Weekend Extra: NPR’s Basic Library

Here is the critic A.B. Spellman on Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking Change Of The Century album.

A large part of the credit I believe must be given to the rhythm section. Because in Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins you have two Hall of Fame musicians. And this rhythm section again was working with a different kind of sense of accents. You had a strong melodic lead in the bass of Charlie Haden, because without a piano, the bass then has more responsibility for sort of leading the group. The responsiveness of this particular rhythm section would not permit for (sic) a dead spot.

That is from the transcript of a broadcast conversation between Spellman and Murray Horwitz of the American Film Institute. Their dialogues are central to National Public Radio’s mini-programs centered around a basic library of 100 essential jazz recordings. Because of scarce air time, the radio installments are short, but many of the web site versions include at least one musical illustration; in the case of Change Of The Century the complete six-minutes of Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita.”
Anyone could argue about what is on and not on the list, but the NPR choices constitute a fine basic library. If you have never heard Bix Beiderbecke’s golden “I’m Coming Virginia,” you can have it..all of it…here. Then, next time you hear one of a few thousand trumpet players steal Bix’s tag phrase, you’ll know where it came from, even if the soloist doesn’t. If you have somehow missed bassist Sam Jones’ and drummer Arthur Taylor’s hand-in-glove support of Thelonious Monk in Monk’s famous Town Hall big band concert, NPR gives you the complete “Thelonious.”
The explanations by Spellman and Horwitz (sometimes Horwitz alone) are as basic as the library itself; the segments run only about three minutes apiece. Still, if you know someone who is just entering jazz as a listener you could do much worse than recommend NPR’s introductory course.

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