A while back we looked at some of jazz's most notable swan songs, a short but certainly not complete list of the best last recordings of some jazz greats. So, what about some of the best beginnings? Here are five of what I'd consider some of the finest debut albums in jazz. As before, this isn't a definitive list; I may very well crank out a followup later on as I've thought of even more while writing this. But to get the discussion going, here are the first five off the top of my head, in chronological order of original release:
1) Herbie Hancock Takin' Off (1962)
Of the artists spotlighted in this list, none has had a longer and more varied career than Herbie Hancock. He's gone from progressive bop to space fusion to jazz-funk to hip-hop to standards and goes back to straight-ahead jazz whenever the mood strikes him. His current release Possibilities is a pairing with a different vocalist on each track. Forty-five years as a leader, and he is still trying out new formats.
But his first release, out when JFK was president, was a very fine artifact of vintage Blue Note hard bop. Preceding his long stint with Miles Davis by a couple of years, Herbie was already fully formed as a funky but cerebral jazz pianist with a classical background, and as a composer. While the lead-off tune "Watermelon Man" has found its way into many a copybook, the rest of the originals are likewise versatile, interesting, and catchy. The horn section was none other than Dexter Gordon and Freddie Hubbard, two legends at their peaks. Hancock made better records after this one, but frankly, none are more enjoyable to listen to.
2) Joe Henderson Page One (1963)
Speaking of Blue Note, it was only one year later that the record label unveiled another young talent to the jazz world, and like Hancock, he entered the scene with a unique, fully developed technique. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson was never known as a major composer like Herbie, but "Recorda Me" was a worthy addition to the jazz canon and Kenny Dorham's monster tune "Blue Bossa" bows here as well. The strong set of songs are amply supported by Henderson's trademark inside-outside style and bolstered by notable sidemen like Dorham and McCoy Tyner; Page One was a can't-lose proposition that still remains Joe's best out of a widely renowned discography.