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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at WPUNJ chapter.

    What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions jazz music? Some people might call it elevator music while others might think you’re referring to jazz hands. Your film loving friends might immediately think of the movie Whiplash, while your musician friends will probably tell you that J.K. Simmons’ character in the movie reminded them of many band practices they’ve had in the past. However, what people don’t know is that April is widely regarded amongst musicians as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), here in the United States. There’s a ton of jazz music out there so it can be overwhelming trying to find the perfect place to start. With the number of genres and subgenres out there, it’s hard to know which style is best for you. However, this list has the essential recordings and jazz standards that will help any beginner looking to listen to jazz music for the first time.

“So What” – Miles Davis

    One of the first places you have to start when getting into jazz is Miles Davis. His album “Kind of Blue” has the track “So What,” one of the best examples of modal jazz, a genre that the album made famous. However, aside from the popularity modal jazz saw after the release of this recording, “So What” also has other elements that make it stand out from the rest. One of these includes the double bass taking on the role of the melody in the tune. Most music, no matter what the genre is, has the bass providing the foundation. Davis however, allows bassist Paul Chambers to shine on this recording. In addition, pianist Bill Evans also gets his chance to shine through the chords played during the main theme so much so that they’ve been dubbed the “So What” chord by music theorists. It’s an essential recording to listen to for anyone wanting to dip their feet into jazz music.

“Soul Intro/The Chicken” – Jaco Pastorius

    Probably one of the most famous and influential bass players of all time not just to jazz musicians, but to rock musicians, funk musicians, you name it, Jaco Pastorius’ “Soul Intro/The Chicken” is a force to be reckoned with. For anyone thinking that jazz music is just elevator music, or for fans of funk music, you will be pleasantly surprised with this tune. Pastorius keeps the listener moving and grooving with his complex bassline and intricate percussion parts played by Othello Molineaux, Peter Erskine, and Don Alias, with the inclusion of impressive and funky solos by Bob Mintzer on saxophone Randy Brecker. This track has everything you want as a listener. There’s unique melodies provided by Mintzer, Brecker and Molineaux on the steel drums, a bass that anyone can dance to, and a backing percussion part to keep everything moving. Added bonus for sounding like the intro to a Saturday Night Live episode!

“My Favorite Things” – John Coltrane

    It’s not a secret that jazz’s unfamiliar nature to those not trained in it can be a turn off. To be quite honest I didn’t start finding an appreciation for jazz until I came across jazz recordings and arrangements of music I was already familiar with. One of these recordings was “My Favorite Thing” by John Coltrane, another jazz titan. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song from “The Sound of Music”. Coltrane’s version takes this classic and gives it a modal rendition, adding his own air of sophistication, elegance, in relation to hypnotic elements. It takes a classic and puts a jazz spin on it that can get anyone searching up more Coltrane tunes after listening. Additionally, it has all the elements of a great jazz tune: a great melody, rhythm, and harmony. Not only does it have a familiar melody that anyone can sing along to, it also has the biggest key element in any jazz recording: incredible solos and improvisation. “My Favorite Things” is a must know standard for any beginner getting into jazz.

“Angel Eyes” – Ella Fitzgerald

    To be quite honest, I could put any Ella Fitzgerald recording on this list and it could work. In fact, I could make this whole list about Ella Fiztgerald. For now, I’ll stick to “Angel Eyes.” Everyone loves a good slowed down emotional song, and there is no shortage of them when it comes to jazz. This jazz ballad only emphasizes and supports why Fitzgerald is one of the best vocalists of all time. If her control and beautifully pure tone wasn’t enough to get you enticed, the haunting accompaniment provided by pianist Oscar Peterson will. This song is a classic that everyone should know. Fitzgerald is the epitome of jazz singers. This song showcases her immense talent and in collaboration with Peterson, makes it a recording everyone should listen to. 

“Take the ‘A’ Train” – Duke Ellington

    Now, the “Take the A Train” recording by pianist Duke Ellington was probably the first jazz tune I had ever really heard. There’s a reason this tune is among the greats of the jazz world and is considered. While it may not be as upbeat as Jaco Pasotorius or as heart wrenching as Ella Fitzgerald, there is an aura of timelessness when it comes to this track. From the descending, playful piano scales at the beginning of the song, to the dynamic trumpets, this track is sure to make anyone move and feel like they’re at an old school dance. While deceptively simple, this record is a great one to start off listening to, especially if you want that early jazz sound that comes to many people’s minds. It’s swinging rhythm, unique and intricate chords, and brilliant trumpet solo by Ray Nance make it the perfect tune to start off with.

    Of course, this list barely scratches the surface of all the jazz music that’s out there. You have artists that go way back into the 1930s and 1940s along with Duke Ellington such as Billy Strayhorn, Clifford Brown, Lionel Hampton, and even more. Additionally, you have new talent that’s been on the rise in the jazz world since the start of the 21st century such as Esperanza Spalding, Adam Ben Ezra, and Jacob Collier. No matter what the year is though, jazz music will always be around for people to keep playing, listening to, and appreciating. 

Isabelle Foti is an undergraduate student at William Paterson University pursuing a double major in Popular Music and Political Science with a minor in Digital Music Creation and Arranging.
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