To many people jazz from the post be-bop era is a bit of an acquired taste, but my experience is once you acquire the taste for it the music doesn’t let go of you. There is so much great jazz from the 1950s and 60s that we could spend a year listing essential music from the period but for the uninitiated here are five essential songs to get you started on your jazz journey.

Stan Getz, Joao & Astrud Gilberto – Girl From Ipanema (1964). This song brought bossa nova to the wider American audience but it lands on this list because of the utterly beautiful recording of Getz’s version. Even if the piano recording is slightly shrill the vocals and Getz’s unforgettable tenor sax are sounds to behold.

Dave Brubeck Quarter – Take Five (1959). Brubeck was inspired by Turkish street musicians after visiting the country while on tour. The drums and sax are of particular interest, and this recording stands the test of time 55 years on, but the stand-up bass is the pretty much the genesis of why there’s high-fidelity audio in the first place. It’s also a fantastic song by the way.

Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches (1959). A veritable jazz all-star recording featuring Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Bill Evans from the best selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. With no repeating melody line, this is an incredibly evocative 9 minutes of music.   

Oscar Peterson – ‘Round Midnight (1963). Peterson joined with Nelson Riddle for the brilliant 1963 album this track is off of. You should definitely check out Thelonious Monk’s 1944 original, but the majesty of Riddle’s orchestra and Peterson’s piano is a great place to get started.

Buddy Rich – West Side Story Suite (1985). Okay, this one stretches the theme a little but its included here for two reasons: It is a complete showcase of how be-bop was entering the mainstream in the 1950s via the original Leonard Bernstein Broadway score and it also shows Rich at his masterful best while fronting an extremely proficient swing band.

This list is merely a tiny scratch on the surface of great jazz, but it’s a good starting point for anyone interested in building their jazz collection. Of course, CDs, vinyl and high-resolution audio files are going to give you the best sonic experience, but don’t hesitate to do these via mp3.

Jack Sharkey for KEF