In this day and age, when there’s a desire to discover new music, it’s easy to rely on Spotify playlists and other ubiquitous algorithms. When seasoned drummer Valerie Lacombe got us up to speed with an introduction to jazz, she suggested asking musicians which albums got them into jazz. In case you were wondering, her entry records include Oscar Peterson’s Night Train and Hank Mobley’s Soul Station

And ask we did. What came of it is the ultimate jazz beginner’s playlist. The compilation, just like our local Montreal musicians, is representative of jazz diversity. Check out their original stuff, as well as album recommendations – you’re in for a treat. 

A Jazz Foray 

For phenomenal jazz pianist Taurey Butler, there wasn’t exactly one album that ignited it all. “I think of how I developed my love of jazz a lot like how you fall in love in any relationship. Most of the time, it’s not just one date, it’s a series of dates where your passion develops over time,” says Butler. How beautiful is that? The first album he received from his band director in school was what started it all. “Oscar Peterson’s My Favorite Instrument was really the catalyst that started my journey.” Then, his box set Exclusively, For My Friends was next, in addition to Burstin’ Out and Night Train, says Butler of Oscar Peterson, a Canadian known as one of the greatest pianists of all time. “Along the way came Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers featuring Wynton Marsalis Album Of The Year,” he goes on. 

TV was also influential for a young Butler. “The piano playing by Johnny Costa in Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood – they used to call him the `White Art Tatum.´ I always loved the music from that show. But thinking back about it, I believe that jazz spoke to me early through Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang.” 

Charlie Brown and friends also gave prodigy vocalist Caity Gyorgy an early taste for jazz. “I don’t think I realized it at the time, but the Charlie Brown Christmas album by the Vince Guaraldi trio is the first jazz record I can remember loving. I didn’t even know what genre I was listening to as a kid, but I loved it. My dad would start playing that album in the car on December 1st, and I would sing along with the solos, not realizing that as a 9-year-old I was technically transcribing! I would wait all year to get to hear that album. It remains one of my favorites to this day,” saysthe 25-year-old two-time Juno award winner. In our humble opinion, it’s an all-year-round banger. 

For Modibo Keita, trombonist and founder of the hip-hop and R&B improv show series The Shed, as well as a programmer at the last edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, ”the jazz album that gave me the biggest slap was Nothing Serious by Roy Hargrove. In my opinion, this album is one of the few classics that came out after I started playing my instrument. It’s a look into the past through the presence of Slide Hampton and a nod to the future through Roy Hargrove. Masterful arrangements and a band on fire,” he says of the 2018 release. 

Saxophone player Claire Devlin had to take a deep dive in the year 2009 through her iTunes library to answer the question. “One of the albums that got me into jazz when I was a teenager was Moore Makes 4 by the Ray Brown Trio & Ralph Moore. It has some classic jazz standards on it, and the band swings super hard. As a young tenor player, listening to this album was a great way to start understanding the language of jazz in a way that felt approachable,” she says. 

Bassist Adrian Vedady found his way through the pillars of jazz. “The album that got me into jazz was Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane. My girlfriend owned a few jazz albums by Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Monk. It really changed my conception of what music was. I loved the sound and feel of the music. Though I didn’t understand what was going on at that time, I fell in love with the spirit of the music,” he recalls. 

Pianist, accordionist, singer-songwriter, and composer Claude Hurtubise grew up listening to music, coming across Keith Jarret, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Bémol 9, and the list goes on. While studying classical music through highschool, she discovered improvisation, which became a fertile playground and steered her to study jazz in college. “I remember getting the album The individualism of Gil Evans for Christmas when I was 17. I listened to it over and over, and that’s what made me decide to complete my composition and arrangement technique at Saint-Laurent. I thought it was incredible to mix instruments to create new sound textures. I recommend this album, with its sumptuous arrangements that plunge us into a mysterious, cinematic world,” she says. 

Similarly, it was also improvisation that got performer, composer, producer, and educator Sarah Rossy to dive into jazz – a practice that would turn out to be life-changing. For people who like jazz-adjacent music, she recommends Alcanza, by Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan.“He wrote this suite for jazz trio, vocalist and string quartet. It has the most intricate, beautiful string arrangement informed by Cuban music, classical music and jazz tradition. It’s really interesting, it’s a whole dynamic adventure – I think it’s an hour long.”  

A Deeper Dive 

Need more? We got you. Here are a few more recommendations for the jazz lover who’s ready to take it to the next level. 

“I have two albums that I would recommend to jazz lovers. The first is Ella and Basie!, which is an incredible album by the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Ella Fitzgerald, from 1963. The arrangements are done by Quincy Jones and the whole album swings like mad. I think this album is great for jazz lovers and also people who are starting to get into music. Not only is it very approachable, but when you really listen in to the arrangements and the playing, you can hear just how high a level the band is. The whole band’s time feels locked in, which I think is a reason why it swings so hard. And you can never, ever, ever go wrong with Ella Fitzgerald. The second album is Ahmad Jamal’s Jamal at The Pershing Vol. 2 (Live), from 1958. Ahmad Jamal’s trio with Vernel Fournier and Israel Crosby is so incredibly tight, they play so incredibly well together. The arrangements on this album are always engaging and ingenious, and because of how beautifully this trio plays together, the listener – whether new to the music or a die hard fan – will always be on their toes waiting to hear what each instrument plays next. Though this is Jamal’s record, the interplay between the  band provides such a solid group sound that is and will always be easily identified with Jamal.” – Caity Gyorgy 

“For the more ‘advanced’ jazz listener, I would recommend Obbligato by Tom Rainey. It totally blew me away the first time I heard it. The band is monstrously skilled and creative, and they push the boundaries of jazz standard playing in a way that I absolutely love.” – Claire Devlin 

“The album I would recommend to any jazz lover is Black Codes from the Underground, by Wynton Marsalis. It’s an all-stars quintet made of Charnett Moffett, Jeff Tain Watts, Kenny Kirkland, Wynton et Branford Marsalis. This album is a real masterclass in jazz band interaction and how a band with chemistry can sound” – Modibo Keita

“To the aficionado, I would recommend Miles Davis’ Miles Smiles. This group featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams is incredible for the sound of the group, the compositions and also for Miles Davis’ incredible playing. He is at the height of his artistry.” – Adrian Vedady.  

To learn more about the history and the context of jazz music, be sure to check out part one of our series So You Want To Jazz Up Your Life: Exploring the Roots and part two, So You Want To Jazz Up Your Life Part 2: Navigating the Jazz Universe.

Written by Christelle Saint-Julien

Illustration by Yihong Guo