Best of 1956: #20 – 11

20. Boss of the Blues

The Boss of the Blues

Artist: Big Joe Turner

Genre: Rhythm & Blues

Big Joe Turner succeeded in kickstarting the popularity of rhythm & blues, and therefore set forth the course of rock ‘n’ roll history. This live recording — the final reunion between Turner and longtime pianist Pete Johnson — is a highlight of Big Joe’s influential career. Continue reading…


19. Lonely Girl 

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Artist: Julie London

Genre: Vocal Jazz

On Lonely Girl, Julie London’s only accompaniment is an acoustic guitar played by Al Viola. It’s all she needs. A remarkable change of pace from her star-making debut, this quiet and cozy follow-up is one of the more underrated and understated artifacts from the golden age of female vocal jazz.


18. The Jazz Giants ’56 

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Artist: Lester Young

Genre: Bebop

1956 was somewhat of a comeback year for Lester Young. A successful European tour, combined with the release of the popular Jazz Giants LP, seemed to rejuvenate his failing health. This is one of Pres’ best and most relaxing efforts. Like usual, he makes it sound easy. This is perfect, old-school bebop.


17. Sonny Rollins Plus 4 

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Artist: Sonny Rollins

Genre: Hard Bop

Rollins was comfortable in any lineup, able to carry the load and share the spotlight like a true team player. He trades dazzling solo lead-offs with Clifford Brown on Sonny Rollins Plus 4, a dazzling display of virtuosity.


16. The Unique Thelonious Monk 

The Unique Thelonious Monk

Artist: Thelonious Monk

Genre: Hard Bop

Thelonious Monk is worth a lot more than a three-cent stamp. Even though his signature epistrophy isn’t on full display, The Unique Thelonious Monk still dazzles with striding virtuosity. Yet it’s the accessibility that really makes the album unique. Continue reading…


15. Ella and Louis 

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Artist: Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Genre: Vocal Jazz

Two of the most legendary jazz singers of all time finally team up on record for a fun and fiery set. Not to mention fascinating. The LP is full of popular standards (chief among them “Moonlight in Vermont,” “April in Paris” and “Stars Fell on Alabama”), but the real pleasure is just basking in the magnetic stage presence that these two legendary performers bring. A dream pairing.


14. Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues

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Artist: Odetta

Genre: Folk

Odetta’s folk songs reach new heights of emotion and craft. Her second LP, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, is her best and also most influential. Effortlessly sliding between blues and gospel, Odetta ushered in the Civil Rights Era thanks to her adventurous, revolutionary, operatic, salt-of-the-earth voice.


13. Lady Sings the Blues

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Artist: Billie Holiday

Genre: Vocal Jazz

After two lackluster LPs (Music for Torching and Velvet Mood), late-period Holiday got back on track with one of the most moving albums of her career. Sterling renditions of “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit” and, of course, the title track make Lady Sings the Blues one of Lady Day’s great masterpieces.


12. Blue Serge 

Blue Serge

Artist: Serge Chaloff

Genre: Hard Bop

Even though Serge Chaloff was only 32-years-old when he recorded Blue Serge, the erratic baritone saxophonist was already close to the death. Within a year, spinal cancer would leave him paralyzed from the waist down. He’d be dead by next spring. Blue Serge is his last testament. Thanks to its enduring greatness, he is able to live forever.


11. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook 

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Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Genre: Swing

Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Anything Goes” is one of the catchiest songs of the decade, combining an all-time vocal performance with some of the wittiest lyrics ever written. This is a very long LP, and Fitzgerald’s ability to keep things lively for two hours and eight sides of vinyl is, quite honestly, one of the most outstanding achievements in modern musical history.

#25 – 21 | #20 – 11Top 10