John Stein – 5 Desert Island Album Picks

Regardless if you’re a beginning student of Jazz Guitar or an established player, we all have at least five albums that we cannot be without! With that said, Jazz Guitar Life has asked Jazz Guitarist John Stein what his five would be (assuming that he knew before hand that he was going to be stuck on a desert island and that said island had electricity and a full component stereo system) 🙂

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1) Getz/Gilberto: I discovered this music when I was a teenager. It was one of the records my family got when we purchased our first hi-fi set. The music on this album introduced Brazilian Bossa Nova to a North American (and worldwide) audience. Stan Getz is the perfect jazz interpreter of Brazilian samba-styled music with his beautiful tone and melodic phrasing. Joao Gilberto essentially invented Bossa Nova vocal and guitar style. The compositions, as well as the piano playing, are by Tom Jobim, who is arguably the most significant song composer in the second half of the 20th century. Every tune on the recording is now a standard. Astrud Gilberto, Joao’s wife at the time, was enlisted to sing a couple of songs because she could do so in English, which jump started her huge career.

2) The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery: It’s difficult to choose a single Wes recording. There are a few of his recordings vying for my top spot (Full House, Smokin’ at the Half Note, collaborations with Jimmy Smith, etc.) but when push comes to shove, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is just that – incredible! Every tune is filled to the brim with Wes’ unique, melodic approach to playing jazz. He’s got line chops, octave chops, chord chops. He’s got tone. He’s got warmth. He’s got tons of rhythmic variety and he’s locked into the grooves. His sidemen play beautifully. The album features iconic versions of standard and jazz standard tunes, and several of Wes’ own compositions that have since become jazz standards.

3) Night Lights: I’m surprising myself by including this recording on such a short list, but quite a number of years ago I put this disk into the 6-CD Changer in my car and it’s still there. I’ve now listened to it hundreds of times, on all kinds of car trips, and it has become my “go-to” recording on the way to gigs in my car. Why? Because the musicians on this recording are so melodic, their phrasing is awesome, they breathe in all the right places to make the melodies shine. I don’t think there’s a wasted or unnecessary note on the entire recording. The mellow beauty of this recording helps to put me in the right frame of mind before I play my own gig. I also love listening to one of my greatest musical heroes, Jim Hall, function as a modest sideman for the three fabulous horn players. Jim takes a few solos, and they are great, but mostly he adds color with his sophisticated and tasteful voicings while the horn players spin melodies.

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4) Jim Hall Live!: Jim’s another musician for whom it is extremely difficult for me to pick a top album. I love so much of Jim’s work and he had a huge career collaborating with numerous musical giants: Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond, Art Farmer, Red Mitchell, Ron Carter, and many others! This particular recording comes from a period when Jim was really at the top of his game musically. He had already worked as a featured sideman for many years and was finally getting a chance to present himself regularly as a leader. The Canadians Don Thompson and Terry Clarke became his working band during those years. They are exceptional musicians and these three guys took the jazz guitar trio context to a special place – full of individual excellence, group dynamics, and interactive sensitivity. The music on this release was recorded live in a Toronto club by bassist Thompson. He did a wonderful job capturing the music, while contributing to it as a player. In fact, he recorded the entire multi-night residency at the club, and the rest of the music is available from ArtistShare on the internet. It is titled Live! Volumes 2 – 4 (3 CDs). Many hours of listening to Jim, Don, and Terry playing tunes together – Wow!

5) Midnight Blue: Another of my musical fathers for whom it’s difficult to pick one album (Kenny has a huge discography and played with all the great musicians of his era). I’m going with this recording because it’s so iconic – bluesy, swinging, soulful – it’s simply awesome. Kenny loves the blues and features them, with his unique and elegant taste, his gorgeous tone, and his abundant chordal and line chops. Kenny composed most of the very effective tunes on Midnight Blue. The sidemen are perfect for the repertoire and they achieve a deep groove on every tune.

Footnote: Apologies to all the wonderful musicians who didn’t quite make it to this list. Reducing a lifetime of serious listening to 5 recordings is not really possible. There’s no way to do it without omitting many musicians I would love to honor, and no way to do it without omitting boatloads of inspirational music.

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