Year By Year: Five Essential Albums of 1962

Jazz may not have an official yearbook, but it does have a vast and well-documented discography. ‘Year by Year’ is our attempt to bring you the most noteworthy albums of each year, complete with audio samples and fascinating backstories. We hope you join us as we travel through the music’s endlessly fascinating history, stopping every 12 months along the jazz timeline.

Charles Mingus, Tijuana Moods (RCA)

Charles Mingus claimed to have once traveled to Tijuana and slept with 23 women in a brothel there in one night. It was there he was exposed to Mexican music in its natural context for the first time. The experience excited him. Upon his return to New York, he set out to record an album that would fuse jazz with Latin music. Tijuana Moods was recorded in 1957. It features such musicians as the elusive Clarence Shaw and percussionist Frankie Dunlop. “Dizzy Moods,” a blazing tribute to Dizzy Gillespie who pioneered the fusion of jazz with Latin music, opens the program. Another highlight is “Ysabel’s Table Dance,” one of Mingus’ first forays into music for dance. This cut was inspired by flamenco dancer Ysabel Morel and features her playing castanets at rapid-fire speed. Mingus was extremely happy with the sessions. However, RCA would not release Tijuana Moods for another five years due to a lawsuit. By then, Mingus had returned to bop, making this a unique entry in his awesome discography.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Mosaic (Blue Note)

So far in our “Year By Year” series, we have established one thing: The Jazz Messengers – led by the compulsive, propulsive and polyrhythmic drumming of Art Blakey – all but defined hard bop. Throughout the ‘60s, the ensemble underwent many lineup changes. This constant renewal contributed to the freshness and originality of their sound. It also led to the recording of a formidable number of classic back-to-back recordings. In 1961, trumpeter Lee Morgan and pianist Bobby Timmons vacated their seat. They were readily replaced by Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton respectively. Importantly, the quintet also evolved into a sextet with the addition of Curtis Fuller on trombone. The move expanded The Jazz Messengers’ harmonic range, as heard on Mosaic, the first album featuring this legendary lineup, including saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Jymie Merritt. They would perform together right up to 1964.

Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse!)

A meeting between two legends of two different generations: Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s Impulse! LP is one in a series of ‘60s albums recorded by Ellington with a number of jazz greats, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Charles Mingus, among many others. It differs from many of these because it features him playing in a quartet, a much smaller combo than his more usual big band setting. The program of Duke Ellington & John Coltrane features mostly Ellington compositions old and new, with the exception of “Big Nick.” This latter track, Coltrane had been left out of a self-titled album released earlier that same year and was a homage to his hero, “Big Nick” Nicholas. Despite the age difference and their respectively different musical backgrounds, Ellington and Coltrane worked exceptionally well together. The latter was particularly appreciative of the experience and said: “I was really honored to have the opportunity of working with Duke. It was a wonderful experience … I would like to have worked over all those numbers again, but I guess the performance wouldn’t have had the same spontaneity.”

Dexter Gordon, Go (Impulse!)

Go is the most popular of saxophonist-composer Dexter Gordon’s releases on Blue Note and is regarded as one of the best hard bop albums of all time. It was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio with Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Gordon claimed this to be his favorite album of all the ones he had ever recorded precisely because of this stellar rhythm section. “With that rhythm section,” he once stated, “I could play anything and they were right there. We were four as one, and isn’t that what we’re always trying to do?” Go brims with brightness and confidence. Its program varies from sultry ballads, such as “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” to up-tempo cuts, such as “Cheese Cake.” This latter track is a quintessential Gordon composition. Furthermore, being able to play it is considered somewhat of a rite of passage for any saxophone player.

Sonny Rollins, The Bridge (RCA)

By the late ‘50s, Sonny Rollins was one of the biggest names in jazz. However, in 1959 he virtually disappeared, taking a two-year sabbatical from performing to focus on the development of his sound. During this time, he lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In order not to disturb the neighbors, he often practiced on the Williamsburg Bridge. This setting inspired his sensational 1962 comeback album. Some were initially disappointed to hear the saxophonist pick up more or less where he’d left off two years prior, and showcasing no immediately recognizable revolutionary musical style or technique. However, The Bridge was hugely successful and, in retrospect, it anticipated much of his freer style that would be explored in his subsequent releases. The Bridge finds him performing four standards plus two original compositions, including the fiery title track, with a pianoless quartet. His interplay with guitarist Jim Hall is a stand-out feature.

Honorable Mentions: Max Roach and His Chorus and Orchestra, It’s Time (Impulse!); Eric Dolphy, Far Cry (New Jazz); Sonny Clark, Leapin’ and Lopin’ (Blue Note); Freddie Hubbard, Ready for Freddie (Blue Note); Bill Evans & Jim Hall, Undercurrent (United Artists).

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