I kicked off the project by finding five independent “Best 100 Jazz Albums of All Time” lists, and doing some simple collation. Well, to be honest, some complicated collation. I noticed two things: first, that there was a broad consensus on what constitutes the core jazz corpus. Here’s the top 15 according to the (absurd but methodologically rigorous) scoring system I used in blending the lists:
1. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (1964)The second thing is that, as you may have noticed, jazz seems to be largely something that happened between 1955 and 1969. There is of course a certain degree of truth to that, but it's not totally true, so I ventured back into the internet and came back with four different reputable-seeming “Best Jazz Albums since 2000.” These had very little overlap at all.
2. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)
3. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (1964)
4. Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert (1975)
5. Stan Getz & João Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (1963)
6. Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
7. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out (1959)
8. Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Study in Brown (1955)
9. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Moanin' (1958)
10. Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (1956)
11. Louis Armstrong, 25 Greatest Hot Fives & Sevens (1928)
12. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (1969)
13. Dizzy Gillespie, Collection
14. Charles Mingus, Black Saint & the Sinner Lady (1963)
15. Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' Else (1958)
16. Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)
I managed to cull the records that looked interesting, with a little effort, to one hundred ten albums from the all-time charts plus another eighteen from the last decade or so, to yield 128 records, an excellent tournament number. Next, I went to a website for guys who run billiards tournaments, and modified one of their 128-player double-elimination tournament brackets for my purpose. This enterprise, after all, is no Infinite Art Tournament. At only an eighth the size of our twice-weekly exploration of the fine arts, “The Jazz Thing” – which is what I’m calling it – is plainly intelligible to the human eye.
So then of course I came up with a rigorous and defensible strategy to convert my rankings into tournament seeding (I really ought to be in a profession where I can make more socially productive use of my math and logic skills, such as professional gambling). Let’s zoom up to the top brackets, which I’ve already filled in, and you can see some of the first few matchups.
Now, you are perhaps wondering what all this has to do with you. The answer is, unlike the art tournament (which all right-thinking people should be voting in), not much, really. All I’m going to do is use this elaborate set-up as a sort of listening guide, giving me a map with which to explore the world of jazz, two records at a time. A couple of times a month or thereabouts, I’ll report back. At that point, any readers who are hep jazzcats can chime in, deride my taste, try to talk me out of my decision, and so on – but you don’t have to vote! In fact, you can just skip those posts, if you want.
One more rule! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I do sometimes have a certain tendency to… shall we say… prolixity. Verbosity. Being a great bloated windbag. So for The Jazz Thing, I’m setting some limits. For first round posts, I can only use forty words per record in my report, plus one sentence explaining which record “won.” Every time a record wins a round, it earns another 40 words. In second-round write-ups, I can use 80 words per record; in the unlikely event that I, this blog, and this project survive into the third round, I can use 120 words per record, and so on.
Rules-based creative writing is my hobby. Don’t judge. Oh, and by the way, best not to tell Mrs.5000 about this. She doesn’t know about it yet, and it might freak her out a little.
The above was written while listening to coronetist Warren Vaché and pianist Bill Charlap’s 2000 attempt to take on Number One seed “A Love Supreme” with an elegant but laid-back set of finely crafted little gems. It sounds pretty good!