Symkus column: Folk and jazz, free from Hoopla and your local library
With a precious bit of extra time on the hands of many of us during these weird days, the idea came up to share tips on building up some knowledge of music available on recordings in a variety of genres. To make it even sweeter, it would all be free of charge, ready to jump from the internet to your ears at the push of a button. The digital service called Hoopla, in conjunction with hundreds of library systems across the country, has thousands of recordings to choose from. Titles can be borrowed for one week, but different libraries have set different limits as to how many per month.
Knowing that everyone’s musical preferences are different, I’ll admit that the choices I’ve made for the top 10 albums in separate categories are very subjective. In this, the first of three pieces, I’ll suggest some of my favorite folk music and jazz. My goal is to make them at once good entry-level albums for each artist as well as albums that have stood the test of time. For those wondering about obvious glaring omissions (no Bob Dylan, no Miles Davis), it’s either because Hoopla doesn’t carry certain labels or because even among all of those records, my "high standards" weren’t met. But I like to think that everything here will make for some tasty listening.
Joan Baez - "Diamonds & Rust" - A commercial sound, lots of great session players, folk and pop songs. Best track: "Diamonds & Rust"
Judy Collins - "Wildflowers" - Great Collins originals and choice covers. Best track: "Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye"
Leo Kottke - "6- and 12-String Guitar" - Mostly easy-to-take solo acoustic instrumentals, each one a sample of virtuosity. Best track: "The Fisherman"
Mary McCaslin - "The Best of Mary McCaslin: Things We Said Today" - A singer-songwriter-interpreter with a unique voice and nice guitar accompaniment. Best track: "The Wayward Wind"
Phil Ochs - "Phil Ochs in Concert" - Very political and topical and, rumor has it, not really a live concert recording. Great man-and-his-guitar performances. Best track: "Love Me, I’m a Liberal"
Peter, Paul and Mary - "Peter, Paul and Mary" - The perfectly harmonizing trio’s debut album of gentle protest songs. Best track: "Where Have all the Flowers Gone"
Tom Rush - "Tom Rush" - More folk-rock-blues than pure folk. Terrific use of his baritone voice on many traditional tunes. Best track: "Milk Cow Blues"
Shel Silverstein - "Inside Folk Songs" - Lots of funny, offbeat stuff and a couple of serious numbers from the gruff-voiced singer-songwriter-author. Best track: "It Does Not Pay to Be Hip"
Dave Van Ronk - "Inside Dave Van Ronk" - A love of folk and blues and their traditions, combined with Van Ronk’s unusual voice in this early offering. Best track: "Cocaine Blues"
Loudon Wainwright III - "Album II" - Singer-songwriter material that’s sometimes touching, sometimes cynical, often funny. Best track: "Motel Blues"
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - "Moanin’" - Often referred to as a combination of straight-ahead jazz, bop, and soul. An amazing band fronted by drummer Blakey. Best track: "Moanin’"
John Coltrane - "Ballads" - Early work from the tenor saxophonist, far away in style from his later out-there work. Accessible to all. Best track: "It’s Easy to Remember"
Eric Dolphy - "Far Cry" - A bebop album, but one that the saxophonist/bass clarinetist pushes into some unnamed places beyond that genre. Very exciting playing. Best track: "It’s Magic"
Bill Evans - "Waltz for Debby" - A gorgeous live trio recording from The Village Vanguard, with pianist Evans playing as one with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott Lafaro. Best track: "Waltz for Debby"
Stan Getz - "Getz/Gilberto" - The jumping off point for the popularization of bossa nova. Some magic from saxophonist Stan Getz, guitarist/singer João Gilberto, and singer Astrud Gilberto. Best track: "The Girl from Ipanema"
Herbie Hancock - "Maiden Voyage" - An amazing cadre of players led by pianist Hancock, and a balanced mix of hard bop along with lovely melodies. Best track: "Maiden Voyage"
Yusef Lateef - "Eastern Sounds" - Some blues, some ballads, and an exotic "Eastern" flavor. Featuring multi-instrumentalist Lateef whole new way to appreciate the oboe. Best track: "Love Theme from ‘Spartacus’"
Lee Morgan - "The Gigolo" - Another album with plenty of blues and ballads, along with a helping of hard bop, and trumpeter Morgan doing some of his best playing. Best track: "You Go to My Head"
Joe Pass - "Virtuoso" - Maybe the best all-round guitarist in jazz. A solo album, made in his mid-40s, brimming with melody, startling improvisation, and technical prowess. Best track: "Cherokee"
Nina Simone - "Pastel Blues" - Laid back in some places, fiery in others, with some terrific piano work by vocalist Simone. Best track: "Sinnerman"
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Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.