Jazz

“It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” – Dizzy Gillespie

Art Farmer (trumpet)

Portrait of Art Farmer (1958), Modern Art (1958), Big City Sounds (1961), The Jazztet at Birdhouse (1961), Art and Perception (1961)

For the record, he's here because I might become a fan over time. For now, I feel more respect than enthusiasm.

Art Farmer had a beautifully controlled sound that worked especially well on a ballad – and I don't like ballads that much, probably because many of them in jazz are deeply sentimental. That said, Farmer could pick up the pace and produce solos that were as thoughtful and precise as, some say, as much of what Miles Davis is remembered for. "If he was completely unadventurous..." is an aside that turns up in Penguin Guide's piece about him.

His twin brother Addison is on bass for the trio which backs him elegantly on Portrait of Art Farmer. Bill Evans plays piano on the equally rated Modern Art and gets some of the credit for making this album swing – quite hard, though it's still all very civilised. Some of his best albums were with The Jazztet, a group he co-led with sax player Benny Golson. This might be my favourite patch – though some critics are snooty about them, albums such as Big City Sounds and The Jazztet at Birdhouse are a bit more street-wise and sound pretty cool to me.

Farmer moved to Vienna in 1968 and joined the Austrian Radio Orchestra (seems like an odd career move) but still toured with his own group and also played with another exciting unit, the Clarke-Boland Big Band. From here on the opinions about his album vary wildly and some fell through the cracks because they came out on European labels.

One novelty is Art and Perception where he plays his other instrument, the flugelhorn. As for the rest, it's best to sample what's available and pick your own favourites. What do those critics know anyway...

Maynard Ferguson (trumpet, band leader)

Plays Bill Holman's Arrangements: I Have But Two Horns (1955-56), The Birdland Dream Band (1956), Boy With Lots of Brass (1957), Those Cats Can Swing (1994)

Hundreds of artists are covered by the Penguin Guide and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen one that gets a more mixed reaction than Maynard Ferguson. This sums it up: listening to him "evokes sensations ranging from walking into a high wind to being run down by a truck," it says here.

After some of that I feared for my desktop speakers. As it turns out, most of the albums, (none of which get top ratings) are great fun when you're in the mood for mighty blasts of big band sound. Ferguson, who played al things brassy, loved hitting the high notes and took his solos like a teen driving his own car for the first time. The best example is The Birdland Dream Band which starts of with one of the most manic band tracks you'll ever hear. But the next track swings elegantly with a great solo by Herb Geller on alto sax.

Even the best Ferguson album might become a bit much after a while unless you're a big band fanatic – and I'd rather not subject my loved ones to it. But this is the work of an excellent leader who gave orchestras with often gob-smacking line-ups ample chance to shine – sample the balance of instruments on Boy With Lots of Brass. He also picked his arrangers smartly – on some albums they read like a who's who of their era.

The '70s stuff come with dreadful cover art and creep ever closer to pop, complete with electric funk riffs and solos. On an album called Conquistador you're subjected to the themes from Star Trek and Rocky which is not a good experience. It's back to normal with the '90s outfit Big Bop Nouveau, who play fierce and exciting "latter-day bebop" as PG ever so diplomatically calls it.

It's not all noise and throat-destroying squeals with Maynard Ferguson. Far from it. Wait for the right mood and give him a listen.

Stan Getz (saxophone)

The Complete Roost Recordings (1950-54), Stan Getz Plays (1952-54), West Coast Jazz (1955), The Steamer (1956), Stan Getz and the Cool Sounds (1957), Recorded Fall 1961 (1961), Focus (1961)

It's all very well to become famous for your music, but not so great if it's for just a few of many albums or just two hit songs. With his subtle, breathy sound Stan getz was the perfect guy to create a perfect blend of jazz and bossa nova – and that's what he did on albums with Astrud Gilberto. Trouble is his solo on "The Girl from Ipanema" (number five on 1964's US pop charts) became the one thing many people know him for. And though his "bossa nova phase" went down well with fans and critics, he complained later that it wasn'ty theo nly music he did.

There's much more, starting with The Complete Roost Recordings. Somewhat frustratingly, it opens with an alternative take, followed directly by the "proper" version of the same song. And so it goes on and it makes me wish I could rather have the original albums, because it's very enjoyable music.

Guitarist Jimmy Raney joins him on Stan getz Plays, while Stan Getz and the Cool Sounds is a pleasing selection of tracks with five different line-ups. The live album At the Shrine Thanks also to the ideal playing partners, small-group albums such as The Steamer are all worth exploring. In the end a bit too civilised for my liking, but still. Just before the bossa nova craze hit, came Stan with strings on Focus. Sometimes filed under the name of arranger Eddie Sauter, this is classy, graceful big band music rated by many as the very best of Getz. From the skittish opener "I'm Late, I'm Late" you just know this will be something special. Recorded Fall 1961 has entertaining duels with Bob Brookmeyer on trombone.

As for the bossa nova section: you're on your own.

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet)

The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1937-1949), Afro (1954), Dizzy in South America Vols. 1-3 (1956), Birks Works (1956-57), 1959 Jazz Essentials (1959), Gillespiana (1960), The Monterey Festival Jazz Orchestra (1965), Dizzy's Big 4 (1974)

Maybe it's because, more often than not, I've shared my living space with people who disliked jazz. It could be that I was as timid venturing into jazz as I was about treavelling. Whatever the reason, I missed out on Dizzy Gillespie – and he's not to be missed. This is the man rated by many as the greatest jazz trumpeter ever. And since connosieurs such as the Penguin Guide writers pick his discography to pieces (dismissing entire periods or stints with specific labels), you're sure to find mind-blowing stuff by just ignoring the ratings and working through what's available. Be warned, it gets messy: There are piles of rereleases and compilations with the same or similar names.

Bebop was born in the mid-'40s and Dizzy was there, one of the pioneers moving beyond the limitations of big-band swing and changing jazz forever. It got rhythm from Kenny Clarke who, among other innovations, moved the main beat from the kick drum to the snare. Charlier Parker experimented with different way to improvise – not just on the melody, but on its chords. Dizzy Gillespie was doing the same before he met Bird. Together, they recorded the first true bebop records in 1945 and started a revolution. On top of that, Dizzy arranged bebop to fit a big band and introduced American jazz fans to Afro-Cuban music by recording with Latin artists.

That is a crazy list of accomplishments. Which brings us to the music. The albums at the top are generally tagged as the essential listens. Dizzy Gillespie (1945-1946) is still close in spirit to swing with jaunty solos, the odd crooner (also Dizzy's own not-so-great vocal turns) and the rhythm section chugging along. The same goes for one of the Penguin Guide writer's favourite albums, The Complete RCA Victor Recordings.

For me the it starts with the bang of a big band on Birks Works, a compilation of three studio sessions by a band Dizzy toured with as a cultural ambassador – he was already a living legend. The bright and breezy Afro starts with one of my favourite Dizzy tracks, "Manteca". The sound is murky (where are the remasters?), but I'll take it. The South American sets offer one thrill after another. The best small group recordings are the hardest to track down, so Big Four is a bonus.

Happy hunting. And may you find someone who'll enjoy it with you.

About these pages

DISCOVERING JAZZ

I bought the ninth edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings a good decade ago and spent hours browsing what's been rated through the years as the ultimate jazz guide. The frustration was always that I couldn't find (or afford, if I did) many of the essential albums singled out by authors Richard Cook and Brian Morton. Signing up to Apple Music changed all that.

I started reading the Guide from front to back again, ticking of artists and albums that sounded interesting and finding out which were the best by my old favourites. The result: a massive collection of playlists and the notes on these pages.

What you'll find here are not reviews, just my thoughts on what I discover and enjoy. Hopefully I inspire you to try some of the music and also please fans of the artists mentioned. I'm always keen to talk about jazz, so send me your comments and suggestions for listening.

E-mail me

About me

BIO AND PORTFOLIO

Freelance writer Pieter van der Lugt Journalism, creative writing, corporate content, copy editing, translation – whenever I work with words, the job is done only when it communicates well. No matter how weighty the subject, I believe you can always keep it simple and concise. If a reader doesn't scroll down or turn the page, an opportunity has been lost.

I've written anything from scripts for corporate information videos to web posts on topics such as health and entertainment. I've had two books of jokes for children published, and translate National Geographic KiDS every month. In writing and copy editing, in English or Afrikaans, my ultimate goal is to make content easy to understand and a pleasure to read.

Contact me for original copy, or let me edit your material until it shines.

More about me

A funky fantasy

FILM

The Japanese cult classic Funky Forest is as fresh and entertaining today as when it came out in 2006. Created by director Katsuhito Ishii in collaboration with filmmakers Shinichiro Miki and Hajime Ishimine, it is a colourful mix of scenes – some very short and others longer, with a loose storyline – that hang together intuitively rather than structurally.

More about film

The exotic touch of Robert Drasnin

MUSIC

One track is enough to convert you to the music of Robert Drasnin. It is “Chant of the Moon”, the opener on his classic album Voodoo. Just over two minutes long, it has everything that defines exotica.

Delicate bongos set the scene, a triangle comes in and then wordless, dreamy vocals carry the tune – the perfect start to one of the style’s best-loved albums.

More music

A taste of Andrea Camilleri

BOOKS AND WRITING

Take a slice of fresh farm bread, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and ground pepper. Go outside, sit against the side of a house like a kid and take a bite. Savour it.

A crime story by Andrea Camilleri is a simple, sensational pleasure much like that. Especially if you can imagine sitting in blazing sun against a crumbling farm house on the island of Sicily.

More about books and writing

Modernism in pictures

DESIGN AND ART

Do an image search for modernist houses and chances are the most striking photographs that come up will be the work of one man.

Julius Shulman is regarded as the most important of all architectural photographers. His most famous works might be as familiar as any iconic art of the previous century.

More about design and art

What they wanted for supper

THOUGHTS

My wife mailed me a link to a recipe with the message “Hmm … Can we have this for supper?” It seemed simple enough - a pasta bake with mince and béchamel sauce. I jumped in the car to go buy ingredients.

A pet hate of mine is recipes calling for seasonings you'll never use again. Wasteful. I imagined my wife saying “just follow the recipe,” ignored the phantom voice and decided not to get the two Certain Brand spice mixes. Texan Barbecue rub, in you go. Do your best.

More thoughts