Deep Groove Mono’s All-Time Favorite Classic Jazz Album List

As long as I can remember having Apple iTunes (now Apple Music) — perhaps all the way back to 2001 — I have rated all the songs in my digital library with the program’s built-in five-star system. It has made it easier for me to find the music I love most as well as creating “smart playlists” constructed according to a set of predetermined rules.

A couple years ago I started transferring the rating data from my Apple Music library into a spreadsheet. My original intention was to share a list of all the song rankings, and while I might still do something similar down the road, I recently decided it would be fun to find the average song ratings for all the albums and share the highest rankings with my readers.

Ranking albums has also proved to have a useful application. Of course, every collectible jazz album will not align with every collector’s personal musical taste. That said, I am guessing that most experienced collectors at one time or another have gotten caught up in the hype of desiring a very in-demand jazz album only to realize days, weeks, or months later that they don’t really like the music itself. So considering albums strictly based on statistical averages has helped me gain a more realistic sense of where my musical priorities are (or at least where they could be), and it has helped me cut through the bullshit of wanting to build a collection of “collectible” albums versus albums containing music I actually appreciate.

A few notes to help explain how and why the list was created:

  • This is not intended to be any sort of an “objective” list. I am not arguing that these are “the greatest jazz albums of all time”, they are merely my personal favorites.
  • To state the obvious, there are plenty of great jazz albums I love that are not on this list.
  • The albums are ranked according to their ratings, which for each album is simply the average of the song ratings for that album.
  • I felt the formulaic nature of my system broke down a little near the very top of the list and didn’t accurately reflect my preferences from a more “emotional” place. As a result, there was a slight amount of breaking the ranks and “overriding the system” within the top ten.
  • A “trophy song” () is a song that has a special something that makes it utterly unforgettable and distinguishes it from the rest of the songs on a particular album.
  • Certain albums in the list do not have any trophy songs. This does not mean they are inferior to the rest, it usually means that their quality is very consistent from song to song.

I hope you enjoy my list. Maybe you will find something new that also becomes one of your own favorites.

Paul Chambers Quartet, Bass on Top
Blue Note 1569 (1957)

This mellow album features a unique horn-less lineup of quartet with guitar. The arrangements are sparse and leave plenty of room for the leader to shine. Sonically consistent with an absence of artificial reverb, Bass on Top features the natural, intimate room sound of Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack home studio.

Benny Golson & The Philadelphians
United Artists 4020 (1958)

This is hard bop of the highest order. Consistent, upbeat and featuring the City of Brotherly Love’s finest jazzmen. The album’s standout tracks, “Blues on My Mind” and “Stablemates”, are both penned by Golson. Introduced to me by my wife, Ako.

George Wallington Quintet at The Bohemia
Progressive 1001 (1956)

Never exactly a star, not even on his own dates, George Wallington has nonetheless assembled a grade-A cast here including Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor. The Café Bohemia also had a great-sounding room and engineer Rudy Van Gelder knew how to work it.

McCoy Tyner, Time for Tyner
Blue Note 84307 (1968)

Part of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings’ Core Collection. A sincere, emotionally diverse album that pairs Tyner with another Blue Note star, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and the synergy is legendary.

“African Village”

Bobby Hutcherson, Happenings
Blue Note 4231 (1966)

I shallowly ignored this album for a long time mainly because I despised late ’60s album covers that featured random women, a symbol that Blue Note’s priorities had changed under new ownership (Liberty Records). Well I’m glad I gave it a chance because this is another highly consistent quartet-with-vibes date. One of my favorite Joe Chambers features.

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Thank you for sharing your all time favorites! This has me relistening to/rediscovering records I already have, as well has sent me off to Discogs/eBay, etc. for new additions to my collection.