Choice Tracks

JT’s editor introduces September issue spotlighting artists’ personal playlists

So many potential interns, staffers and contributors think the best way to gain employment at JazzTimes is to project a hipster-ish air of contention and cynicism in cover letters and interviews. When the conversation turns toward publishing, a common target is Rolling Stone, and the daggers always involve particular C-words: It’s corporate, it’s commercial, it used to be the counter-culture bible but it’s long since become a celebrity tabloid. If you say so, but it’s also smartly written, sharply edited, looks great and utilizes photo shoots that cost more than our monthly editorial budget. In short, it’s a state-of-the-art product. Sure, I’d take more David Fricke and less Lady Gaga, but professionalism still counts for something in our crazy media world.

And Stone still boasts impressive conceptual ingenuity. One late-2010 issue we couldn’t put down was dubbed the Playlist Issue. It featured 50 artists listing and describing favorite and influential tracks by a particular musician or falling under a particular genre, and it made for an addictive read. Pop and rock stars were able to salute their personal heroes speaking like real music fans, by underscoring songs they’d obsessed over throughout their lives. Stone’s lists are currently available at its website, and we encourage you to seek out Iggy Pop’s deconstruction of Chicago blues, or Robbie Robertson’s discussion of the Meters and the Dixie Cups in his tribute to New Orleans music.

We thought instantly about recasting this idea by applying it to jazz and upping the analysis portion of the assignment. But jazz is one of the last true album arts, right? Aren’t jazz enthusiasts some of the only music followers left with adult attention spans?
Perhaps, but long before the term “Playlist” became a staple in this iPod age, jazz’s fearsome reissuing program had placed the track above the LP. Anyone who’s paid dearly to hear alternate takes or rehearsal tapes knows how larger collections expand the scope of a career while homing in on single performances.

I own immortal recordings like “Giant Steps” on so many different compilations that their original album contexts have lost much of their meaning. Tad Hershorn, in his terrific cover piece on the relationship between Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz, details the making of Ella’s immortal Songbook series of LPs: huge-selling disks a half-century ago, though the most efficient way to absorb these sides today is via box sets and themed comps released by Verve during the reissue-crazed ’90s. Nate Chinen, in The Gig, salutes a life-changing set he encountered in 1997, John Coltrane’s The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. The LP-era documentation of that groundbreaking stand told only a small fraction of the story.

So single cuts can still rule—even in improvised music, where hits are a non-issue—and we hope you enjoy these artists’ tastes and insight. The response was overwhelming, and we couldn’t include even half of the lists that were submitted. We’re sitting on some must-read material—for instance, Javon Jackson on Art Blakey, Scott Kinsey on Joe Zawinul and Michael Wolff on Cannonball Adderley—and will be running those lists online and in future issues. And we look forward to checking out your lists, and ask that you visit JazzTimes.com/community and tell us your favorites.

Originally published in September 2011

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