1. John Coltrane - John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman
The gold standard for ballad albums and ultimate collaboration of voice and saxophone. It's simply as expressive and romantic as it gets, with no excess sentimentality. Over the last 40 years, I've given this 1963 true classic on Impulse to dozens of friends, regardless of whether they were serious Jazz lovers or not. Definitely one for the ages!
2. Jim Hall - Concierto
On the amazingly mesmerizing 19 minute title track, based on Joaquin Rodrigo's classic composition immortalized on Miles Davis/Gil Evans Sketches of Spain, the all star band of Guitarist Hall, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Roland Hanna, Ron Carter and Steve Gadd, turn out one great solo after another. An absolutely hypnotic performance that defines nuance and sensitivity, with great feeling. Be sure to get the original 1975 CTI version, rather than the remake.
3. Lorez Alexandria - Alexandria the Great
The title of this 1964 Impulse release is certainly no marketing hyperbole. It's often cited as the best-recorded performance of perhaps the most under-rated and under-publicized, but truly great Jazz vocalist ever. A perfect marriage of a warm, swinging voice (with crystalline clarity) to gorgeously timeless material, backed by a stellar six-piece band.
4. Duke Ellington - Latin American Suite
While it's no easy task to select just one big band album from this most prolific and creative American orchestra leader ever, I've always found this engagingly exotic Fantasy release very special. Recorded in 1968 just after his one month tour of South America, the writing and playing magnificently capture the many moods, rhythms and intense feel of the countries he visited.
5. Dexter Gordon - Go!
Each of the great tenor saxophonist's six performances on this 1962 Blue Note classic serve as perfect role models on how to build and sustain a solo, without losing a listener's interest. Using his cavernously huge sound, beautifully sinewy tone and seemingly endless flow of ideas, his overall command and power is just captivating.
Ella Fitzgerald - Fine and Mellow
I can't fail to include one album from the First Lady of Jazz. This 1974 Pablo all star recording features wonderful support from Tommy Flanagan, Joe Pass, Clark Terry, Harry Sweets Edison, Zoot Sims, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson. It's been a particular favorite of mine as it clearly refutes some critics' assertion that she fails to sensitively interpret ballads, especially with her spellbinding treatment of the title track, as well as unforgettable versions of I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You and 'Round Midnight.