Show #212: 5 Legendary New York Jazz Concert Albums (1960s–1980s)

When I set out to record this week’s show, my original intent was to showcase several great live concerts that had been captured on wax. But as I was going through the vinyl, it occurred to me that this was very much a tour of New York City’s popular nightspots of the 1960s and early 1980s. I wish I could have been present to history in the making but, alas, we’ll just make our way through these live recordings from Town Hall, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, The Village Gate, and Avery Fisher Hall.

We begin this week’s show with Nina Simone, who was best known for her heartfelt vocals and Bach-like piano filigree. She rarely performed instrumentals, so I was lucky to get my hands on this recording of Nina Simone At Town Hall from September of 1959. Her command of the instrument—not to mention the audience that night—was absolute. The Amazing Nina Simone, which is also included in this set of two early LPs, is a must for any fan of the famous diva.

John Coltrane’s Live at Birdland was recorded at the famous jazz club named for trumpeter Charlie Parker. You can hear from the recording just how intense the performance was, particularly “Afro-Blue,” which we’ll hear a different version of later in our set. I thought I’d feature a beautiful track from this album, though, called “The Promise.”

When it was first released, Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall was issued as “Electronically Re-Channeled for Stereo”—the kiss of death for any recording. After that, a mono version was re-released on Japanese import. But the full force of the 21-piece Gil Evans Orchestra on the night of May 19, 1961 wasn’t fully captured until Sony came along with a reissue that included a second CD.

Mongo Santamaria comes next with a great live version of “Afro-Blue” performed at The Village Gate in 1967. There’s a stunning piccolo solo by Hubert Laws, who was studying at the time with Julius Baker, while gigging at night in Latin clubs around the Big Apple. I have the original LP, Mongo Santamaria Explodes at the Village Gate. “Afro Blue” was originally part of that recording, though it later showed up as a bonus track on Sony’s Greatest Hits reissue.

Our final cut of the week comes to us from the late Jaco Pastorius, who pulled out all the frets from his Fender electric bass and created an entirely new, signature sound. Most of the cuts on this live 2-album set feature his 21-piece band, Word of Mouth, performing a 1982 show at Avery Fisher Hall. NPR’s Jazz Alive recorded the concert, which was produced by Tim Owen and Michael Cuscuna for the Resonance label. Truth, Liberty and Soul is one album that no Jaco fan should be without.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 5/26/27

1. Nina Simone / “Under the Lowest” / Nina Simone at Town Hall / Collectibles
2. John Coltrane / “The Promise” / Live at Birdland / Impulse
3. Miles Davis / “So What (W. Gil Evans 21 Hubert Laws)” / At Carnegie Hall / Columbia
4. Mongo Santamaria / “Afro Blue (Live ft. Hubert Laws)” / Greatest Hits / Sony Music
5. Jaco Pastorius / “Okonkole Y Trompa” / Truth, Liberty & Soul / Resonance

Banner image of Jaco Pastorius by Joan Sorolla