Best of 1956: #20 – 11

20. Boss of the Blues (Big Joe Turner)

The Boss of the Blues

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 and longtime pianist Pete Johnson — is a highlight of Big Joe’s influential career.” (<<<LINK>>>)

19. Lonely Girl (Julie London)

Lonely Girl.jpg

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 (Lester Young)

The Jazz Giants 56.jpg

Genre: Bebop

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

17. Sonny Rollins Plus 4 (Sonny Rollins)


Genre: Hard Bop

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

16. The Unique Thelonious Monk (Thelonious Monk)

The Unique Thelonious Monk

Genre: Hard Bop

“Thelonious Monk is worth a lot more than a three-cent stamp…While his overall epistrophy may not be on full display, he still dazzles with striding virtuosity. But it’s the accessibility that really makes the album unique.” (<<<LINK>>>)

15. Ella and Louis (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong)

Ella and Louis.jpg

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 together. A dream pairing.

14. Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (Odetta)

Odetta Sings ballads and blues.jpg

Genre: Folk

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

13. Lady Sings the Blues (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 (Serge Chaloff)

Blue Serge

Genre: Hard Bop

“The erratic baritone saxophonist was only 32-years-old when he recorded Blue Serge, but he 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 the last testament of a great Boston jazzman. Due to its enduring greatness, he is able to live forever.

11. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (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 by the legendary Cole Porter. 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.

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