The other day, I heard someone say something about how if you’re white, and you are just saying now, amidst what is perhaps one of the darkest points in American history, that “the world is on fire,” then you have been ignoring the racial problems in this country for way too long and you should shut up.
I agree with that. It’s not like this is new shit. It’s just that the Internet is bigger and louder than ever and the truths are pretty clear and pretty ugly. Been a lot of contemplating hiding out in places with less gun play, if we’re being honest. But really, my own little way of making peace exists in my world is by sipping coffee and listening to jazz music. I think it’s because jazz is funny and dark and light and crazy all at once. It works in every situation — and it’s still dangerous — in a good way. Jazz makes me feel right, in a world that is more and more saturated with wrong.
And I’m not here to say “Hey here’s some jazz music to make all this brutality better,” because that’s impossible. If anything, we should keep talking about it. But maybe we can talk about it with jazz music playing so at least something feels good.
If you’re like me, and need a little rightness, here are eight jazz albums to make it a little better. —Jeff Alper
Beauty Is A Rare Thing by Ornette Coleman
Probably the gnarliest jazz I’ve listened to ever. When I told my uncle, who taught high school jazz for 40 years, about how I am now obsessed with Coleman, he told me “That guy just made shit up. He changed the game. He broke the rules.” That’s living life. Strap in for this one.
Thelonious Alone In San Francisco by Thelonious Monk
Thelonious is for sure the coolest name ever, and his music lives up to the name. He shreds the piano and by the end of the album, you’ll feel like you had an entire conversation with him. That’s partly because there’s really distant, quiet chatter in the background of the whole album, and it’s awesome.
The Essential Dave Brubeck by Dave Brubeck
The first jazz music I got into was Dave Brubeck. He wrote some of the classics that other people have been copying for years, like “Take Five,” “Audrey,” and “Blue Ronda A La Turk.” You know the feeling after you get out of the shower and your hair is still kinda wet and you’re not hungry or thirsty and someone just told you that they love you for no reason? That’s what his music is like.
Chet In Paris by Chet Baker
Chet Baker is fucking cool. He’s one of those guys who is cool, but he went through some shit. Like you wouldn’t want to be him, but you dig him. His music draws parallels to his coolness. If you get deeper into his music, you’ll find him singing and it’s sweet. This album is perfect for a rainy day.
Miles Davis in Europe by Miles Davis
A lot like Chet, Miles was cool, but also like Chet, heroin fucked with him. But this album is rad, and it’s all live. I don’t know anything about composition, but I love a live album because you know there are mistakes, but they are real and honest and you have to live with them and that is beautiful. Side note: I imagine riding on a train through Switzerland being the ideal way to listen to this.
Blue Train by John Coltrane
Saxophone ripper extraordinaire. He played with Miles and Thelonious, and his shit is also insane. This album is fast and free. One day I’ll write a book with this on repeat with a bottomless cup of coffee in front of me.
Fat Albert Rotunda by Herbie Hancock
First of all, what a great album cover. Second of all, Herbie had the groove, baby. Perfect for an afternoon after a good surf or any kind of time in the sun that put sweat on your back. This is more composed and rhythmic than these other guys, but jazzy nonetheless.
Bird At St. Nicks By Charlie Parker
When I listen to this, I feel like I live in a black and white world. I’m running through the streets of New York. I’m being chased. I have no idea who it is chasing me, but it’s fun. I’m wearing dress shoes. They’re clacking against the ground. I love it. Charlie “Bird” Parker played so fast that if he flapped his arms he would have flown. So try to keep up.
Anyways, I hope the fire gets put out and you have the time to brew a nice pot of coffee and listen to this stuff because it’s great and we need as much greatness as we can get. Keep the conversation going but also keep the music on.