Unlike most lists of recommended listening, this one focuses on specific performances rather than on complete recordings. This approach is, I believe, preferable for two reasons. First, by narrowing the focus, it aims to increase the intensity of the listening process. In almost every case, the careful study of a few performances is more illuminating than the casual apprehension of lengthy recordings. The second reason for listing only individual performances is a practical one. In recent years, the number of reissues, compilations, and repackagings of old material has grown at an extraordinary rate. While this has the benefit of increasing the accessibility of many previously rare or little-known works, it has also made it confusing for a newcomer to navigate through record-store bins. A compilation released one year may be out of print the next. Sometimes the same performance is available on many different releases. Hence this listing aims to be a lasting guide to listening, unaffected by the decisions of record companies to make cosmetic changes to their catalogues, to repackage, rename, and render obsolete their various releases.
For this reason, I have provided recording dates, in most cases, to assist in identifying the performance in question, rather than refer to the name of the overall project. However, in instances in which a piece is closely identified with a specific record (e.g., Miles Davis's "So What" with Kind of Blue), I have provided the title of the original project to help readers locate the music. Also, in some instances I have taken liberties in listing titles under the artist most closely associated with a performance instead of under the original group leader -- for