According to the good people at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, April is Jazz Appreciation Month. With this in mind, we'll attempt to name nine great jazz soloists you might want to check out, especially if you're curious about jazz but don't know where to start with your listening. When a musician, while playing a composed piece of music, chooses to imaginatively make up original music that complements the composition's melody, chords, and rhythms, what they're doing is "soloing." In a jazz performance, a musical ensemble will often play a composition once through, more or less sticking to what has been notated by the composer, and then take turns individually or collectively making up additional music on the spot, creatively expounding upon the composition. Confused? Well, check out our first jazz soloist, the great Louis Armstrong, and listen to how his trumpet solos frame his own unique vocal rendition of the song. Then check out the rest of the artists as well!
- Buddy Bolden, who started playing a new kind of improvised music at parades and dances in New Orleans around 1895. Never recorded, Bolden was remembered by musicians who heard him, including Armstrong, as one of the finest sounding horn players in jazz. Born in 1901, Armstrong pioneered new ways to play and improvise with both his trumpet and voice defining what are now commonly acknowledged as the elements of jazz performance. In this recording of the classic mid-tempo ballad "Stardust," you'll hear Armstrong solo on trumpet before and after his vocal delivery, which in itself transforms and elaborates upon composer Hoagy Carmichael's melody.
- bebop, singer Ella Fitzgerald began to experiment with what became known as scat singing, a technique of improvising with her voice that mirrored what she heard bebop horn players like Dizzy Gillespie doing in performance. Fitzgerald was the undisputed master of scat singing, transforming the role of a singer into that of an instrumentalist, as innovative as any member of the bands she sang with.
- more extreme territory, and alienate some members of the jazz community as a result. Coltrane once said, "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am." His composition "Giant Steps" is an example of Coltrane's harmonic innovations both as a composer and soloist, and still trips up musicians who attempt to play it today.
- Charlie Christian and Grant Green. Guitarist Jim Hall, who at the age of 81 is still recording and touring, combines economy and emotional poignancy to his playing, and continues to inspire contemporary players like Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. His 1963 recording Undercurrent, a set of duos with pianist Bill Evans, is a stark yet soulful collection of standards, with a respect for silence and awareness of space that calls to mind Miles Davis' groundbreaking album Kind of Blue.
- Jean Shepherd, to tell the story of a clown who, like great musicians, just wants to make people happy.
- Max Roach. "He loved music."
- black power movement, and spiritual enlightenment — is helpful, especially if the timbre of Ayler's sound and unsettled, kaleidoscopic quality of his music is initially unsettling. You can trace Ayler's technique back to the earliest days of New Orleans jazz, where collective improvisation centered around and would repeatedly reference a song's melodic line. Check out the live performance of "Ghosts" performed by Ayler and an ensemble of similarly forward-thinking musicians that includes trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Sunny Murray.