JazzTimes 10: Essential Jazz Flute Albums

So you say the flute isn't a key jazz instrument? It can still blow your mind.

3. Milt Jackson with Frank Wess & Bobby Jaspar: Bags & Flutes (Atlantic, 1957)

When brought together, the voices of the flute and the vibraphone produce a cool, ethereal lyricism, one that jazz orchestrators have been taking advantage of for a long time. Bags & Flutes is among the first and best examples. Milt Jackson often insisted that his solo recordings were a completely different style from the soft-edged Modern Jazz Quartet, but his work with Bobby Jaspar (on two tracks) and Frank Wess (on five) suggests otherwise. Among other highlights, Jaspar joins Jackson on a “Bags’ New Groove” that—unlike the tunes of that name that are merely new arrangements of Jackson’s most famous composition—actually is a new variation. This and “Connie’s Blues,” Jaspar’s other appearance, are the best of the album, with the flutist blowing beautiful long tones on the theme and extending Jackson’s preceding improvised ideas in his own solo. Wess’ finest moment is on Ernie Wilkins’ skippy swinger “Ghana,” where he sounds somehow both graceful and madly syncopated … a combination that is at the heart of the flute’s importance to jazz.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.