My Top Three: Jazz for Rockers

My Top Three: Jazz for Rockers

by J. D. Swerzenski


My name is J.D. Swerzenski, and I am a recovering rock fan. The sad truth is that even after four years as a student DJ at KRTU, my appreciation for jazz was only surface level. Sure, a few tracks here and there grabbed me, but otherwise it was always back to Bowie and the Stooges. I attribute this partially to a poor self-introduction to jazz. In an attempt to figure out what all the fuss was about, I jumped headfirst into the deep waters of Charlie Parker and mid-60's Coltrane, before I learned to doggy-paddle. My attempts to love jazz always sunk.


However, as the new KRTU Operations Manager, my desire to enjoy the music has been re-inspired. Thanks to some great recommendations from fellow KRTU staff and some extensive listening, I've finally come around. Here are the top three records that have helped me sail the open waters of jazz:



Charles Mingus - Ah Um cover 

1. Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (1959):

This was an Aaron Prado recommendation that became the first jazz album I played right alongside my usual Radiohead and Talking Heads records. It's one of those rare albums that manages to be both instantly gratifying and to hold up to repeated listens, simply because it is so melodically strong. Whenever I try to improve someone's attitude toward jazz, this is the record I almost always reach for.









Miles Davis - Tribute to Jack Johnson cover 

2. Miles Davis - Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970):

Considering my rock background, this choice is kind of a no-brainer. This tribute to the 1920s heavyweight champion showcases Miles at his grittiest, grooviest and most powerful. With its driving rock back-beat, funky baseline and riff-heavy guitar work, it is often argued whether or not this is jazz (Miles himself claimed it wasn't). However for me, this record was an essential gateway from rock to jazz. Plus, it led me to the greener, or rather jazzier, pastures of Miles' earlier stuff.








Hank Mobley - Soul Station cover 

3. Hank Mobley - Soul Station (1960):

 After laboring over trying to "get" some of the classic jazz recordings, finding Hank Mobley and Soul Station felt like an incredible relief. It's an effortlessly cool and enjoyable record, perfect for driving with the windows down. It's also one that for me captures straight-ahead jazz at its peak. Through Hank, I also found my way to the catalogues of the rest of Blue Note's '50s and '60s roster, including Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson and Grant Green, all guys I spin all the time now.







Do you have a "top three jazz" you would like to share, be it three songs, three artists, three albums or three of something else jazzy? Send your short list to, attn. Top Three Jazz, with a brief introduction to your selection and a list of your top three with descriptions. Submissions should be no more than 400 words. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number. KRTU reserves the right to reprint, broadcast, edit, and use your submission along with your name.