There are jazz albums I can't live without. There are jazz tracks I adore. And then there are mere moments in jazz recordings that blow me away. Some of these thrilling phrases and passages were planned out ahead of time by recording artists or arrangers. Others were improvised and turned out brilliantly. In either case, these subtle touches are the reasons why particular songs stand out for me and hit their target.
In Part 1 of my two-parter on "Moments of Genius" in jazz recordings, here are 10 you may or may not know or have overlooked. They're in no particular order, and all can be found as downloads at iTunes or Amazon:
Roy Haynes' drum figure that opens Charlie Parker's I Get a Kick Out of You. Roy delivers this figure on the master take just before Parker comes in on alto sax to state the melody. Roy's drumming throughout is crisp and inventive, as always. But the way he sets up Bird's entrance is fabulous. From Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter (1954) or Charlie Parker: The Cole Porter Songbook.
Jimmy Carroll's final bars on his arrangement for Charlie Parker's Everything Happens to Me. Here, Carroll had the string section bow a single note while the piano and harp play the exact same "Big Ben" line on top of each other. A wonderful musical sigh. From Charlie Parker With Strings (1949)
Don Bagley's meaty bass solo on Bags, a Bill Holman arrangement for Stan Kenton's orchestra. The entire track is a winner, but Bagley's powerful solo backed by different instrumental configurations is terrific. One of Bill's personal early favorites for Kenton. From Kenton Showcase (1953).
Sonny Rollins' unaccompanied solo run on the opening to You Do Something to Me. A terrific straight reading with improvisational touches that hesitates, then swings forward, and virtually sings the melody line before Jim Hall, Bob Cranshaw and Harry Saunders join in. From The Bridge (1962).
Horace Silver's first eight measures of Lonely Woman. This is one of Silver's finest trio compositions. The way he sets up the feeling of imposed isolation is as touching as it is artful. From Song For My Father (1964).
Jelly Roll Morton's vocal on I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say. While Morton's piano playing is incomparable on any track, including this one, his "whiskey, neat" vocal here gets me every time. "Get him a good broom to sweep with, take him away." From Jelly Roll Morton: Last Sessions, The Complete General Recordings (1938).
Erroll Garner's piano intro to Talk of the Town. Garner's descending attack sounds like someone hurtling down a flight of stairs two at a time. After the intro, Garner springs into a rollicking block-chord rendition of this standard. From Body and Soul (1951).
Chris Connor's very first word sung on About the Blues. Listen how Chris hits three notes on one word, going from "Ah" up to "bow" downshifting subtly to "ou" before using the "t" as a springboard to add "...the blues." From the Ralph Burns-arranged He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1956).
Johnny Williams' monster harpsichord attack on the intro to Swing Lightly. Funky, jazzy, swinging and hugely impressive delivery on such a delicate, normally well-mannered instrument. From Henry Mancini's Combo! (1960).