terminal Island prison, and it was the LP he recorded just before The Return of Art Pepper for Jazz West. There's a lot of lingering jailhouse blues in Pepper's playing here.
Horace Silver—Rockin' With Rachmaninoff (1991). This odd album is virtually unknown in Silver's discography. The concept was a stage show in which Duke Ellington meets Sergi Rachmaninoff in heaven, and Duke hips Sergi to jazz. Silver's show was performed only a few times in 1989. Fortunately, Silver had the good sense to record the music, complete with vocal tracks. As you'll hear, this is something of a funk opus.
Sammy Davis, Jr.—I've Gotta Be Me (1996). This is one of my favorite Sammy compilations of Reprise recordings from the early 1960s. This download proves that when Sammy dropped the pretense and cared about what he was singing, he could tear the tiles off a studio ceiling. Sammy opens the vocal throttle on Stranger in Town, Once in a Lifetime, I Want to Be With You, What Kind of Fool Am I, Who Can I Turn To, Someone Nice Like You and all the rest. What's more, the download's sound is vivid and rich. If Sammy was never your bag, you'll likely have a different opinion after hearing this collection.
Eddie Bert—Studio 102 Essentials (2008). Here's another one of those misnamed gems. This album by trombonist Eddie Bert originally was called Like Cool and was recorded in 1955 for the Trans-World label. Why iTunes has it listed as Studio 102 Essentials is beyond me. Eddie had and still has one of the most cool, penetrating and hip sounds on the trombone. He was joined on this date by Dave Schildkraut (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Clyde Lombardi (bass) and Osie Johnson on drums. For more on the legendary Eddie Bert, see my interview series with him.