Sam Dunn – 5 Desert Island Album Picks

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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 UK Jazz Guitarist Sam Dunn 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) Milt Jackson & Coleman Hawkins – Bean Bags 1958: When I was 15, my friend’s dad played us this album over dinner one evening. I was an aspiring rock guitarist at that time, and hadn’t paid jazz the slightest bit of attention. My naive and undeveloped musical ears couldn’t understand the sophisticated boppy lines of Milt Jackson and Coleman Hawkins at that time, but the bluesy guitarist with the huge woody tone grabbed my attention and hasn’t let go to this day, more than 25 years later. The guitarist on the album was a young Kenny Burrell, and his playing opened the door for me to a lifelong journey of joyous musical discovery leading to Wes, Grant, Benson, Martino, Barney, Herb, and so many more, which has turned into a career which continues to this day, so thanks Kenny!

2) Charles Lloyd – Voice in the Night: This is one of those albums that I keep coming back to, and a huge part of that draw is the ever inventive, loose and creative guitar magic of John Abercrombie. I’m a huge fan of Abercrombie and find him an always compelling improviser. Other albums that I could mention would be Open Land, November, Sargasso Sea, and his sublime work on Kenny Wheeler’s Music for Large and Small Ensembles.

3) Joe Pass – For Django: I’m a huge JP nut, and have transcribed the entirety of this album, which was a labour of love and taught me a great deal about phrasing bop language on our instrument. His tone on this album is as good as it gets for me, and is probably the reason I favour a 175 for most of my jazz gigs. Joe’s solo playing continues to be a source of inspiration to me, and his relentless drive and command of the instrument have never been surpassed. A quick note on Django! People understandably talk about his left hand injury, but maybe even more remarkable is he was perhaps the first European jazz musician who took equal influence from American jazz as he did from the music of his own culture, long before that was common practice.  

4) Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch – Songs We Know: This is a beautiful album. Not a huge amount happens, but there is just so much vibe! I saw Bill play a solo concert in London a couple of years ago, and it was one of the most rewarding musical experiences of my life. From a Monk tune viewed through a kaleidoscope, played inside out and upside down, into an American cowboy song, then onto Avant Garde chaos, before collapsing into a Gershwin standard. Incredible. I know a few guitarists that don’t get what the fuss is all about, and to them I would suggest approach his music with an open mind; you’re not going to get double time bebop shredding for an hour, but instead, you’ll get taken on a musical journey that will surprise and delight you. There’s some amazing solo gigs available to purchase on his website which I adore. I also love his work with the Paul Motion Trio, and his comping on Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Angel Song’ is a masterclass in making contemporary harmony sound simple. 

5) Bill Evans – Explorations: I could have chosen pretty much any Bill Evans album, but this is the one that I come back to more often than most. One track in particular stands out for me, ‘How Deep is the Ocean?’ Bill’s playing has such rhythmic and harmonic sophistication, yet the blues is never far away from his phrasing. If I could build a time machine and see one band in action, it’d probably be this one.

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