Jazz musicians love to feed off a sympatico crowd. That's why pianist Benny Green is recording a live album with his trio at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, a small club with an electric vibe.
Prompted by Green, I've put together this list, which includes five of my favorite "live" jazz albums. I know, I know. I've left off Ellington at Newport, and Monk at the Five Spot, and Miles in Stockholm and Rollins at the Village Vanguard -- and many others. Still, for me, these are five indispensable albums. Let me know what you think -- and what's on your own list of the best "live" jazz recordings.
1. John Coltrane: "Impressions" (Impulse). Coltrane and the quartet pin you to the wall, then push you through it. When you come out the other side, you brush off the dust, scratch your head and say, "My God, I didn't know this place existed." The title cut and "India" were recorded at N.Y.'s Village Vanguard in 1961.
2. Freddie Hubbard: "The Night of the Cookers, Volume 1" (Blue Note). Brooklyn, 1965: At Club La Marchal, Hubbard and Lee Morgan are crammed onto a tiny bandstand, trying to kill each other with their trumpets. Check out "Pensativa." The recording quality stinks, yet this is one of the most exciting live records, ever. It's ridiculous.
3. Rahsaan Roland Kirk: "Bright Moments" (Atlantic). Rahsaan! There was no one like him: entertainer, avant-gardist, storyteller, comic, virtuoso, one-man band. He was all of it. Recorded at San Francisco's Keystone Korner in 1973, this double-disc includes Kirk's powerfully soulful overhaul of "If I Loved You" (from "Carousel"). I've probably listened to the tune hundreds of times and, I swear, every single time I get the chills and have to fight back tears.
4. Charles Mingus: "Jazz Portraits: Mingus in Wonderland" (United Artists). Late nights in New York, 1959. Recorded at the Nonagon Art Gallery, this record just feels like jazz. My favorite moment on a favorite album: Alto saxophonist John Handy's solo on "Alice's Wonderland" is an exquisite miracle.
5. Jeff "Tain" Watts: "Detained at the Blue Note" (Half Note). This 2004 album captures a high-energy Saturday night with the rumbling drummer and his group. Capping the set is "...Like the Rose," on which alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett sits in and plays a long, sweaty hip-hop jazz solo that leaves the crowd screaming for more. Garrett's solo (famous among young saxophonists) feels like a definitive moment; the saxophonist is climbing up into fresh territory, and -- what luck! -- we're right there with him.