Top 5 Live Albums From The Jazz Collector Era?

sarah copyI was lying in bed at about 3:30 in the morning unable to sleep so I put some nice ballad music on my iTunes and the song “Detour Ahead” came on from the Sarah Vaughan album After Hours At the London House and I thought to myself, gee, that is one of my favorite live albums of all time. It’s great music and there’s those outtakes on “Thanks for the Memory” and the whole concept was quite unusual, setting up a live recording date at a club in the wee small hours of the morning and inviting other musicians who had finished up their gigs to make up a large portion of the audience. And then, still unable to sleep, my mind started racing through its database of jazz records to come up with my favorite live recordings and the next thing I know it’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m still not asleep. But at least I have an interesting post for Jazz Collector, and that is my list of favorite live jazz albums. I decided to take the Sarah record off the list and just concentrate on instrumental records. Perhaps I’ll do the vocals at a later date. Meanwhile, I offer for your perusal:

1. Bill Evans, Waltz For Debby. What can I say, one of my very favorite albums of all time. Having seen Evans many, many times in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, this album captures him extraordinarily well, and it is also very well recorded.

2. Cannonball Adderley, Live at the Lighthouse. Had a hard time choosing between this and the Live in San Francisco album (didn’t want to include two albums from the same artist on this short list), but this was the album that really opened my eyes to jazz with the opening “Sack O’ Woe” so it will always have a special place in my heart.

3. Roland Kirk, Volunteered Slavery. Kirk was one of my favorite musicians and an incredibly dynamic live performer. I never felt any of his albums, live or studio, captured the excitement and skill of his playing, other than the live Newport side on this record. I can listen to this record and picture him clearly, even after all of these years. And the sax playing on his tribute to Trane is impressive as hell.

4. John Coltrane, Live at Birdland. Alas, I never saw Trane so I missed a big opportunity. This album is also dynamic and exciting and full of bravura, particularly the side with “Afro Blue” and “I Want to Talk About You,” which features a great long cadenza.

5. Horace Silver, Doin’ the Thing at the Village Gate. I realized I had made it this far without including a single Blue Note record and they released so many extraordinary live albums, including the various Blakeys and the Rollins at the Vanguard and the Kenny Dorhams at the Bohemia. I chose this one because it’s a personal favorite and it really captures the Blue Note sound and feel.

I found it interesting, as I was lying there in the middle night and typing this in the morning, that I could come up with many live Blue Note recordings, but only one on Prestige — Red Garland at the Prelude. Am I missing something else on Prestige? Was Prestige too cheap to do live recordings?

Anyway, curious, as always, to hear your own favorite live jazz recordings.


  • All great choices Al! Besides those, would also consider:
    Blakey at Birdland, on Blue Note (1 and 2) – with Clifford Brown in top form. A smoking set.
    Monk at the Blackhawk, on Riverside, with Joe Gordon and Harold Land.
    Donald Byrd at the Half Note (1 and 2), on Blue Note. With Pepper Adams in fine form.
    James Moody, Cookin’ the Blues, on Argo. Super band, very well-recorded set.
    Mingus at the Bohemia on Debut (re-released as Chazz! on Fantasy). Always enjoyable early Mingus.

  • I’d add to the list:

    The New York Contemporary Five vol. 1 & vol. 2 (Sonet, 1963)

    Albert Ayler “Bells” (ESP, 1965)

    Cecil Taylor “Live at Cafe Montmartre” and “Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come” (Debut, 1962)

    Ornette Coleman “At the Golden Circle vol. 1 & 2” (Blue Note, 1965)

    Eric Dolphy “At the Five Spot vol. 1 & 2,” “Memorial Album” (Prestige, 1961)

  • This is a very thought provoking post. My list goes well into double figures but:
    1- Wes Montgomery – Full House – My favorite Wes and Johnny Griffin
    2- Eric Dolphy – Five Spot Volume Two – Aggression is a phenomenal track with a tremendous Richard Davis solo as well.
    3- Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard – Chasin’ The Trane – ’nuff said
    4- Jazz At Massey Hall- But I could never figure out who this Charlie Chan guy was
    5- Sonny Rollins Our Man In Jazz – a very underrated album with extraordinary Rollins throughout.
    And since you already include Waltz For Debby I didn’t include it.

  • I can never pick one disc over another in some of these sets. But yes, volume two of the Dolphy is superb.

  • sure i’m forgetting many, as these are off the top of my head at work:

    1. Coltrane “Live at the Village Vanguard”
    2. Bill Dixon “November 1981”
    3. Cecil Taylor “Indent”
    4. Miles Davis “Friday Night at the Blackhawk”
    5. Cannonball Adderley has so many good live albums that I refuse to choose just one.

    i am a heretic who adores all the players but does not like the result of “jazz at massey hall” as it sounds a bit sloppy (in a bad way) and cavalier to me. i like the album, but not as a particular standout piece.

    i’ll line up for punches now.

  • _B.Evans / Sunday At the Village Vanguard (My man’s gone now)
    _J.Coltrane / Live at birdland (Afro Blue) (though not totally live)
    _Wes MOntgomery / Full – House (Cariba)
    _J.Coltrane / Village vanguard (Spiritual)
    _K.Dorham / Round about midnight at the Cafe Bohemia (Autumn in NY)

  • that’s true, the second LP of November 1981 is live – I’d forgotten. Beautiful set, as is Indent. I guess I was going for pre-1970 but indeed there are a lot of wonderful live jazz sessions from the last 44 years.

  • Spring of Two Blue-J’s is live as well, speaking of Unit Core productions.

  • Inta somethin with Jackie and Kenny is a gem

  • No one for Coltrane’s Live At the Village Vanguard Again!

    OK I’ll say it then :~]

  • yeah, bill dixon was one of the few people playing jazz beyond 1978 that really still had this great acoustic feel.

  • Dexter Gordon in Paris – Not only my favorite live album, but really one of my favorite jazz albums
    Cannonball in Chicago
    Coltrane at Newport ’63 – really out there

  • How not to include Monk Quartet with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall? Rollins at the Village Vanguard on Blue Note…Anyone for Sam Rivers live at Montreux ‘Streams’ (Impulse!)? Also Lacy/Waldron Super Quartet at Sweet Basil (Paddle Wheel?).

  • Yes, Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall!

    Mingus: Jazz Portraits (UA)

    Charley (Charlie) Christian: Jazz Immortal (Esoteric 10″)

  • @Gregory, indeed that’s true. I was lucky to become fairly close with him before he passed.

    Another fine Cecil live set – and there are many – is the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght three volume box on Shandar from 1969 with Lyons, Cyrille and Sam Rivers. It’s unrelenting but well worth the time spent. Also quite affordable. 🙂

  • @clifford: jealous!

    @rob: forgot about “streams”. that’s a great one!

  • A Jazz live album I’ve played with ever increasing pleasure for the last 6 years is the magnificent Sonny Rollins concert compilation Road Shows Vol. 1 (Doxy).
    Sadly it’s CD only but the music is spectacular. II thought I’d mention it since many jazz fans and Rollins fans I know have never heard it and I play it as much as any Rollins I LP own.

  • I suppose you all know that the albums “Waltz for Debby” and “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” are both derived from the same 2 days at the Vanguard (June 29 & 30 1961) the latter being the day I was married in Yonkers, and that represented the last time Evans played with Scott Lefaro, who died 6 days later in an auto accident.
    These will always be very special albums for me.

  • Another one to mention is track A3 and both songs on side 2 of Clifford Brown, “The Beginning and the End” on Columbia, from a live show in Philadelphia. Legend is that the live show was the night before he died – not true, that myth was thoroughly debunked by Nick Catalano in his biography of Clifford. The concert was the year before, May of 1955, not June of 1956. Anyway, the sound quality is poor, but Clifford’s playing is spectacular, particularly on “Donna Lee.”

  • Billie Holiday at Storyville (Trio) there is another version but neither are original> I don’t know if there was an Original recording pressed on vinyl. The audio is almost the best I have ever heard even though it is not billie holidays finest hour.

  • Opinions welcome!!
    I ran out of clear poly outer sleeves last night. This got me thinking about the way I store my jazz vinyl. My current method is to place the disc in a Mofi inner sleeve. I then take the disc in the mofi sleeve and store it behind the jacket (both within the clear poly outer sleeve). I’m currently using 3 mil outer sleeves without a resealable flap. Is there a better alternative? any real advantage to the 5 mil sleeves?

  • terry: i like to keep the vinyl in the jacket itself. i know this leads to a risk of splits and such after repeated use, but i try to be very careful. keeping the vinyl outside the jacket keeps me from reading the back! i am a big fan of the sleeves that are open at the top and fit a bit snugly.

  • Terry – I have found no advantage to the 5 mil sleeves. Plus, they seem to get cloudy. They are nice, but the 3 mild do fine for me. I store behind the jackets if the particular jacket is susceptible to ringwear or splitting. If not, in the sleeve.

  • I am very interested in selling my jazz collection Armstrong through Lester Young (The Prez)

    However having a VERY difficult time understanding this site!!!

    How do I get customers and what are the problems with payments from “others”.

    I am an Honest Scotsman, attempting to sell the REAl JAZZ

    CAN YOU HELP ME ????

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *