Jazz is not normally associated with hit singles, or even singles. The album, the long playing record and latterly the CD have been the preferred medium for jazz musicians to stretch out and produce some of their finest work.
But there was a time when releasing singles was all important. For record labels it was all about gaining exposure through radio plays and on the juke boxes that were keen to swallow up dimes in bars or anywhere and everywhere that people gathered. By 1956 there were 750,000 juke boxes in America; 1956 was a year when some of the finest classic jazz albums were released, and by default singles too.
From the 1930s through 1940s the juke box defined what young people listened to. The late Tommy LiPuma, producer, and the former boss of Verve Records in the 1990s, remembers the impact the juke box had on him as a young man:
‘In the 1950s the jukebox was the deal. As a saxophone player I was gigging, although still at school. I’d sit in with black musicians; the jukeboxes in “the hood” were outrageous. One day I’m sitting there making myself scarce, because I was under-age, and suddenly out of the jukebox comes this record. It was “Just Friends” by Charlie Parker, that first time I heard it I couldn’t believe it.’
We’ve put together a playlist of 100 of the finest jazz 45s, and a few 78s, to show you just how important it was to get your records out there to be heard. It of course includes Bird and ‘Just Friends’, but it also includes just about every famous name in jazz. From ‘Trane to Getz, from Ella to Louis and Brownie, Pres, Hawk, Frog, along with Jimmy Smith, Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine and a host of others.