Music lives and breathes on stage. The split second choices that improvisers make and the communication between musicians on the bandstand provide audiences a sense of real-time drama. While the musicians on stage might be feeding off each other, the dance between the audience members and the performers is also another interesting sub-plot that is to be taken into account during shows and concerts.


Cody ChestnuTT at Art of Cool Fest Photo by Jati Lindsay

Cody ChestnuTT at Art of Cool Fest Photo by Jati Lindsay

Below is a compilation (in no particular order) of essential live albums that you should consider checking out. Some of you might already own some of these albums and some might only own one. A majority of you will note that your favorite live album wasn’t included on the list – our apologies. We aren’t saying that these are the best live albums in the history of recorded music, we are simply suggesting that you should mozy over to your local record store and cop these gems if you don’t already have them.

1). Miles Davis – Highlights From The Plugged Nickel

Recorded at Chicago’s Plugged Nickel on December 22nd and 23rd in 1965, this album features Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in all of their pomp and excellence. The out-of-print box set was first released back in 1995 then was later reissued in 2008. While Highlights From The Plugged Nickel only include six tracks, the entire box-set can be purchased via iTunes. This collection of four sets features Miles along with Wayne ShorterHerbie HancockRon Carter, and Tony Williams performing at the height of their collective powers.

Essential Live Albums Pt. 1

2). Ahmad Jamal – Live at Pershing: But Not For Me

While DownBeat originally gave it a negative review, this album would eventually make Ahmad Jamal into a star. From Israel Crosby’s oft quoted bass line during “But Not For Me” to Vernel Fournier’s rhumbaesque groove on “Poinciana,” Live At Pershing: But Not For Me is a classic. “Poinciana” would go on to be a hit single for Jamal and would become a seminal arrangement of the song itself. Like Highlights From The Plugged Nickel, this album is also a part of a larger body of work that can be purchased here.

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3). Brad Mehldau – Art of Trio Vol. 4: Back at The Village Vanguard

A jazz bro in his/her freshman year at a jazz studies program somewhere just cursed me out for putting this in the list and not Art of Trio Vol. 2: Live at the Village Vanguard, Art of Trio Vol. 5: Progressionand/or Brad Mehldau Trio LiveWhile any of them could have easily made the list with stunning performances like “Monk’s Dream,” “River Man,” and “Wondewall” from each respective album, Art Of Trio Vol. 4 showcases Mehldau, Larry Grenadier (bass), and Jorge Rossy’s (drums) near telepathic understanding of each other’s playing. Highlights from this album include Mehldau’s contrapuntal assault during the intro of “All The Things You Are” in 7/4, ” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and their rendition of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For A Film).”

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4). Art Blakey Quintet – A Night At Birdland Vol. 1

Although every album in this list holds legendary status, few of them would later birth an entire musical movement. In an essay written for Bill Kircher’s Oxford Companion to Jazz, Gene Seymour would go on to call A Night At Birdland as hard bop’s “birth and baptism.” The record would also launch the careers of Horace Silver and Clifford Brown who won “New Star of The Year” in DownBeat’s Critic Polls in 1954, the same year A Night at Birdland was released.

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5). Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport

We can get wax poetic about all the great Ellington Orchestra live albums out there – new Order is Everything perhaps? No can deny the contributions that Ellington, Johnny HodgesCootie WilliamsBilly StrayhornPaul Gonzalves and company have made to music as a whole.  But what makes Ellington’s 1956 Newport live recording stand out above the rest of the pack can be pin-pointed to Gonzalves’ famous 27 chorus long solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” The story goes that a woman started dancing in the middle of Gonzalves’ solo prompting the everyone else to get up and shake their tailfeathers.

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Did we miss anything? Tune in next week for the second half of our list. Let us know your favorite live albums on the comments below and on our Facebook page


1 Replies to "Essential Live Albums Pt. 1"
.. says:
September 4, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Live at Birdland – John Coltrane

Live at Greenwich Village – Albert Ayler

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