Dr. Conrad’s Rhythm Section Listening Resources

Students: DO NOT set out to listen to every artist and every recording listed here within a short amount of time. Instead, use this guide as a starting point to choose some records to check out. 

Through that process, when you find something you really like, listen to it over and over. NOT as background music — really listen. Sing along. Play along. Listen to the entire track (or album) focusing on just the bass player the whole time. Then listen to it again focusing only on the just drummer. The serious student will learn the tunes on the recording, as well as parts of solos, or even entire solos on the recording. Bass players: I challenge you to transcribe the bass lines played on the head and the walking lines played behind soloists. Compers: I challenge you to transcribe a chorus of comping rhythms and practice using these rhythms in your own comping.

Listening is a great start. Not only is it enjoyable — it is absolutely essential for learning to play jazz. When we are trying to move beyond the stage of simply enjoying/appreciating the music to the level of actually learning how to play it, we must go for depth before breadth. Repeated listening and engaging with the recordings are the ways to learn this music.

Have fun, and get to work!

Mike Conrad

Doctor of Arts in Jazz Studies

Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies & Music Education, University of Northern Iowa

Piano
Guitar
Bass
Drums

Piano

Wynton Kelly

Amazing bouncy swing feel. Great comper. Played with Miles Davis for various engagements between 1957 and 1961, most notably “Freedie Freeloader” on Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time.

Recommend Listening:

Someday My Prince Will Come (Trio Album)

Smokin’ at the Half Note (Live Album with Wes Montgomery)

Oscar Peterson

Incredible technique and virtuosity and a joyous blend of blues and bebop. Made many amazing solo (unaccompanied) recordings and led perhaps the most important jazz piano trio in the “straight ahead” vien.  

Recommend Listening:

We Get Requests (Trio Album)

“C Jam Blues” (Live Video of the Trio in Denmark)

“Give Me The Simple Life” (Solo Piano)

Bill Evans

His trio was known for pioneering a very interactive and free-flowing style that contrasted the more rhythmically driving direction of groups like Oscar Peterson’s trio. Beautiful melodic and harmonic sense with great inventiveness and motivic development in his solos.

Recommend Listening:

Portrait in Jazz (Trio Album)

“Nardis” (Live Trio Recording)

Geri Allen

Wonderful and dynamic female jazz pianist who came up in the Detroit scene. A prolific composer and agile improviser who embraced the avant-garde in a beautiful way.

Recommend Listening:

“Feed The Fire” and “Dig” (Live Video with Lenny White)

“When Kabuya Dances” (solo piano track from her trio album The Printmakers)

“Unconditional Love” (Live Video with Esparanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington)

Guitar

Wes Montgomery

Perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of the twentieth century, building on the tradition that began with Charlie Christian. He famously used the side of his thumb instead of a pick and often broke into octaves in his solos.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Quartet Album)

Smokin’ at the Half Note (Live Album with Wynton Kelly Trio)

Grant Green

A studio musician for Blue Note records with a soulful vocabulary and deeply grooving time feel.

Recommended Listening:

“Solid” (from the album Solid)

“Hip Funk” (from the album Oleo)

Emily Remler

Heavily Influenced by Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, and the like, she began to carve her own path as a phenomenal guitarist and creative improvisor with a strong connection to the roots of the blues. Emily’s career was impressive, but tragically short (about decade long) because of her death at the young age of 32.

Recommended Listening:

“Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” (from the album East to Wes)

“Blues for Herb” (Live Video)

Pat Metheny

A highly influential and intensely melodic guitarist associated with the ECM record label and collaborations with pianist Lyle Mays. His playing and his compositions often blend elements of jazz, rock, brazilian styles, and country influences to create a “modern” straight-8ths sound.

Recommended Listening:

“James” (from the album Offramp)

“Song for Bilbao” (Live Video with Michael Brecker)

The Way Up (extended multi-movement composition)

Bass

Ray Brown

His big sound, excellent time feel, perfect intonation, and deft musicality make him the ideal model for aspiring jazz bassists. Brown got his start with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1945 and went on to record over 60 albums with Oscar Peterson as the regular bassist in that famous trio.

Recommended Listening:

We Get Requests (Trio Album)

“One Bass Hit” (Live Video in 1946 with Dizzy)

Triple Scoop (Trio Album)

Advice and Demonstration Video

Paul Chambers

Known especially for his role in the Miles Davis Quintet in the late 1950s, Chambers was both a great accompanist and an outstanding soloist, sometimes using the bow in his highly technical solos.

Recommended Listening:

Whims of Chambers (Album)

Workin,’ Cookin,’ Steamin,’ Relaxin,’ (Four Albums with the Miles Davis Quintet)

Esperanza Spalding

A trailblazing and Grammy-winning bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer. Incredibly talented, creative, and vibrant.

Recommended Listening:

Chamber Music Society (Album)

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Live Video at the Obama White House)

“Unconditional Love” (Live Video with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington)

Larry Grenadier 

Easily one of the top modern bassists. Has played in Brad Mehldau’s trio for over 25 years. His beautiful sound and versatility make him at home in a wide variety of jazz styles. 

Recommended Listening:

Art of the Trio, Vol. 1 (Trio Album)

Live Video with Fly Trio (Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard)

Drums

Philly Joe Jones

Fiery bebop drummer who played in the Miles Davis Quintet during the 1950s (Miles’s favorite drummer). He was called “Philly” Joe Jones because he was from Philadelphia, but also to distinguish him from “Papa” Jo Jones of Count Basie’s band. His comping and solo vocabulary is widely studied and imitated — for good reason!

Recommended Listening:

Philly Joe’s Beat (Album)

Workin,’ Cookin,’ Steamin,’ Relaxin,’ (Four Albums with the Miles Davis Quintet)

Mel Lewis

Co-leader of the great Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (known these days as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). A master at supporting an ensemble in a way that is somehow simultaneously driving yet relaxed/loose. Check out his brushes playing!

Recommended Listening:

Mean What You Say (Quintet Album)

Central Park North (Big Band Album)

“Don’t Git Sassy” (Live Big Band Video)

Brian Blade

Incredible dynamics! A sensitive musician with a wonderful sense of phrasing. Equally comfortable with free, out-of-time ballads and energetic, deeply-swinging grooves. Known for his tenure in Wayne Shorter’s modern quartet, Joshua Redman’s groups, and for his own projects as a leader.

Recommended Listening:

Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard (Live Album with Joshua Redman)

“Jazz Crimes” (Live Video)

Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ICJUFOJa2g

Part 2 (drum solo) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VdtC9WhnCg

Footprints Live! (Live Album with Wayne Shorter)

Live Video – Brain Blade and the Fellowship Band

Terri Lyne Carrington

A fearless and powerful drummer who has played with legends like Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, and Wayne Shorter, and is now on the cutting edge of jazz with some genre-bending, socially-conscious projects.

Recommended Listening:

“Money Jungle” (Live Video)

The Mosaic Project (Album)

“Unconditional Love” (Live Video with Esperanza Spalding and Geri Allen)

Published by Dennis Green

Middle-aged public radio manager, occasional writer and stage performer. You can find me at the Washington H.S. pool many mornings at 5:30am.

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