Friday, September 10, 2010

My Top 15 Favorite Female Music Artists

Once again this list is not a "greatest of all time" list but my personal favorites. So you won't see Joni Mitchell, or Madonna, or Patti Smith. And no I don't have Whitney, Mariah, or Christina Aguilera on my list either. I do like Tina Turner, Grace Slick, and Debbie Harry but no, not on the list. But I did struggle over leaving Debbie Gibson off of my list, because Electric Youth is such a masterpiece of creativity....especially the video. Here's my list:

15. Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)

Singer, songwriter, bassist and sometime guitarist for the modern post-punk equivalent of The Velvet Underground, New York's Sonic Youth. Kim along with husband and guitarist Thurston Moore is the voice of the group. She's got grit, she's got style.

14. Patsy Cline

Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette are great in their own right, but Patsy was always my favorite of the country divas. Her style was simple but beautiful and many of her songs have stood the test of time, like Crazy and I Go Walking.

13. Billie Holliday

Lady Day did not have the range of other jazz vocalists but a silky smooth style that set her apart. She also had an unmistakable image with the white carnation in her hair.

12. Lauryn Hill

I consider Lauryn the most talented female hip-hop artist of them all. Her writing and vocal skills are the best. I don't know what happened to her but when she was with The Fugees and made her solo debut nobody was better to me. The last I saw of her was a live acoustic set that blew me away. Turns out she can play a guitar as well.

11. Norah Jones

Norah is my wife's favorite. I have endured the same CD, Norah's debut Come Away With Me, over and over to the point of disdain. But fortunately, I like her work and have huge admiration for her ability to incorporate different genres and styles into her trademark sound. She is obviously very talented as a songwriter and musician.

10. Dolores O'Riordan (The Cranberries)

I don't know if she's still recording, and I didn't notice anything special from her last solo work but when Dolores was writing and recording songs with The Cranberries, particlarly the first three albums, she was the best. I thought of her like a female Bono, since she is Irish and the singer-songwriter of the group. Her vocals are perfectly melodic and piercing on the heavier tracks. C'mon, haven't we all tried to imitate that high lilt on Zombie?

9. Etta James

The Queen of the Blues, with a vocal as raw and powerful as a steam engine.

8. Ingrid Michaelson

She is new on the scene and I don't even know most of her work, but what I have heard is some amazing songwriting. She has a knack for lyrics and creating harmonies that many other artists could learn from in my opinion. Die Alone is such a good song it never gets old.

7. Aretha Franklin

What can I say about the Queen of Soul that hasn't already been said? She might have the most powerful voice any woman ever had. Her gospel work is sometimes overlooked but just as awe-inspiring.

6. Feist

I got to see her in concert, and even though she's a dork, her musical ability and songwriting are awesome. She has such a pretty voice and knows how to craft a catchy tune like few around today.

5. Sarah Vaughan

I have already written about Sarah on my jazz list, but I will say that it might seem unfair to include jazz vocalists on a list with singer-songwriters and musicians. But I can't help it with a voice like Sarah's. She should be on any list of female talent.

4. Emily Haines (Metric, Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton)

I was fortunate enough to see Metric live a few years ago. I love her voice and her songwriting.

3. Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond)

Shara might be the most talented female artist around today. Her operatic vocals are beyond any female singer I've heard. I got to see My Brightest Diamond live also, and even thought they were the opener with an abbreviated set, Shara still put on an incredible show.

2. Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss is an angel on Earth. I've said many times jokingly, that if I weren't married I'd be an Alison Krauss stalker. Who am I kidding, though, she'd want to marry a guy like me any day! But seriously, I have enjoyed her voice and musical ability for years and finally saw her live at Red Rocks with Robert Plant. I'm a Led Zeppelin fan, but I have to say I was only interested in seeing Alison perform. She's my favorite living female artist.

1. Ella Fitzgerald

As previously stated, Ella is my favorite female artist in any genre of music. I know she didn't play an instrument or write any songs but she recorded every standard in the Great American Songbook at least once. Her voice was sonically perfect. Like Nat King Cole, she sang every syllable with perfect diction. She hits every note with no noticeable effort and had the range of an opera singer. Her intonation has been described as "flawless" and "God-like". Her work with Louis Armstrong is my favorite.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Favorite Jazz Artists

(Joe Biden was voted "most expendable sidekick")

I love Jazz and have built a respectable collection of music over the years. I'm not in the same league as any jazz aficionodo probably because I like so many other genres of music so much. But I often get on a jazz "kick" and add to my music collection. Here is a list of my favorite jazz artists. You will notice that nearly all of them come from the same era and style. I particulary like traditional jazz from the bebop era. I am not as much into swing, although I do enjoy it too, and I have very little fusion or modern jazz. That's why you don't see names like Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, or Pat Metheny on this list. One day I will probably delve deeper into that arena of music. Although I do have a little post bop in my collection like Ornette Coleman and McCoy Tyner. I also include my favorite vocalists on this list.

And for the record this is not necessarily a list of the greatest jazz artists of all time, but would closely assimilate such a list.

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah had remarkable range for a jazz singer. She could sing low and sultry and then raise the roof with her high notes. She is very close to being my favorite vocalist but that honor goes to another jazzy lady.

Stan Getz

Of the Cool Jazz artists Stan is probably my favorite. I particularly love his greatest work, the bossa nova breakthrough album Getz/Gilberto. Every note is pitch perfect to me.

Bill Evans

Evans is quite possibly the greatest genius of jazz piano. I know that's saying a lot when you consider guys like Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Thelonious Monk. But of all jazz pianists Miles Davis wanted Bill to play for him. Miles once said Bill's playing sounded like waterfalls. His style is unmistakeably beautiful.

Art Blakey

Usually when the greatest jazz drummers are discussed you will hear names like Max Roach, Buddy Rich, or Gene Krupa. But my favorite is Art Blakey, not just for his work with the sticks but as a band leader for The Jazz Messengers. A Night in Tunisia and Moanin' are some of the best jazz albums of all time.

Wes Montgomery

Like the drummer argument, many will argue over jazz's greatest guitarist, and there are many. I am a Django Rheinhardt fan, I like Kenny Burrell and George Benson. John Scofield is obviously great too. But Wes is the king in my opinion. Willow Weep For Me is one of my favorite albums and I also love it when Wes plays with Jimmy Smith.

Charles Mingus

Other than Duke Ellington himself, I believe Charlie is jazz's greatest composer and bandleader. Some of his hard bop creations sound cutting edge even today. He was an innovator in music and in coolness.

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was an underrated trumpet player who backed up Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane and was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers before making a solo masterpiece, The Sidewinder. His style and songwriting were fantastic.

John Coletrane

What can be said about Coltrane that hasn't already been said? He basically took the foundations of jazz saxophone laid down by Charlie Parker and other early bebop pioneers and forged into new realms of music. His dissonant style is difficult to appreciate in parts of his career but he never shied away from expressing himself. Every jazz lover should own Giant Steps, Blue Train and A Love Supreme. I would also recommend Crescent.

Charlie Parker

"Bird" has been called a musical genius. Some even say that after Louis Armstrong he is the greatest jazz innovator who ever lived. It is hard to say when you consider the impact Miles Davis had in music history, but without a doubt Charlie stands alone among saxophone innovators. His effortless style of play is so unique, I imagine many other proficient players were jealous of his ability. Unfortunately he died far too young and his body of work is very sparse compared to Coletrane and others.

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball is the "Happy Coltrane". His melodies are less dissonant and sonically perfect. What makes Miles Davis' Kind of Blue such a great listen is the back and forth saxophone duet between Cannonball and Coltrane. But Cannonball has many solo efforts worth paying attention to as well, particularly Somethin' Else which I've listened to so many times I hear it in my sleep.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood

So here they are, the only modern jazz, fusion type artists on my list. Although the trio has done plenty of traditional styles with a modern twist. The live album Tonic is my favorite but I enjoy all of their stuff.

Louis Armstrong

"Satchmo" is the king of jazz and arguably the single most important musical figure of the 20th century. I have to admit I rarely listen to any of his early groundbreaking work like The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens but I love his duets with Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella is my favorite female singer in any genre of music. Her voice is like velvet and glides over the notes so gracefully it seems like she isn't even trying. There was even some discussion before my youngest daughter was born about naming her Ella!

Mile Davis

Although the title "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" has been taken by James Brown, I think it aptly applies to Miles Davis who never stopped working and inventing. He is responsible for pioneering four types of jazz music: Bebop, Cool, Modal, and Fusion. And he created what many consider the greatest jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. I have several Davis albums on CD and yet I've barely scratched the surface of his massive catalogue.

Duke Ellington

Duke is probably my favorite jazz artist. He is without a doubt the best composer and band leader of them all. His live album Live at Newport 1956 shows how electrifying his performances could be. Every time he tried to end the show the crowd grew close to rioting. And in the midst of the hysteria Duke uttered his trademark valediction "We do love you madly." First class all the way.

There are dozens of great jazz artists that I also love who didn't make this list. Some others I enjoy are Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Billie Holliday, Count Basie, Lester Young, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, and Dave Brubeck.