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by Seth Colter Walls

April 25, 2014

Jazz 101: Pop Meets Swing

by Seth Colter Walls  |  April 25, 2014

Jazz history is massive enough at this point to be a touch intimidating. With so many box sets and so many compilations to choose from, where to start? We've got you covered, era by era, with our Jazz 101 series, which you can follow here. Each daily playlist offers up five-star performances, and tips you off to albums with plenty more gold left to explore after the intro course is over. Enjoy.

Ever since Louis Armstrong crossed over thanks to his singing abilities, pop vocalists had looked to jazz as a source for inspiration and energy. (And a few other artists who started out as jazz instrumentalists -- like Nat King Cole -- would find their fortunes with vocals, too.) By the 1950s, when the likes of such erstwhile teen idols as Frank Sinatra had to compete with newfangled rock groups, they ditched the syrupy string sections and partnered up with big bands they'd always admired, the better to get a little momentum.

Sinatra was not an improviser of consequence, but his feel for rhythm and articulation earned the respect of Basie and Ellington, both of whom recorded albums with The Voice. (Duke's band also issued a memorable studio LP with Rosemary Clooney.) Meantime, Nina Simone was dropping Bach references in her early piano playing, and Sassy -- better known as Sarah Vaughan -- cut a classic jazz-vocals album with trumpeter Clifford Brown. Satchmo continued to send love letters to the pop world, particularly with his famous take on "Mack the Knife." Catch all of the cues mid-century pop was taking from jazz in the appended playlist.

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