Assessing “The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook the World” seems like a tall order, looking back at a multi-faceted music now past its 100th birthday. But the UK’s Jon Newey at Jazzwise magazine’s already tackled the task (with suitable, honorable help) twice before, so the magazine’s book of the above title at least already had momentum on its side. The book, containing 100 titles and further notes on a further fewer (see below) is available at www.jazzwise.com. Newey was kind enough to take some email questions.
Seattle Star: Where were you born and where did you grow up? What are your most crucial memories of youth?
Jon Newey: I was born in Brixton, London, five years after World War II, a land of bomb-sites, ration book austerity and very little recorded music on the nation’s one BBC radio station. Youth for me really started when my dad, a pre-war touring musician with the Band of The Royal Dragoons, bought home 45rpm singles from 1959 onwards, from his job at the Decca Record Company. Mostly American names such as Del Shannon, Chet Atkins. And I got a Shadows LP for passing my senior school entrance exam, aged 11.
Seattle Star: Which music, as a child, excited you the most, and why?
Jon Newey: Prior to The Beatles breaking with “Love Me Do,” in October 1962, I loved instrumental surf music. The Surfaris, Ventures and The Shadows.
I discovered the weekly UK music press in 1963 (“Melody Maker” and the “New Musical Express” or “NME”), and was hooked.
After that it seemed like life was starting to burst out of post-war grey conformity into a technicolour blaze of music, fashion and art, with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds and Bob Dylan, which lead to me discovering Chicago blues and the beat writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc.) and by late 1966, psychedelia and the rise of the counter-culture and the underground press. I also started to get into playing drums and began studying art at college.
Seattle Star: Which jazz music, specifically, persuaded you to devote your life to jazz–which performers, albums, concerts, etc.?
Jon Newey: The road to jazz came from seeing early UK psychedelic rock and blues bands improvising in 1967 and ’68. Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Cream, Ten Years After, Traffic and Jethro Tull, all played long jazz- influenced instrumental pieces. I got early albums by the Grateful Dead and Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, whose UK debut I saw in 1967.
The step from there to John Handy’s Recorded Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival and Charles Lloyd’s Love-In, both of which I bought in 1968, was only a short one. Also, seeing Miles Davis with his Bitches Brew line-up in 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival; [my] first playing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in 1971 when I was a drummer in a blues-rock band, and going there regularly ever since. I last played at Ronnie Scott’s a few years back, as percussionist with Latin-funk jazz band, J-Sonics.
Seattle Star: How did you go about learning to write? Who influenced your writing most, and how?
Jon Newey: After touring and recording from 1971 as a professional drummer and percussionist in rock and funk bands, the onslaught of punk and new wave in the UK from 1976 on meant work got patchy for a lot of players, particularly a percussionist. As a lifelong music press reader, I managed to get a staff job in 1977 on “Sounds” music weekly, launched in 1970 by the former editor of “Melody Maker,” where I covered the music instrument news and reviews pages, and thankfully kept playing.
[Writing] training was on the job, and my first interview was with [drummer] Billy Cobham. I was also asked to write a monthly drum & percussion column for the UK trade titles, “Music Business” and “Music Mart.”
My favourite music writers when I started were Nick Kent (“NME”), Barry Miles (underground press and “NME”), and for jazz, Ralph Gleason (“Rolling Stone”), John Fordham (“Sounds” and “The Guardian”), and Richard Williams (“Melody Maker”). All have had an influence in one way or another and I remain a fan of their work.
Seattle Star: When and how did you start working for Jazzwise? What were your original job responsibilities? How did they grow and change over time?
Jon Newey: After Sounds closed in 1991, I ran Tower Records UK’s monthly magazine TOP, which covered music from rock, jazz and soul to classical and electronica; and wrote the “Jazz Fusion” column. In addition I wrote monthly reviews and features for Jazz On CD, Jazz At Ronnie Scott’s magazine, and Jazz Express. In 1997 I was one of the founding team of writers on Jazzwise, which was launched by jazz educator Charles Alexander as a monthly title, following the closure of [the] Jazz on CD mag.
After editing the Tower Records Guide to Jazz, I took over as Jazzwise editor from January 2000, and relaunched it. My aim was the editorial depth of the best jazz magazines, with the visual punch of the best UK rock monthlies, such as Mojo and Uncut.
I felt strongly that jazz magazines, particularly in the UK, looked rather dull, with poor design and covers, mainly black-and-white photos, and an over-reliance on the past. If ever we were going to get new readers to engage and read more about jazz we had to reach out and excite them, particularly as the scene was hotting up on both sides if the Atlantic.
Thankfully readers and the jazz business liked my ideas. Jazzwise has won Jazz Publication of the Year at The Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2007 and 2010; Jazz Publication at the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Awards in 2007; Best Jazz Media at the Jazz FM Awards in 2013; and Special Award at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2020. I was awarded Jazz Journalist of the year at the Parliamentary Awards in 2006 and 2012.
In 2013 we were acquired by the Mark Allen Group publishing company, and from 2016 I became Editor-in-Chief of Jazzwise, which is now the UK’s only print and digital jazz monthly, and Europe’s only English-language jazz title.
Seattle Star: This marks the third iteration of the list “100 Albums That Shook The World.” How did you and your writers go about picking, and ranking the albums? How has this procedure changed, if at all, over the years?
Jon Newey: I first came up with the idea of a ranked top 100 jazz album chart as a response to reader’s enquiries about best jazz album lists, and also because it had not been done before. I first published the chart as a double-page spread in the Tower Records Guide To Jazz in December 1999, which was also included with that month’s Jazzwise, I based the chart on discussions with fellow Jazzwise writers Keith Shadwick and Stuart Nicholson, both acclaimed jazz book authors.
For our 100th issue of Jazzwise in July 2006, I reassessed the chart with Shadwick and Nicholson, and extended the idea to a 15-page feature with brief editorial by us on each album. My aim was a ranked and annotated chart of the landmark jazz albums that “changed jazz, changed lives and brought the music kicking and screaming into the mid-2000s.”
I was clear it was not a chart of biggest sellers, Grammy winners, writer’s favourite recordings, or most collectable titles, but of the albums that were most influential on the music’s development and direction.
For Jazzwise’s 25th anniversary year, 2022, I expanded the concept into a book. Keith Shadwick has sadly passed, so another of our most experienced writers, Brian Priestley, joined me and Nicholson in the main discussions about re-evaluating the chart as we reflected on new recordings and directions since 2006, with additional input from another of our senior writers and author, Kevin Le Gendre.
We looked at jazz’s prophets and disciples, and questioned whether certain pivotal titles were still influential today, as well as [pondering] albums that have not stood the test of time so well.
As you can imagine, this was a lengthy process of debate and testing distillation, and between us we contributed essays on each album. I wanted to explain the importance of each album and its ongoing influence, as well as discuss the music. It was also important we dug deep to uncover points of interest about each album that weren’t widely known.
I included updated and expanded Jazzwise features, on the making of the top three albums, a feature on collecting new and rare pressings, and the previous Top 100 charts from 1999 and 2006.
Seattle Star: Over the three lists, the top album stayed the same, but other titles fluctuated. Which fluctuations surprised you the most, and how?
Jon Newey: John Coltrane’s hugely influential Giant Steps was an interesting discussion, as it rose up the chart to number two and switched places with A Love Supreme. Its influence is absolutely colossal. Coltrane’s “pattern running” innovations on the title track changed the sound of jazz from 1960 onwards, and have become a foundation technique in jazz education over the past 40 years.
Also, we agreed to include a couple more titles from what’s now being referred to as the “Golden Period of UK Jazz” of the mid-1960s/early 1970s; and more female musicians.
Seattle Star: The CD vs. vinyl debate still rages! Do you have a personal preference, and if so, why?
Jon Newey: I particularly love the compelling presence and warmth of 1950s and 1960s original mono vinyl pressings, from labels such as Blue Note, Columbia and Prestige. You are holding history in your hands and ears. But prices are now so high.
Recent high-quality vinyl reissues such as Blue Note’s Tone Poet series are very good too, often very, very close to the originals. Carefully re-mastered CDs do a great job too, particularly when played up against thin, inferior sounding late 1970s and 80s vinyl.
Seattle Star: Any thoughts on (theoretically) high-fidelity minority mediums, such as SACD, DualDisc, and albums on reel-to-reel tape?
Jon Newey: I love the bigger, more analogue-like warmer sound and extra detail heard on SACDs, but few jazz or rock titles were released and [they] didn’t take off beyond audiophile interest, plus you have to have a SACD player. With the re-introduction of vinyl they have been mostly forgotten about, apart from a very few specialist SACD labels, such as the UK’s Dutton Vocalion, some Japanese imprints, and used copies on eBay and Discogs.
I was playing the SACD of Miles’ In A Silent Way recently, and it just beats every other pressing of this title, the sound is utterly awesome.
Seattle Star: Five albums that I looked for on the list but didn’t find: Shelly Manne’s The Three and The Two (pioneering both free jazz and unorthodox lineups); Herbie Mann’s Live At The Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters (culmination of a large, varied, and rich smaller combo); Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee’s The Newest Sound Around (masterful use of one piano, one voice, and space/silence); The Cry! by the Prince Lasha Quintet featuring Sonny Simmons (lyrical, rich free jazz); and Chet Baker Sings (our trumpeter sings, masterfully, daring other horn players to try the same). Any thoughts on those?
Jon Newey: These are all fine albums for sure, particularly the Prince Lasha Quintet, but so are a number of other titles we simply didn’t have space for, as we had a limit of 100 albums, and, after lengthy debate, felt the titles we chose hit the mark.
I included a page titled “Mentioned in Dispatches” for a further 20 titles which just missed the cut, including Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring, and Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, but you cannot satisfy everybody, otherwise the book would be over a thousand pages long and some would still say, “but where is blah blah, blah album.”
Jazz fans will always have their own very strong opinions, we knew this from the start and welcome it. But hey, the book is doing its job, creating discussion, argument, and compelling readers to check out titles they don’t have, or dig out albums they haven’t played in a while.
Seattle Star: Who, in your opinion, are the four or five jazz top artists shaking the jazz world today, and how?
Jon Newey: Charles Lloyd, still chasing his dream, still making superb imaginative new music (three brand-new trio albums this year alone) and still touring heavily at 84 years old.
Nubya Garcia, leading the way for powerful, young female saxophonists, especially those influenced by Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
Saxophonist/clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings, who leads Sons of Kemet, Shabaka and The Ancestors and the Comet is Coming, a UK-based pioneer of bringing together jazz improvisation with drum ‘n bass, hip-hop, and Afrobeat.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, an outstanding singer with great range and feel who brings the past into the future with imagination, spirit and soul.