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JazzTimes 10: Grammy-Winning Solos

Our picks for the best in the Improvised Jazz Solo category since its introduction in 1992

The Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo has had more than one incarnation; it began as “Best Jazz Performance, Individual” in 1959 and went through several variations on “performance by a soloist” before becoming Best Jazz Instrumental Solo in 1992. Up until then, however, the award went to overarching album performances, not to individual solos. That innovation was an important one: an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of jazz as a musical form.

This JazzTimes 10 presents some of the best of the award-winning improvised solos from 1992 onward, beginning with this year’s winner and continuing backward. Multiple award winners were only given one slot, and even so, not all of them made the cut. (Apologies to perennial nominee and three-time winner Chick Corea, who is not on the list.)

1. Randy Brecker: “Sozinho” (Randy Brecker with the NDR Big Band, Rocks; Piloo, 2019)

1. Randy Brecker: “Sozinho” (Randy Brecker with the NDR Big Band, <i>Rocks</i>; Piloo, 2019)
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Although there’s a definite “usual suspects” cast to the list of Improvised Solo Grammy winners, 2019 marked 74-year-old trumpeter Randy Brecker’s first such win. The stately, solemn “Sozinho,” on which Brecker takes a single (but lengthy) 22-bar chorus, is a fine choice. The tune’s very slow tempo allows him to take long runs of multiple short notes (32nd notes, given the pace). Yet even if he works in octuple time, Brecker never deviates from the mood of sweet melancholy that distinguishes the composition. Instead, the quickness of the phrases and Brecker’s preternaturally clear tone add an exquisite new layer of anguish: “Sozinho” means “alone,” and this trumpet has a lot to get off its chest about its aloneness.

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Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the tracks listed in this JazzTimes 10:

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.