A reader writes:
Could you please name five jazz CDs the beginning listener should own?
Another reader writes:
I have loved watching dance over the years, but have almost no idea of what goes where and why. Could you please recommend four or five books that might give me a formal and historical introduction to the art?
I love e-mail like this, and I never get tired of answering it.
To Reader No. 1, here are five CDs containing music that I listen to often, all of it jazz but otherwise extremely varied in style:
– The Essential Louis Armstrong (Sony). A brand-new two-CD set by the greatest of all jazz musicians, not perfectly chosen but full of good things and easy to find.
– Duke Ellington, Masterpieces 1926-1949 (Proper). An unusually low-priced four-CD imported box set that contains most of Ellington’s best pre-LP recordings.
– Ken Burns Jazz Collection: The Definitive Charlie Parker (Sony). An exceptionally good single-disc introduction to bebop’s key figure.
– Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Sony). The most popular and influential jazz album of the Fifties.
– Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life (ECM). One of the earliest and most successful attempts to “fuse” jazz and rock. It still sounds fresh.
If you don’t like any of these recordings, you probably won’t like jazz.
Reader No. 2 should read these books, in this order:
– Robert Greskovic, Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet (Hyperion). The best introductory book about ballet ever written, by the much-admired dance critic of The Wall Street Journal.
– Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormick, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (Yale). A comprehensive, well-written, impeccably reliable history of ballet and modern dance.
– Edwin Denby, Dance Writings and Poetry (Yale). The only available collection of writings by the most important dance critic of the century.
– Writing in the Dark, Dancing in The New Yorker: An Arlene Croce Reader (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A superbly edited one-volume collection of reviews by the outstanding dance critic of the postwar era.
And, if I do say so myself:
– Terry Teachout, All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine (Harcourt). A short book about the greatest of all choreographers, written specifically for those who have either just discovered Balanchine’s ballets or are eager to do so. It’s out in November.