Creole Jazz Band
1923-1924 [Okeh, Paramount, and Columbia]
Joe 'King' Oliver was a true jazz pioneer. Initially playing cornet, before later switching to trumpet, his Creole Jazz Band of 1922-23 included the likes of Johnny Dodds and young apprentice Louis Armstrong. Armstrong once said that, "...if it had not been for Joe Oliver, Jazz would not be what it is today." That is ever so true.
Singin' the Blues (1927)
The 1920s' other great cornetist was nothing like Louis Armstrong. He was a white rebel without a cause who had a seriously nasty drinking problem, but boy could he play. His remastered Okeh recordings from 1927 with saxophonist Frankie 'Tram' Trumbauer are the essential ones, especially "Singin' the Blues" and "I'm Coming, Virginia".
The Best of Early Ellington
1926-1931 [Brunswick and Vocalion]
Duke Ellington's early career took off in 1927 when his orchestra became the house band at Harlem's Cotton Club and had their first worldwide hit. It goes without saying that Ellington is one of the most important figures in the history of jazz. During his early years he recorded for several labels. The disc here is probably the best.
Birth of the Hot
Jelly Roll Morton
1926-1927 [Victor/RCA Bluebird]
Morton was the first great jazz composer. This dream set catalogues his prime on tracks made with the Red Hot Peppers for the Victor label in 1926-27. Other legendary performers here include clarinetist Johnny Dodds and trombonist Kid Ory. Morton controversially (and very wrongly) claimed to have invented jazz in 1902.
Hot Fives and Sevens
1925-1928 [OKeh and Columbia]
Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven outfits recorded in the latter half of the 1920s. Armstrong, the most influential figure in jazz history, recorded prolifically in his early years. Almost unbelievably, it is getting tough to find a basic 'best of' collection of these seminal recordings. The hunt, however, is worthwhile.
Bessie Smith Empress of the Blues
1923-1933 [Columbia and OKeh]
Dubbed "The Empress Of the Blues" owing to her powerful voice, Smith scored a major hit with her first recording, 'Downhearted Blues'. She remained popular up to the onset of the Great Depression in the late-20s, although kept recording up to 1933, mostly on the Columbia label. There are several single-disc buying options still available.
The Legendary Sidney Bechet
1932-1941 [RCA Bluebird]
Bechet's improvisational skill is comparable to Louis Armstrong's. A multi-instrumentalist who made his name on the soprano sax, Bechet's early career playing New Orleans Jazz is poorly catalogued. A brilliant 1932 session with his New Orleans Feetwarmers and his three years at Bluebird up to 1941 are the best of what survives.
The Very Best of Fats Waller
Topnotch stride pianist noted for showmanship and stage humour. Most of his best recordings were made with his band Fats Waller & His Rhythm for the Victor label. Try and find a set that includes the classic original compositions 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'Ain't Misbehavin'' and 'Jitterbug Waltz'. The disc listed here is ideal if you can find it.
Top 100 (Pre-1980)
Next 100 (Pre-1980)
Top 100 (Post-1980)
The Swing Era
Post-War Big Bands
West Coast Cool
More Hard Bop
The Explosive 60s
The Creative 70s
Twists & Turns
The ECM Sound
Keys to Jazz
Keep on Singin'