Not All 'Lost' Jazz Albums Are Created Equal

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 11, 2019 2:57 pm

Historians and critics have pored over the recordings of these jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Stan Getz so exhaustively, it might feel like they've left no stone unturned. And yet, fans are seeing a slew of exciting new discoveries lately from these and other artists — so-called "lost" albums by some of the biggest names in jazz.

"For jazz historians and record producers, the work never finishes," Nate Chinen of Jazz Night in America and NPR member station WBGO says. "There's always another lead to be pursued, another corner to be explored and when we think we know everything about an artist ... There's often something else that we hadn't considered."

In addition to that air of exploration, Chinen says that the jazz industry has "commercial motivation" to pump out such albums and cites the 2018 album Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, released via Impulse! Records, which sourced material from John Coltrane's 1963 sessions and reference tapes as a shining example. "It sold over a quarter of a million copies."

Later this month, Impulse Records! will release another album, Blue World, composed of Coltrane recordings from 1964 that were originally intended for a film score.

"Coltrane recorded this music for a film in Montreal," Chinen says. "It's a cornerstone of the Québécois film movement. But outside of that movement, it hasn't been all that widely seen. So, the film historians and the jazz scholars didn't connect the dots here and because the music wasn't catalogued by the label it fell into this kind of blindspot."

A new record of Miles Davis' lost recordings called Rubberband was just released via Rhino Records. The album features Davis recordings from 1985 with contemporary touches. Vocalist Ledisi is featured on the track "Rubberband of Life." It's because of these contemporary aspects that Chinen doesn't truly consider this a "lost" album.

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"We have to sort of raise an eyebrow at that term here because there's no way Miles would have envisioned this album because, I mean, Ledisi wasn't recording music in 1985," he argues. "The sound is clearly something from our time, not his. So is it a lost album? I don't know. But it is indisputably some music that Miles Davis made at an interesting moment and because he is who he is people will be interested to hear what this is all about."

Getz At The Gate (Live) was released in May 2019 and encapsulates a performance from the late saxophonist Stan Getz that Chinen says offers a fresh perspective on Getz's music legacy.

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"When you think of Stan Getz, I think many people think of his bossa nova period," Chinen says. "This was a live recording made in 1961, a few months before he began that journey with jazz samba. ... He's leading a fabulous band with Roy Haynes on drums. He's swinging so hard on the bandstand and so, you have this document of another side of Getz."

Chinen counts these unearthed live jazz performances as "an area where the windfall just keeps coming."

"We've seen so many live recordings that become cherished albums now that weren't originally conceived as albums," Chinen says. "It's all to the better, I think."

Correction: 9/11/19

A previous version of this Web story incorrectly referred to WBGO as WGBO.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald - historians and critics have pored over the recordings of these jazz greats so exhaustively it might feel like they have left no stone unturned. And yet, we're seeing a slew of exciting new discoveries lately from these and other artists, so-called lost albums by some of the biggest names in jazz, like this new Miles Davis record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "GIVE IT UP")

MARTIN: Here to talk about this is Nate Chinen from member station WBGO and Jazz Night In America. Hi, Nate.

NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you explain to me how this keeps happening? I mean, how is it that they keep making these finds?

CHINEN: Well, for jazz historians and record producers, the work never finishes. You know, there's always another lead to be pursued, another corner to be explored. And when we think we know everything about an artist, especially a prominent artist like Miles Davis, there's often something else that we hadn't considered. We also happen to be in this time when the industry has a commercial motivation for, you know, producing these new discoveries. One of the biggest jazz albums of 2018 was something recorded in 1963 by saxophonist John Coltrane called "Both Directions At Once." It was on the charts. It sold over a quarter of a million copies.

MARTIN: Amazing. And later this month, there's another new Coltrane album, right? It's called "Blue World." Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN COLTRANE'S "BLUE WORLD")

MARTIN: OK. Tell us about this.

CHINEN: John Coltrane recorded this music for a film in Montreal. It's a cornerstone of the Quebecois film movement. But outside of that movement, it hasn't been all that widely seen. So the film historians and the jazz scholars didn't connect the dots here. And because the music wasn't catalogued by the label, it fell into this kind of blindspot. And the thing is, this music was recorded at the absolute height of the John Coltrane Quartet's powers. This is 1964. They're a few months away from making their masterpiece, "A Love Supreme," and they're just really firing on all cylinders.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "RUBBERBAND OF LIFE")

MARTIN: So I mentioned the new Miles Davis. Let's just listen to a little bit more from the album "Rubberband."

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "RUBBERBAND OF LIFE")

MARTIN: So what's the backstory on this record?

CHINEN: Well, whereas Coltrane was at his peak in 1964, you know, Miles was in a slightly different place in 1985. He was really trying to reboot his career and get to a more pop-oriented sound. These tracks were never released. These are more sort of unfinished experiments. So, you know, a lot of post-production cosmetic surgery happened to create this album "Rubberband."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUBBERBAND OF LIFE")

LEDISI: (Singing) If you wanna make a like, if you wanna win - I wanna win - you better make a sacrifice if it's all for real.

MARTIN: I mean, it sounds good, right? It's Ledisi on vocals, but do you consider it a lost album?

CHINEN: You know, we have to sort of raise an eyebrow at that term here because there's no way Miles would have envisioned this album because, I mean, Ledisi wasn't recording music in 1985. You know, this sound is clearly something from our time, not his. So is it a lost album? I don't know. But it is indisputably some music that Miles Davis made at an interesting moment. And because he is who he is, people will be interested to hear, you know, what this is all about.

MARTIN: We've got one more example of a recent lost album. This is "Getz At The Gate" by the late saxophonist Stan Getz.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "AIREGIN [LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961]")

MARTIN: So what is important about this album to you?

CHINEN: Well, when you think of Stan Getz, I think many people think of his bossa nova period, you know, "Getz/Gilberto." "Getz/Gilberto" was one of the great jazz crossover albums of its day. It was a huge hit. It's that soft lyrical style that people associate with him. Well, this was a live recording made in 1961 a few months before he began that journey with "Jazz Samba." And he's leading a fabulous band with Roy Haynes on drums. He's swinging so hard on the bandstand. And so you have this document of another side of Getz.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "AIREGIN [LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961]")

CHINEN: He's such a strong improviser. He's so swinging, and the band is so tight behind him. I mean, how can you complain about it? It's amazing.

MARTIN: Right. There's power in the live performance, right?

CHINEN: Absolutely. And this is an area where the windfall just keeps coming. We've seen so many live recordings that become cherished albums now that weren't originally conceived as albums. But this is what's happening now, and it's all to the better I think.

MARTIN: Good time to be a jazz lover.

CHINEN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Nate Chinen of member station WBGO and Jazz Night In America. Nate, thank you.

CHINEN: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "AIREGIN [LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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