The First Five: One Man's Introduction To Jazz At the record store, Tom Cole spent most of his time warding off scornful looks as he toted Mothers of Invention LPs around. One day, he decided he needed to learn about jazz. A clerk at Discount Records and Books in Washington, D.C., suggested these five records. No standards; just his absolute favorites.

Hear Tom Cole's Interview With Michel Martin

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we learn how to love jazz, if we don't already. And we hear sounds from last weekend's Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's the largest Powwow in North America.

But first, today, TELL ME MORE turns two, and joining me now is Teshima Walker, the show's senior supervising producer, with a message.

TESHIMA WALKER: Happy anniversary, Michel, to you and our team. Listeners, we're always grateful for your daily comments on the TELL ME MORE blog, and we really do listen to your ideas and suggestions. I want you to tell us more about our international coverage.

Recently, we've told you about Canada's first black governor general. We've given you election results out of South Africa. And just today, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin sat in our studios to talk about the Taliban's growing influence in Pakistan.

Now remember, we only have an hour a day, but where in the world would you like for Michel to take you next for news about politics, society and culture? We want to hear from you. Visit us at, click on TELL ME MORE, and leave a message on our blog. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That's 202-842-3522. And remember, leave your name. Back to you, Michel.

MARTIN: Thank you, Shima. If you've been tuning in, then you know we've been celebrating National Poetry Month throughout April by bringing you a number of diverse voices, but April is also Jazz Appreciation Month.

Often called America's classical music or the only true American art form, jazz today is a music that could probably use a little more appreciation. In the 1930s and '40s, when swing was king, jazz was popular on the radio and the dance floor. As jazz became more about listening than dancing, the audience shrunk, and now some jazz fans worry that the music they love is being pushed to the margins of the musical world.

But jazz fans are a passionate bunch, and they can often tell you exactly how they got that way. So we decided to ask NPR's Tom Cole. He's written a post for NPR's weekly online music series, Take Five, about the five jazz records that made him a fan. Tom, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

TOM COLE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So how did you get into jazz?

COLE: Well, I was mostly into rock and roll and blues, acoustic blues, and there was a particular record store here in Washington, where I grew up, that I would go to. And one day I just decided to ask the jazz buyer to educate me. And so that's how I got started. His name was Thomas Paul. Everybody called him TP, and...

MARTIN: He took to his task.

COLE: He did.

MARTIN: Did he have kind of a set curriculum, as it were, to introduce people? Or did he just size you up and think this is what this guy would like?

COLE: I think it was more the latter. It was definitely not what you would call a sort of standard jazz primer - no New Orleans jazz, no Louis Armstrong, no Duke Ellington. He picked five records that I think meant something to him and that he thought I might like.

MARTIN: Well, let's start with this one. Okay, "Bird and Diz," Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

COLE: That was a record that dates from around about 1950. And from someone who was listening to rock 'n' roll and blues, the speed of it and the intensity of it just knocked me out. I mean, the first tune on the record is "Bloomdido," but the tune that I picked for us to hear is "Relaxing with Lee," which is a little bit of a slower tune, but right off the top you can hear that distinctive Charlie Parker alto saxophone sound. It's just - whenever I hear him, and I think, you know, a lot of jazz fans, you can just immediately say that's Bird.


MARTIN: What else do you like about it?

COLE: The voice. He's talking to you. I mean, it's just, you can hear right in the beginning, just the short phrases.


COLE: And it really is like a human voice speaking through an instrument.


MARTIN: Okay, what's number two on your hit parade?

COLE: In no particular order, the second one that TP gave me was a recording by Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. Eric Dolphy, another great alto saxophonist. And again, with him you can sort of hear that voice coming through the instrument. He's playing the same instrument as Charlie Parker, alto saxophone, and yet you can just hear him sort of speak. It's a very distinctive sound.

It's - he sounded like no one else. Obviously influenced by Charlie Parker, but at the same time taking it way further. And just the stories that I remember about, you know, reading about them as I got more and more into it. Eric Dolphy was the kind of guy where, you know, at a party of musicians and fans or whatever, he'd always be the one over by the record player, listening and changing the records.


MARTIN: That's good. Well let's play it. What are you going to play for us? What have you chosen to hear?

COLE: The tune is "Fire Waltz," it's the first tune on the record. This was recorded live at the Five Spot in New York in 1961. Hear a little bit of crowd ambiance to start things off and then, you know, Dolphy and Booker Little start right out playing the theme, then Dolphy takes the first solo.

MARTIN: All right, here it is.


MARTIN: And once again, that's from "Live at the Five Spot Vol. I." I love the coughing at the beginning.


MARTIN: I don't know why I love that so much.

COLE: And then you hear one of them, I think maybe it's Dolphy saying, you know, all right now Waldron. And so you hear Waldron sort of start out. He was the pianist on the record.

MARTIN: The next album "Two Hours with Thelonious." That's a name that a lot of people will know.

COLE: This was a two LP set. This was back in the days when there were LPs. Two LP set of compilations of live recordings that Thelonious Monk did in Europe. I think it was - yeah, it was on his first trip to Europe. And with a classic quartet that included saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who I would like to say was born right here in Washington, D.C.

And "Two Hours With Thelonious," the one that I picked for the Web site was "Epistrophy." And the reason that I picked it, just in listening to it, is the way Charlie Rouse comes in on the saxophone and sort of - again, his voice, it's a different voice from Parker's or Dolphy's, but then you sort of hear the group kind of lock in. John Ore playing bass and Frankie Dunlop playing drums and then Rouse starts to play with the time a little bit, and he's not like right on the beat. And then you listen to Monk and he sort of behind him doing these funny little things.


COLE: And the thing that grabbed me about these particular things, not so much the virtuosity or the speed or anything because, you know, with Monk's music it's always very angular. It's - a lot of it is about the composition - was sort of cohesion of the group.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm visiting with NPR's Tom Cole. He's talking about the five records that got him into jazz. And then we have "Better Git It in Your Soul." That's just fun to say.


MARTIN: What did you like about this?

COLE: So this was - he, Mingus quickly became one of my favorites and I think this is probably...

MARTIN: That would be Charles Mingus or Charlie Mingus as most people...

COLE: Charles Mingus.

MARTIN: Charles Mingus.

COLE: Is what he preferred to be called.

MARTIN: Is what he preferred to be called.

COLE: He was very particular. He was an interesting man. He could be, as I understand it, difficult to work with, but just a brilliant composer. And some people will say he was coming right out of Ellington and carrying the whole compositional aspect of jazz to the next level. And the tune that I picked "Better Git It in Your Soul" starts out with Mingus playing the bass, very rhythmic, very you know, something just immediately catches you and draws you in. And then the ensemble comes in with John Handy playing alto saxophone, Booker Ervin tenor saxophone, Jimmy Knepper trombone, and it just moves.


MARTIN: You also wrote in your piece that the liner notes are great, interviews with the players - Mingus is - Mr. Mingus, Mr. Charles Mingus - his funny/sad back story plus you can actually read them without a magnifying glass on the big gatefold double LP.


MARTIN: That's always a plus.

COLE: Oh, definitely.

MARTIN: And you said also that the title tune kicks off and still comes into your head even if you haven't listened to it in a while.

COLE: Oh sure. Sometimes that parram rum pum, param param pum - I mean, yeah, I hear that. The other great thing about that is you hear Mingus in the background going on, oh yeah, and if you listen carefully you can hear him sort of like reciting the title "Better Git It in Your Soul."

MARTIN: And what's your final album? Your final, final one.

COLE: Embarrassingly, I couldn't remember the fifth record but I picked one that I think might have been among them.


COLE: He - it's one that I know I bought at Discount Records, this record store that I would go to. And it's the Art Ensemble of Chicago "Les Stances A Sophie." It means Stanzas for Sophie or Stanzas to Sophie. Again this opens with Malachi Favors driving bass and just a solid rhythm. And I think, you know, maybe TP knew that I was a rock and roller and, you know, was all about rhythm and punch. And there it is, Don Moye's drums. It's just a great record.


MARTIN: That was from "Les Stances A Sophie." Is there something, Tom, that you think links all of these albums?

COLE: I think in some senses it's the intensity of them, the emotional intensity which, you know, even for a non-jazz listener caught my ear in the early 1970s, someone who was used to listening to rock and roll or blues. There is something there that if you give yourself to it, if you just sort of like sit down and listen, you can connect to. And it connected with me, the honesty, the intensity, the emotion, the human aspect of it, the way the musicians are in some senses sort of speaking directly to you.

MARTIN: You know, I notice you know a lot about these guys, and I have to say that is one of the things that intimidates me about jazz. It's almost like baseball. I mean, I can just go to a game and watch the game but baseball fans know so much about it sometimes I kind of feel like a little intimidated.

COLE: You know you shouldn't and you're exactly right. It is just like baseball. People know who played with whom, when, you know, and then when they went to another team and all of that stuff. It should just be about the music. I guess because it's part of the indoctrination that you do sort of, you know, once you start to fall into the scene, then everybody talks about who played with who when, but then all of that stuff should just go to the side and you should just listen and hear what you can and don't worry about the rest.

MARTIN: Okay, so finally, Tom, do you think we need Jazz Appreciation Month?

COLE: I guess it helps. I guess it helps raise awareness. I think in the end, maybe it's up to jazz to continue to try to make new sounds rather than - I think we are perhaps in a period now where a number of musicians spend a lot of time looking backwards instead of forwards. I don't know quite how to put it. I don't know whether or not you can be honest if you're sort of living in 2009 and playing like you were in 1955. because music doesn't exist in the vacuum. It responds to its time. And we're living in a particular time now and the music should speak to that.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for your time.

COLE: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We've been speaking with NPR's Tom Cole. Tom's story is part of NPR Music's weekly series on jazz called Take Five. You can learn more about jazz and hear songs from all five records that got Tom into jazz at Tom, thanks again.

COLE: Thank you.

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