Now that it is January, most of us are back to work, back to school, or at least, back to regular programming. My iPhone is plugged back to my favourite instrumental playlists and I am back haunting my preferred study spots in the city. I am also working on my resolutions for the year, but more on that later.
When it comes to my music playlists for work and productivity, I like variety in types of genres to keep things interesting. However, I also require a bit of repetitiveness in terms of the tracks so that I can keep my focus on my tasks. Which brings me to instrumental jazz music. I was first truly introduced to jazz when I was in my late teens and held a part-time job at a music store in Toronto. I was already trained in classical piano but had abandoned it despite my parents’ grievances, and the freedom out of the confines of Chopin and Liszt fuelled me to discover everything else outside nocturnes and sonatas.
I was first drawn to the songstresses Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which lead me to discover their non-vocal counterparts in swing music. Benny Goodman was one of my favourite discoveries; his clarinet produce playful and bright tunes that got me hooked into finding more gems. I searched further into the jazz genre and I branched out to the jazz-funk melodies of Herbie Hancock’s more recent productions. And from there I found Goodman and Hancock’s contemporaries, including Robert Glasper, Antibalas, and Mulatu Astatke. So here is a listing of my favourite jazz musicians that successfully accompany coffee, late nights, and deadlines in my work and study life.
Stardust is one of Benny Goodman’s tracks that, despite lacking the energetic restlessness of his more well-known works, remains lively and coaxing. There are many good compilations of his work available on iTunes and elsewhere, but the one I discovered him through is titled Benny Goodman: The Ultimate Collection through Platinum. Pretty much any Goodman compilation would do as a great work background album, and most collections feature his hits such as One O’Clock Jump and Sing, Sing, Sing.
We are fortunate to have Herbie Hancock still kicking around today, who called the great Miles Davis his mentor, though Hancock found his own funk style through his early adoption of the electric keyboards. The above track, Sly, is from the 1973 album Head Hunters, which showcases his stylish aesthetic that made the album one of the highest selling jazz records ever. The first track, Chameleon, might be the more famous tune from the album but all four tracks in Head Hunters are definitely worth a revisit, or for new listeners, to discover.
Robert Glasper is another jazz musician who reaches beyond the boundaries of the genre and into hip-hop and funk. The track, Butterfly, is from his 2009 album, Double Booked, which has a cover of Thelonious Monk’s Think of One. Also look out for his new album for 2012 with his band, the Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio, which includes notable guests such as Mos Def and Erykah Badu, and a cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Dirt and Blood is from Antibalas’ first studio album, Liberation Afro Beat, Vol. 1 from 2001. The Brooklyn-based band is still churning out their funk- and jazz-fused afrobeat music with their latest album, Antibalas, issued earlier this year. The Antibalas, which models itself after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band, creates provocative and confrontational beats tinged with political messages and social commentary. Regardless of your political affiliation, there is no denying that the Antibalas bring addictive funk rhythms to your work day.
MULATU ASTATKE/THE HELIOCENTRICS
Another African jazz musician, Mulatu Astatke, is considered the father of the geography-specific Ethio-Jazz genre of his native homeland. His traditional Ethiopian-inflected music combines Latin jazz and funk to bring such gems as Fire in the Zoo (link above). The track is from his 2008 release, Inspiration Information, Vol. 3, which pairs him with the British jazz band, The Heliocentrics, producing modern renditions of his earlier works. Also look out for his 2010 live album, Timeless: Live at Luckmann Theatre, LA 1 Feb 2009.
Next Things That Go Bump in the Night post: Bonus list of musicians that did not make it in parts one, two or three but still deserve nods as great productivity music.