New to jazz? Try out these classic Chicago albums

Sam Fleming, Chicago Life Editor

“Soul Vibrations of a Man”

Sun Ra & His Arkestra

Recorded: 1977

Venue: Jazz Showcase

Sun Ra has always always explored a weirder and more experimental side of jazz. This album was recorded toward the latter, more prolific end of his career, when he was almost moving past jazz and into experimental soundscapes. “The Soul Vibrations of a Man,” recorded at the Jazz Showcase lounge downtown, barely hangs on to its jazz roots, cycling through stretches of classical flute solos, drumming, blasting saxophone solos and soul music. This album shows the experimental side of the Chicago jazz scene, and shows how accepting Chicago jazz clubs were of this experimentation.


“But Not For Me”

Ahmad Jamal

Recorded: Jan. 16, 1958

Venue: Pershing Hotel

Ahmad Jamal set the standard for piano jazz, and “At the Pershing but not for me,” recorded in Chicago at the Pershing hotel, is his magnum opus. “At the Pershing” is a great introduction for anybody looking for a relaxed introduction to early jazz music in Chicago. Jamal’s minimalist style went on to inspire jazz legends like Miles Davis, who said “ When people say Jamal influenced me a lot, they’re right.” “At the Pershing” was one of the first true jazz blockbusters, selling over a million copies and ensuring Jamal a place in the genre’s history. This is an tight album that shows Jamal’s incredible range and ability to craft melody.


“Live at the Bee Hive”

Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Recorded: Nov. 7, 1955

Venue: Bee Hive Lounge

One of the best jazz clubs in the city, the Bee Hive lounge, was located in the heart of Hyde Park at 1503 East 55th Street. Many famous artists walked through its doors including Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Charlie Parker. On this album, “Live at the Bee Hive,” jazz giants Clifford Brown and Max Roach deliver a long and intense performance, not for the faint of heart. This is not an introductory jazz album, but it gives an incredible feel for what being in a Chicago jazz club in the 1950s was like. With wild solos and an engaged crowd, this album takes the listener for a ride.


“Live at the Plugged Nickel”

Miles Davis

Recorded: Dec. 22, 1965

Venue: Plugged Nickel

The story surrounding this legendary Miles Davis performance is that on the plane ride to Chicago, the Davis Quintet drummer challenged the band to play anti-jazz. For the next two days, the band would perform seven times, radically altering their style each time. This album is a great introduction to the experimentation that Miles Davis was prone to, and gives a great window into what made him such an incredibly influential musician. Although the entire album is over seven hours, the hourlong “Live at the Plugged Nickel” Highlights gives just as good a picture of Davis’ genius.