In my ongoing series that introduces jazz to those curious about the music but not quite sure where to start listening, I recently posted Part 1—a list of 10 jazz piano albums that were nifty entry points. All 10 are exceptional and easy to absorb for those with a beginner's ear.
In Part 2, the natural next step is to provide you with key recordings by pop and jazz vocalists. When I began listening to jazz in the early 1970s, I listened to the music on many of the following sets to develop an appreciation for basic song. Pop and jazz singers are fundamental to the learning curve because they generally sing the American Songbook—a term that relates to the works of Broadway and Hollywood composers and composing teams like the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Jerome Kern and many others. Standards are key because jazz instrumentalists often choose them when recording. If you know these songs cold, the improvisation on solos will sound much more familiar and exciting.
All of this brings us to a key question: Which albums and box sets by singers are ideal for those eager to have a basic understanding of the American Songbook? The following 11 sets feature comprehensive and straight-up recordings of Songbook material. I'm also not suggesting these are the only worthwhile Songbook vocalists and albums nor am I urging you to buy all of them at once. They simply merit exploring because the songs and interpretations are cornerstones of jazz listening and comprehension:
Ella Fitzgerald: Complete Song Books (16 CDs)
Tony Bennett: the Complete Collection (73 CDs/3 DVDs)