Archive | August, 2012
August 16, 2012

The Jazz Traveler

About 10 years ago I decided to learn more about jazz music and was regularly looking for artists and albums to add to my collection. As luck (or synchronicity) would have it, I met a couple in German Village who were huge fans. They had an enormous library of all types of jazz music and were such big fans they named their bulldog after Miles Davis. Eager to share their passion, they me borrow and rip hundreds of titles to add to my digital collection.

Most of these albums and artists are now a part of my heavy rotation of essential jazz and I consider many to be among some of my very favorite music in any style. I think for a lot of people, jazz music (like classical music) is a huge, imposing, and  intimidating genre to speak about, listen to patiently, and/or ultimately feel comfortable about having in their regular playlists. The following is a list that includes some of the albums I fell in love with back then and a few more that, in some small way, represent an easy entry into what is truly classic and wholly American art form.

The main image for this post is called “A Great Day in Harlem” and was taken in 1958 by Art Kane. Featuring a collection of 57 jazz artists photographed in New York for an article in Esquire, the now iconic image has an interesting story all its own at the website. Many of the artists in this photo are featured on the albums that follow, which are arranged in no particular order. They are simply a collection of artists and releases representing some of the key styles influential to the development of the music form. I have also attempted to include many different featured instruments to use as a guide so that you can add depth and variety to your listening experience.


1.  Dave Brubeck /Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy/1953)

It is difficult to pick a favorite disc from such an influential and prolific artist like Dave Brubeck. His classic experiments with different time signatures are well documented elsewhere, but this live 1953 set, recorded in Finney Hall on the campus of Oberlin College in Ohio, can be viewed as a major moment in the evolution and recognition of jazz music. Not yet featuring what would later become his classic quartet lineup, this set with Paul Desmond on alto sax nevertheless made jazz music both a legitimate subject of study at the university level, an accepted topic for intellectual discussion, and what Wendell Logan, the chair of Oberlin’s Jazz Studies Department, described as “the watershed event that signaled the change of performance space for jazz from the nightclub to the concert hall”.

Prime Cuts: Perdido / How High the Moon

2.  Cannonball Adderley / Somethin’ Else (Blue Note/1958)

This is essential Blue Note Jazz in many ways; perfect for beginners or long-time Jazz enthusiasts. With a dream lineup featuring Miles Davis on trumpet and Art Blakey on drums, Adderley’s alto saxophone is in fine form as he emerges from a longtime supporting role to full-fledged band leader. Recent re-releases of this landmark mix of the hard bop and cool jazz styles also features an unreleased track called “Bangoon,” that should not be missed as this album always leaves me entertained, yet still wanting more.

 Prime Cuts: Autumn Leaves / Love for Sale

3.  Sonny Clark /Cool Struttin’ (Blue Note/1958)

Led by somewhat unheralded jazz pianist Sonny Clark and featuring the legendary rhythm section from the Miles Davis band (bassist Paul Chambers and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones), this classic Blue Note title has recently been re-released with bonus tracks. The album has attained a cult-like status among fans of the hard bop style and also features alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and trumpeter Art Farmer. Add this set to your collection for jazz music rooted in the blues as well as for its now iconic album cover design and art.

Prime Cuts: Sippin’ at Bells / Deep Night

4.  Eric Dolphy/ Out to Lunch! (Blue Note/1964)

This 1964 masterpiece was multi-intrumentalist Eric Dolphy’s only recording for the Blue Note label. Sadly, Dolphy died of a diabetic coma shortly after recording it while on tour in Europe with Charles Mingus to support the album. Featuring future-legend Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, this collection in the avant-garde style is what called Dolphy’s “magnum opus and the absolute pinnacle of avant-garde jazz in any form or era”. Additionally, The Penguin Guide to Jazz lists this rhythmically complex set as a part of its suggested “Core Collection”, and it should be a welcome addition to your music collection, too.

Prime Cuts: Hat and Beard / Out to Lunch

5.  John Coltrane /The Cats (New Jazz/1957)

A seminal jazz album that proved Detroit was also a legitimate hot spot for major stars like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. With Tommy Flanagan on piano and fellow Detroit natives Louis Hayes on drums, Coltrane added bassist Doug Watkins, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and Idrees Sulieman on trumpet to create hard bop magic over five original tunes.  1957 was considered a high-water mark for recorded music, including jazz, and this terrific album, released after Coltrane had already left the label, also brilliantly foreshadows the major music to come from the members of this lineup.

Prime Cuts:  Eclypso/ How Long has This Been Going On

6.  Hank Mobley / Soul Station (Blue Note/1960)

Featuring four original songs and recorded with an all-star quartet; including Wynton Kelly on piano, Art Blakey on drums, and Paul Chambers on bass, this album features brilliant alto sax work of Hank Mobley, now out in front and alone as band leader. Bookending the new material are two standards, “Remember” by Irving Berlin and “If I Should Lose You” by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. Longtime jazz critic and author Bob Blumenthal described Soul Station as “one of the finest programs of music on Blue Note or any other label.”

Prime Cuts: Dig Dis / Soul Station

7. McCoy Tyner / The Real McCoy (Blue Note/1967)

After leaving his gig as pianist in John Coltrane’s Quartet and moving from the Impulse label, McCoy Tyner recorded seven originals for this, the first of seven albums he did for Blue Note. Legendary producer Alfred Lion recalls the recording session as a “pure jazz session. There is absolutely no concession to commercialism, and there’s a deep, passionate love for the music embedded in each of the selections”. This album, in the post-bop form, is an easy way to get into a very personal style of music and is also the perfect introduction to Tyner’s impressive catalog.

 Prime Cuts: Contemplation / Blues on the Corner

8. Lee Morgan /Sidewinder (Blue Note/1963)

Since I first heard the infectious opening cut, the title track to Morgan’s 1963 release, The Sidewinder, I have been hooked on this trumpeter and noted anchor in the Blue Note lineup. A teen prodigy from Philadelphia with confidence and talent to spare, Lee Morgan’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 33 when he was murdered between sets by his common-law wife at at Slugs’, a jazz club in New York City’s East Village. Thankfully, Morgan was prolific during his short career and most of his back catalog was re-released on CD format in the late 1980′s.

Prime Cuts: The Sidewinder / Totem Pole

9. Wes Montgomery / The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Riverside/1960)

Having never really considered an electric guitar as a jazz instrument before, it seems silly to me now to not include the work of Wes Montgomery in my collection. A self taught player who later gained widespread commercial success, Montgomery began his career touring as a player with vibraphone legend, Lionel Hampton; who also deserves his own space on this short list of essential jazz. Continuing in the style of bop progenitor Charlie Christian, this Riverside collection features many fine examples of Montgomery’s two distinguishing techniques – ‘thumb picking’ and the use of octaves.

Prime Cuts: Airegin / In Your Own Sweet Way / West Coast Blues

10. The Quintet/ Jazz at Massey Hall (Original Jazz Classics-Universal/1953)

Another absolutely essential jazz collection from an unbelievable lineup. Altoist legend Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie are backed by pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Max Roach and all are captured in top form for this set recorded in Toronto in 1953.  A 2004 re-issue, titled Complete Jazz at Massey Hall, contains the full concert, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995. It is also included in National Public Radio‘s “Basic Jazz Record Library“.

Prime Cuts: Salt Peanuts / Perdido / A Night in Tunisia

11. Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America’s Music (Columbia Legacy & Verve/2000)

As the guidelines for this list are somewhat loose, I can’t think of a better place for beginners to start learning about and appreciating the wide and varied history of  jazz music. The soundtrack discs that accompanied Burns’ largely panned PBS documentary are nevertheless a great way to hear a sampling of all the artists featured on several compilations or to focus on individual artists, with most central figures getting their own separate collection. Jazz singers, such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, also get a disc of their own and are a great way to see if any of that style (largely ignored on this list) is for you.

 Prime Collections: Ornette Coleman / Charles Mingus / Art Blakey / Miles Davis

12. Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus (Fantasy-Prestige/1956)

Pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach back tenor sax living legend Sonny Rollins as he lives up to the title “Colossus” on this 1956 masterpiece. Three of the five cuts are credited to Rollins and the album was engineered and produced by another jazz legend, Rudy Van Gelder. Author and musician Peter Niklas Wilson called it “another milestone of the Rollins discography and one of the classic jazz albums of all time”. Rollins also contributed the sax solo at the end of another favorite of mine, the 1981 Rolling Stones track “Waiting on a Friend” from Tattoo You.

 Prime Cuts: St. Thomas / You Don’t Know What Love Is

13. Bill Evans / Portrait in Jazz (Riverside/1960)

After recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis (another must-have jazz record), jazz pianist Bill Evans released this highly influential set in early 1960 and the equally brilliant Waltz for Debby in ’61. Featuring the piano and bass interplay that would later become immortalized on the live sessions recorded at the Village Vanguard, Evans’ interpretations of classics by Cole Porter and Richard Rogers are creative yet highly subtle. Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven Awards during his career before succumbing to his long-standing cocaine addiction in 1980. Evans’ friend Gene Lees described Evans’s struggle with drugs as “the longest suicide in history.”

Prime Cuts: Autumn Leaves (Take 1) / What is This Thing Called Love?

14. Art Tatum / The Complete Capitol Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 (Capitol/1989)

Arthur “Art” Tatum, Jr. was a virtuoso jazz pianist who has influenced nearly every serious player since his heyday, despite being nearly blind from his birth in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909. Volumes 1 and 2 are now available as one complete collection in chronological order. Known for the speed and complexity of his playing, Tatum was also highly lyrical and when slowed down, all the notes still make sense. Critic Scott Yanow wrote “Tatum’s quick reflexes and boundless imagination kept his improvisations filled with fresh (and sometimes futuristic) ideas that put him way ahead of his contemporaries”. Essential jazz, indeed.

Prime Cuts: Nice Work if You Can Get It / Sweet Lorraine / Someone To Watch Over Me

15. Stan Getz & João Gilberto / Getz/Gilberto (Verve/1963)

Stan Getz rounds out the list with another timeless classic. Getz tenor sax on this samba and bossa nova-tinged release with Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto and composer and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim cleaned up at the 1965 Grammy awards, including winning Best Album of the Year. Consistent throughout, the record features “The Girl From Ipanema,” a Jobim classic sung by João’s wife, Astrud Gilberto, who had never performed or recorded prior to this studio session. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album number 447 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and it was also listed by Rolling Stone Brazil as one of the 100 best Brazilian albums in history. Perfect for cocktails or a lazy Sunday afternoon in the backyard.

Prime Cuts: The Girl From Ipanema / Desafinado

Start with these titles and artists, many of which are readily available to borrow for free from your local library. Hopefully, you will then find how they are all somehow connected; either via composers, performers, record labels, or simply the magical and unifying passion that is at the heart of this truly amazing world of music. Enjoy!


August 16, 2012

Good Luck, Susan!

It is hard to believe a whole year has gone by and that my co-worker, Susan, is already heading for home in St. Louis. To send her off in style, I met her at Coffee Nori with Alice and Soon. Josh and Nori regular “Audi’s Mom” came along, too!

After packing up drinks and snacks; including gimbap and squid jerky, a dried shredded squid (오징어채), we headed in 2 cars to Nonsan Valley, about an hour outside Daejeon to the southwest.

What I thought of as a trip to the beach turned out instead to be a small and narrow creek bed near a public park. We found a spot and joined hundreds of other Koreans seeking a break from the oppressive summer humidity by staking out a small area on the creek banks with a picnic blanket.

 (Click on each image below to view full size)

After sunning, splashing, napping, and a heated game of Yut Nori, we packed up and headed for a park near Gyeryong Mountain for a traditional dinner of Samgyetang, which translates literally to “ginseng chicken soup”. It was a terrific afternoon and a great way to see off our friend, Susan, who is returning to the United States to complete a Master’s degree. Farewell, Susan, and good luck!

Farewell Susan from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

August 12, 2012

The House Grill

After helping Joshua teacher move into a much nicer apartment in Noeun-dong on Saturday, my hard-earned reward was a trip to the much heralded House Grill, in Yongmun. I had read about this great joint for fresh hamburgers and sandwiches from a few other teachers and decided it was the perfect payment for all the not-so-heavy lifting.

Since Josh had been there once before, it was easy to find – just about 5 minutes from Yongmun station near the Lotte Department store. After about a 5 minute hike from the #4 exit, walk past Daiso on your left, to the Paris Baguette. Take a left and go straight back through the office-tel to The House Grill at the end on the right. Owner and chef, Brian Kim, is also an artist and his works decorate this cozy cafe with a tiny little kitchen and somehow authentic New York feel. Brian inherited the business from his grandfather and he also has limited seating outside. Thankfully, menu is available in both English and Korean and so was the fluency of our patient and helpful server.

I decided to order a House Grill Burger with seasoned french fries on the side. Since I have not seen or tasted a “Dr. Pepper” in over 11 months, I added that to fill out the perfect combo (or “set” in Korea) which is discounted $1.50 when ordered that way. Josh had a big burger last time and highly recommended it. However, on this visit he opted for an awesome looking Reuben, made with Chef Kim’s own recipe sauerkraut and dressing, which had us both drooling.  The orders took a little longer than I would have expected since business was slow, but the smells from the line were amazing and both turned out to be worth the wait.

My burger was huge, hot, and fresh and the generous serving of seasoned crinkle-cut fries were also piping hot. We shared th fries as Josh devoured his corned beef creation, made with meat we also learned was created on the premises from the recipes Chef Kim also inherited from his family.

(Please select each image below to view full size)

Overall, this was without a doubt the best burger I have had while in Korea and one of the best overall dining experiences I have had here period. As I have mentioned before, it it sometimes impossible to recreate the tastes and feel of restaurants back home, but I cannot recommend The House Grill highly enough. As for taste, quality, service, and value, The House Grill is a terrific place for lunch, dinner, or his weekend brunch menu. My recruiter, Richard at Top Gun Consulting, must also be a fan as his business cards were on display at the counter. I can’t say I blame him. This friendly joint in Yongmun has style to spare and I look forward to visiting it again soon!