Thursday, July 29, 2010


29. Henry Mancini

We can't forget that the 20th century was also the century of film. But where would those films be without music?

He started with monster movies in the 1950s, generating the now well-accepted standards of what to do when the creature is approaching, or an ominous development occurs. Working with Blake Edwards he was able to show off his versatility for scores from pop to jazz. Looking back Mancini did a fair bit, better or worse, to bridge the gap between those two.

"Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammys." And 18 Academy Awards. The soundscape of the 1960s would have been very different without him. He helped to ensure that 'incidental' music became 'indispensable'.

Key tracks: Moon River (1962) and The Pink Panther Theme (1963), which were instant classics.

Moon River
The Pink Panther Theme

28. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was the best. The classic years of Wonder's career are to be held up as one of the more impressive musical achievements of the century.

Given that this incredible output was in the middle of one of music's more incredible decades adds to the remarkable nature of the undertaking. Wonder won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973, 74, and 76 (releasing no album in 1975). Before his 'classic' period he already had a series of great hits under his belt. ('Uptight', 'My Cherie Amour', 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' et al.)

Those classic albums, though, are legendary for good reason. Wonder's songwriting and lyricism are superb. His arrangements are inspired. He can jam on a groove for ten minutes, or he can quickly tour through fifteen genres in fifteen tracks. Innervisions, I think, is the best of this lot: and considering that Wonder's songs are personal such an endorsement isn't out of place. If you prefer Talking Book or Songs in the Key of Life that's okay - they're all brilliant.

Key tracks: Superstition (1972) and Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing (1973), which are inescapably groovy.

Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing

27. John Coltrane

Coltrane was at the eye of the storm. He was there when it all went down: and since he was one of the best he got to direct which way it would go.

Three albums give a good picture of Coltrane. Starting with Blue Train you get a picture of an artist who has mastered hard bop. Giant Steps show off his signature 'sheets of sound' and some harmonic dexterity now named after him, 'Coltrane changes'. If that weren't enough (helping to reconcieve one of music's oldest concepts) he then recorded A Love Supreme.

Supreme puts 'Trane in the land of modal jazz (a realm in which there are but two masters). It is also one of the most moving and finest albums to come from the jazz world. Afterwards he continued into the world of free jazz, and thrived there as well.

Key tracks: Blue Train (1957) and Acknowledgement (1965), which display one of the catchiest hooks ever and a supremely beautiful composition.

Blue Train


26. Duke Ellington

Ellington was one of the finest composers of the 20th century, period. Jazz would have been entirely different without his contributions.

Jazz had been dancing music before Ellington. And that's okay. But Ellington approached jazz like a classical composer and elevated it to a new prominence. He wrote voluminously and is the most recorded of all jazz figures. Of all the jazz composers and performers none reflects the special time of the Harlem Renaissance like Ellington.

The Duke made a point of saying that his was 'American Music' - his music wasn't just for a small group of people in New York City. Like Basie he lead his band for fifty years, leaving a collection of studio and live performances that evolve and keep experimenting. He was one of the first to explicitly blend in Spanish and African elements. Picking up on the sounds he encountered travelling he would release an album such as Far East Suite and further expand and broaden his band's musical horizons.

Key tracks: Mood Indigo (1930) and Take the 'A' Train (1941), which shows off an intimate and big band take on two of his most recognized hits.
Mood Indigo
Take the 'A' Train

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