Top 10 Albums of 1953

The 10 Best Albums of 1953

In 1953, Bill Vukovich won the Indianapolis 500, Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the double helix, and Peggy Lee made the best album of the year.

Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee is notable for being the first LP by a female artist to top one of my Best Of lists (aside from Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite in 1945, but that’s a discussion for a different day). Admittedly, however, 1953 was a relatively weak year for music — how else do you explain three Stan Kenton albums in the Top 10?

Still, I shouldn’t take away from Ms. Lee’s (or Mr. Kenton’s) accomplishments. Black Coffee stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the albums on this list … a list which includes two of the greatest live LPs in jazz history, I might add. But when it comes to the 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, don’t expect to find Black Coffee near the top.

Elsewhere, several of the legendary artists of the 1950s are well-represented, which is to be expected. That includes Les Paul, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Max Roach. None of whom released their best material in 1953. Okay okay, maybe Brubeck did, but that’s another discussion for a different day.

All in all, I’m not even sure I’d consider Lee or Kenton to be amongst the “legendary artists” category. Black Coffee is somewhat of an anomaly, and Stan Kenton — despite being featured quite heavily in these lists from 1950-55 — has never been one of my personal favorites. Nevertheless, his career year in 1953 will probably be enough to vault him into the Colin’s Review Hall of Fame. He’s like the George Mikan of avant-garde jazz.

And so, without further ado, here are the 10 best albums of 1953.


10. New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm

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Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

New Concepts of Artistry and Rhythm is the most upbeat and welcoming album in the entire Stan Kenton catalogue. Continue reading…


9. Introducing Paul Bley 

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Artist: Paul Bley

Genre: Bebop

Introducing Paul Bley certainly shows potential. Already, the canuck prodigy was one of the most talented pianists in the world; he only needed to develop his own sense of style. Despite its shortcomings, this is still one of the finest debuts of the year. Continue reading…


8. The Hit Makers!

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Artist: Les Paul & Mary Ford

Genre: Country

The duo’s cover of “How High the Moon” may be their finest recorded moment ever. The rest of the LP is Les Paul & Mary Ford as usual — beyond-perfect vocal melodies backed by unbelievable guitar. An early benefactor of multitrack recording, Ford’s extensive use of doubling gave her voice a dreamy clarity. Meanwhile, hubby Les is able to conjure a one-man jazz band thanks to his innovative layering techniques.


7. Portraits on Standards

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Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Big Band

Portraits on Standards is a sterling example of why Stan Kenton may be a better arranger/conductor than composer. This collection of covers features soft and subtle arrangements, which make the brass climaxes all the more volcanic. This traditional approach is more welcoming than his usual avant-garde cynicism.


6. An Evening with Billie Holiday

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Artist: Billie Holiday

Genre: Vocal Jazz

Only an evening?? As long as the evening includes “Yesterdays” and “Tenderly,” then it’s time well spent.


5. This Modern World

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Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Stan Kenton has always been a Cubist painter using bright Impressionist colors. On This Modern World, he finally embraces cynical abstraction. The music becomes warmer as a result. Imagine that. Continue reading…


4. The Duke Plays Ellington

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Artist: Duke Ellington

Genre: Stride

A critical re-evaluation finds The Duke Plays Ellington as one of the most unique releases of the bandleader’s legendary career. A once-in-a-lifetime record from a once-in-a-lifetime artist. Continue reading…


3. Jazz at Massey Hall

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Artist: The Quintet (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach & Charles Mingus)

 Genre: Bebop

May 15, 1953. Toronto. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach. On that legendary night at Massey Hall, the greatest one-off jazz collective ever assembled gave one of the greatest concerts ever performed. A historical occurrence. Continue reading…


2. Jazz at Oberlin 

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Artist: Dave Brubeck Quartet

Genre: Cool Jazz

Only a select few live albums can truly make you feel like you’re part of the crowd: the Quintet’s aforementioned May 15th performance in Toronto, Duke Ellington’s 7/7/56 set at Newport, Thelonious Monk’s ’58 residency at the Five Spot Café. Just like those legendary concerts, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s night at Oberlin College goes down as one of jazz music’s greatest performances.


1. Black Coffee 

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Artist: Peggy Lee

Genre: Vocal Jazz

Call it the Court and Spark of the early ‘50s; Peggy Lee’s sultry classic remains a go-to favorite for fans of both jazz and pop. Black Coffee alternates between late-night loneliness and late-night horniness, and the arrangements from producer Milt Gabler make for a perfect match. Continue reading…

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