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When I was a teenage rocker enamoured of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Rush I had a notion of jazz  – it was a stream of notes in any order without meaning or sense.

I had no clue.

In the 1980s I explored music that combined rock with elements of jazz – Weather Report, Steely Dan, UZEB, Yellowjackets.  My ear was getting used to more complex jazz structure and harmony, and on a whim I bought a double album (yes – LP/vinyl!) called the Concord Jazz Guitar Collection.  The first track was called La Petite Mambo, by some guy I’d never heard of called Kenny Burrell.

I not literally fell off my chair.  Here was groove, a great melody, a solo that was so far from my preconceived random stream of notes. Swing, feel, blues, all super tasteful and improvised!  In four minutes I was hooked.  To this day Kenny Burrell is my favourite guitarist.

That experience started a long journey into jazz.  I found out what jazz instruments I love (guitar, obviously, I am a fanatic, but also piano, trumpet, tenor and alto sax) and those I, er, don’t love so much (looking at you violin, clarinet and soprano sax).  I developed a taste for certain styles of jazz (swing, be-bop, post-bop, big band, the more accessible corners of the free jazz world) and a strong dislike of others (what I call “stripey blazer” trad jazz, the wilder expressions of free jazz, and worst of all smooth jazz which I hate with a passion).  To my wife’s surprise I acquired a love of Frank Sinatra,  in my view the greatest interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

For International Jazz Day our Marketing Executive, Sophie, asked me to put together my top ten jazz tracks.  Sophie – can I make the following points:

  1. This is impossible
  2. I am not going to think about this but write down the first things that come into my head
  3. If you ask me any other day the tracks and/or order will be different
  4. This is impossible

All that said, here goes:

10. Have You Met Miss Jones? by Oscar Peterson Trio

9. Autumn in New York by Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong

8. Django by Joe Pass

7. Without A Song by Sonny Rollins

6. In The Still Of The Night by Kenny Burrell

5. Shadow of Your Smile by Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Orchestra

4. Isfahan by Duke Ellington

3. Joy Spring by Clifford Brown

2. Days of Wine and Roses by Wes Montgomery

You can see me playing Wes’s wonderful statement of the melody below!

1. Blue In Green by Miles Davis

My International Jazz Day challenge to you is to pick just one of these tracks and have a listen!  If you don’t know jazz I wish you joy in discovering some the greatest music in the world.   Jazz is America’s music, its own art form that has spread across the world.  I am in awe of the skill of the incredible performers and improvisers listed above and when I play jazz on guitar I get a thrill from performing in that same tradition.

Oh, and I still love all the hard rock and metal I loved as a teenager – great music is great music!

written by Ross Penney, CEO at AVC Immedia