Harvey Pekar’s Top 10 Jazz Innovators

August 31st, 2009 by Jeff Newelt

Duke Ellington by Tara Seibel

Duke Ellington by Tara Seibel

In addition to writing comics, Harvey’s been a jazz critic since 1959 starting with The Jazz Review, which was his “favorite jazz magazine of all time and short-lived.” He’s also written hundreds of articles for Jazz Times, DownBeat, The Village Voice, as well as liner notes for Verve and other labels. Here, for The Pekar Project’s first special feature (comics run every other Monday with “extra” in between) Harvey offers his list of “a top ten, not the top ten” jazz innovators, his reasons for choosing them, and an album recommendation. As a bonus, Tara Seibel and Sean Pryor, two Pekar Project artists, drew portraits just for this piece.

Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers:
“A great early jazz composer / arranger”
Check out: Jelly Roll Morton, Vol. 2: The Red Hot Peppers

Louis Armstrong with Earl Hines:
“Swing wasn’t a quality of jazz in the beginning; it started about 1923 with Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Armstrong’s playing was idea rich and thrilling.  The combination of Armstrong on trumpet and Hines on piano was just amazing. Huge innovators.”
Check out: The Louis Armstrong Collection Vol 4, Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines

Duke Ellington:
“Around 1940/41 Ellington and Basie had the two greatest big bands in jazz history. Ellington was the greatest composer / arranger and his personnel was at a peak in 1941 with Jimmy Blanton on bass and Ben Webster on tenor sax.”
Check out: Never No Lament: The Blanton / Webster Band

Count Basie by Sean Pryor

Count Basie by Sean Pryor

Count Basie:
“In the ’30s, Basie led the greatest most swingin’est big band rhythm section of all time, the ‘All American Rhythm Section’ with Basie on piano, Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Greene on guitar, and Walter Page on bass.”
Check out: Count Basie: The Complete Decca Recordings

Lester Young (with Count Basie):
“Young was incredibly graceful and swinging on tenor sax and had a great melodic imagination. His work with Count Basie on Columbia is particularly of note. It’s also worth listening to the classic sides he did with Billie Holiday.”
Check out: Count Basie: America’s Number1 Band, The Columbia Years

Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker:
“The main contributors to the bebop movement, to creating the language of bebop in the early 40’s. They’re collaborations are coincidentally the best stuff they ever did and my favorite is the complete Savoy records… but ‘Bird & Diz,’ the ‘reunion’ record they did in 1950, was somethin’. I don’t know what they had in mind before they came to that session, but its like they were loaded for bear, not necessarily to tangle with each other but wanting to play their best. At that session, both of them invented licks and phrases that they never played before — as good as they were they had pet licks  — but this was fresh and just unprecedented… they were so imaginative, and it was still bebop.”
Check out:  Bird & Diz

Miles Davis:
“Miles was very sharp and at different points he would take an overview of the whole jazz scene, who was heading in the direction he was wanting to go in… he was often the second guy, the guy who popularized movements not who started them. Kind of Blue did that for modal jazz, and the guy he brought in with the sound he wanted was pianist Bill Evans.”
Check out: Kind of Blue

John Coltrane:
“Giant Steps — on this record Coltrane plays with blistering heat and boundless imagination.”
Check out: Giant Steps

Ornette Coleman:
“The records Coleman made for Atlantic was the real beginning of Free Jazz, which means jazz not based on a set foundation like chord changes or anythin’. His band was terrific with [Coleman on sax], Scott LoFaro and Charlie Haden on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums, and Don Cherry on Trumpet.”
Check out: Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings

41 Responses

  1. Dean Haspiel

    That’s a great DUKE illo, Tara.

    Sean’s COUNT is killer, too.

    Swell jazz article, Harv.

  2. alex

    where’s mingus? how can any jazz innovation post exclude that guy?

  3. Molly Crabapple

    beautiful illustration by Tara Seibel

  4. Xavi


    So, the classic: the ones that say some hot shot is missing from the list… the ones that say it is too obvious and that they have come out with a better one.

    Lists, I believe, are not meant to be complete (they are, by very definition, a personal, subjective selection) nor they are meant to be indisputable. They are just supposed to open doors to other people, so you can go places you don’t know.

    As for me, for example, I didn’t know where to start with Gillespie and Parker… and now I know. Good enough.



  5. sean

    i think thats why jeff said it was a list and not the list. when i talked to harvey about it he was specific in saying that others could feel differently, hence the “disclaimer”. great illustration, tara, and many thanks to all who dig the blog.


  6. James Jajac

    I am in love with these posts! Beautiful Basie Illustration! Great great work, I’m very excited about these.

    Seriously though is this gonna make me feel bad for liking Depeche Mode sometimes?


  7. alto saxophones

    John Coltrane is my saxophone hero. Thanks for good article.

  8. เพลงmp3

    Best beautiful much desing

  9. โหลดเพลงmp3ฟรี

    Thank you very much but i like informaiton to you.

  10. โหลดเพลงmp3ฟรี

    The best information but i like

  11. N.

    Coleman over MINGUS??? I thought you had ears.

  12. ดูหนังออนไลน์

    I love jazz music style. No one in thailand can sing same as amerian. Than for your sharing.

  13. Saxophones

    I like your article. I have played saxophone when I was young. My sax is alto saxophone.

  14. rude boy lyrics

    You have some really good information in this article. I have really enjoyed your views on this subject. You are a gifted writer. Thank you.

  15. gelin giydirme

    Your article is intelligent, well-written and compelling as far as I’m concerned. I’ve enjoyed reading and reviewing your viewpoints. Thank you for representing your informational content in an interesting way.

  16. sac safe mam

    Thank you Harvey, I know your gone but thanks man. I
    I checked out your favs and found some sweet sounds

  17. farrah teen mom

    Hi colleagues, how is the whole thing, and what you
    wish for to say on the topic of this article, in my view its truly remarkable in support of me.

  18. Sofia Vergara Nude

    Hi there to all, how is everything, I think every one is getting more from
    this web site, and your views are nice for new visitors.

  19. Norris

    It was difficult to find your website in google.
    You should create some hi Pagerank contextual backlinks in order to rank your blog.
    I know - writing articles is very time consuming, but contextual backlinks are
    the best type of backlinks. I know one cool tool that will
    help you to create unique, readable articles in minute, just type in google - rewriter creates an unique article
    in a minute

  20. Chaussure Louboutin Femme

    Hermes (RMS), the French maker of Birkin bags, said third-quarter sales growth slowed to 4% after deteriorating economies in Japan and other main markets cut into luxury goods demand, say

  21. DSU person Donny

    This is interesting because almost all of these artists were at some point under the influence of Heroin. If anyone is wondering this is for my Jazz class and I chose to do a review of all of these innovators. Someone that I think this blog fails to mention is that John Coltrane was also a great innovator. He created a form of music that even until now continues to impact aspiring Jazz musicians.

    This article is very well done though!

  22. security

    Hi, thanks for speaking about the latest Ubuntu release. This is one of the coolest releases and i have it setup on my computer at home. the only issue is buggy ati driver.

  23. go!!

    Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is just excellent and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.

  24. Suzy Wojenski

    Very good piece of writing! Thought about celebrated most of the following. I’m hoping to share increased from your business. Book that you’ve fine imminent and so eye sight. What i’m seriously satisfied utilizing this type of specifics.

  25. ppob bank bukopin

    Great ¡V I should definitely pronounce, impressed with your site. I had no trouble navigating through all tabs and related information ended up being truly simple to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it at all. Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or anything, website theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Excellent task..

  26. cek pembayaran listrik

    I definitely wanted to post a quick message in order to say thanks to you for those marvelous tactics you are giving at this site. My extended internet research has at the end of the day been honored with sensible facts and strategies to exchange with my company. I ‘d tell you that we website visitors are undeniably blessed to exist in a magnificent website with many special professionals with valuable hints. I feel pretty happy to have encountered your entire weblog and look forward to some more fabulous moments reading here. Thanks once again for all the details.

  27. Pressure Cooker

    Thanks for your own efforts on this web page. Betty takes pleasure in getting into investigation and it’s easy to see why. Almost all hear all concerning the compelling medium you render rewarding strategies through the blog and as well inspire contribution from website visitors on the subject matter while my child is actually starting to learn a lot of things. Take pleasure in the remaining portion of the year. You are conducting a glorious job.

  28. Costa Rica

    whoah this weblog is magnificent i really like studying your posts. Stay up the good paintings! You know, many persons are hunting round for this info, you can help them greatly.

  29. Farm Tables

    I carry on listening to the news talk about receiving free online grant applications so I have been looking around for the top site to get one. Could you advise me please, where could i get some?

  30. watch pinoy tv replay online

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am having problems with your RSS. I don’t know why I can’t subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having the same RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  31. can ho vinhomes golden river ba son

    Hello! I just now would like to supply a massive thumbs up for any amazing data you can have here within this post. We are coming back to your weblog post for further soon.

  32. Bath Mats and Rugs

    I actually wanted to send a quick comment to thank you for all the lovely ideas you are writing at this website. My extended internet search has now been recognized with wonderful suggestions to go over with my colleagues. I would suppose that most of us site visitors are rather fortunate to be in a really good place with very many brilliant professionals with very beneficial advice. I feel extremely blessed to have come across your entire web page and look forward to some more entertaining moments reading here. Thanks a lot once more for everything.

  33. pulsa listrik online

    Thanks for another fantastic post. Where else may anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the search for such info.

  34. Peppa Pig

    Awesome read , I am going to spend a lot more time learning about this topic

  35. Monserrate Southand

    I have recently started a website, the information you offer on this site has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work. “So full of artless jealousy is guilt, It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.” by William Shakespeare.

  36. pinay sex

    {The next time|Next time|The very next time} I read a blog, {I hope that|Hopefully} {it doesn’t|it does not|it won’t} {disappoint|fail} me {as much as|just as much as} {this one|this particular one}. {I mean|After all}, {I know it|Yes, ‘it} was my choice to {read|read through}, pinoy sex

  37. Naprawa komputerów Łódź

    Całkowicie zgadzam się z autorem tekstu. Kawał dobrej roboty.

  38. Una Hyldahl

    What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you are now not really a lot more neatly-appreciated than you may be now. You are so intelligent. You recognize thus considerably when it comes to this subject, made me for my part imagine it from a lot of various angles. Its like women and men don’t seem to be interested except it is one thing to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. At all times take care of it up!

  39. Lidia Sluski


  40. Dotty Bunting


  41. Celestine Ponce

    I precisely had to say thanks once more. I am not sure what I might have used in the absence of the aspects documented by you over that subject. Previously it was a very fearsome problem for me personally, but considering a expert tactic you handled it forced me to cry with contentment. Now i am happy for the advice as well as expect you comprehend what a great job you are putting in training other individuals all through your webblog. I am certain you have never come across any of us.

Leave a Reply

The name you want displayed with your comment.

Emails are not published with comments (i.e., everyone won't see it).

Your Website. This is optional.

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.