The 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll: Rare Birds

By Tom Hull

In addition to their lists of new releases, we’ve long asked our voters to pick out three Rara Avis titles — new releases of music recorded more than 10 years ago, or new editions of previously released music — as well as one album each in three special categories: Debut, Latin, and Vocal. The specials tend to get overlooked, or sampled erratically, in the new releases lists, so Francis Davis thought a nudge might help.

Rara Avis (Reissues/Archival)

The 10-year rule was introduced in 2014. Before that, previously unreleased music of any vintage was considered new, which led to high finishes by Mingus, Monk, and Coltrane, as well as two wins for Sonny Rollins’s Road Shows. During that time, Reissues was mostly won by big box sets — luxury imprint Mosaic won three times, Mingus twice, and Miles Davis got his fourth win.

Since 2015, the winning ticket has been previously unreleased archival music, with Coltrane on top, quite handily, for the fourth time this year. (Monk has two wins, with one each for Larry Young, Cecil Taylor, and Eric Dolphy — who surely contributed to Coltrane’s margin this year.) The next three finishers were also archival finds — Ahmad Jamal, Geri Allen, and Wes Montgomery — followed by a pair of reissued albums from famed saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and obscure cellist Abdul Wadud. More surprises in the rest of the top 20.

Eligible albums contain reissued material and/or previously unreleased music that was recorded 10 or more years ago. Voters picked three records, given 3 points for 1st place, 2 for 2nd, 1 for 3rd, or 2 points each for unranked lists.

  1. John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy, Evenings at the Village Gate (1961, Impulse!) 151 (66)
  2. Ahmad Jamal, Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 (Jazz Detective/Elemental) 45 (21)
  3. Geri Allen & Kurt Rosenwinkel, A Lovesome Thing (2012, Motéma Music) 44 (22)
  4. Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly Trio, Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings (Resonance) 37 (19)
  5. Pharoah Sanders, Pharoah [Harvest Time] (1976, Luaka Bop) 30 (15)
  6. Abdul Wadud, By Myself: Solo Cello (1977, Gotta Groove) 29 (15)
  7. Dorothy Ashby, With Strings Attached (1957-65, New Land) 26 (12)
  8. Nina Simone, You’ve Got to Learn (1966, Verve) 21 (10)
  9. Charles Mingus, Changes: The Complete 1970s Atlantic Studio Recordings (1973-79, Rhino) 20 (11)
  10. Derek Bailey & Paul Motian, Duo in Concert (1990, Frozen Reeds) 16 (8)
  11. Matthew Shipp Trio, Circular Temple (1990, ESP-Disk) 15 (6)
  12. Milford Graves With Arthur Doyle & Hugh Glover, Children of the Forest (1976, Black Editions Archive) 14 (6)
  13. Steve Swell’s Fire Into Music, For Jemeel: Fire From the Road (2003-04, RogueArt) 14 (6)
  14. Shirley Scott, Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank (1972, Reel to Real) 13 (6)
  15. Roy Hargrove, The Love Suite: In Mahogany (1993, Blue Engine) 12 (7)
  16. Hasaan Ibn Ali, Reaching for the Stars: Trios/Duos/Solos (1962-65, Omnivore) 12 (5)
  17. The Jazz Doctors, Intensive Care: Prescriptions Filled [The Billy Bang Quartet Sessions 1983/1984] (Cadillac) 11 (6)
  18. Cal Tjader, Catch the Groove: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1967 (Jazz Detective/Elemental) 11 (6)
  19. Sonny Clark, The Complete Sonny Clark Blue Note Sessions (1957-61, Mosaic) 11 (5)
  20. Miles Davis Quintet, In Concert at the Olympia Paris 1957 (Fresh Sound) 10 (6)

Total albums receiving votes: 129. 12 ballots (7.5%) skipped this section. 10 ballots (6.2%) used unranked voting. Full list is here.


Drummer Yussef Dayes in action. Photo: Flemming Bo Jensen © DR

The definition for a Debut album is pretty strict: the first album an artist released under their name, including the first name for albums with multiple credits. Groups are eligible only if all of the significant members are eligible — which is to say, practically never. Lots of artists never get a fair shot at the category, but winners often go on to major careers.

Given how few albums qualify, and how few of them are widely known, a fairly large share skip this category (38.3% this year). This year’s winner, Yussef Dayes, could have been excluded on the grounds of two previous duo albums, but a narrow reading of the rule let him slip by.

Voters were asked to pick one album.

  1. Yussef Dayes, Black Classical Music (Brownswood/Nonesuch) 10
  2. Lesley Mok, The Living Collection (American Dreams) 9
  3. Christian Dillingham, Cascades (Greenleaf Music) 7
  4. Jeremy Dutton, Anyone Is Better Than Here (self-released) 4
  5. Shuteen Erdenebaatar Quartet, Rising Sun (Motéma Music) 4
  6. Anthony Hervey, Words From My Horn (Outside In Music) 4

Total albums receiving votes: 48. No selection on 61 ballots (38.3%). Full list is here.


Saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Photo: Jimmy Katz.

Francis Davis added this category back when the poll was focused on New York City critics. He figured that Latin was a big part of the local jazz scene and he was dismayed at the lack of coverage (not just in the poll, but more generally in the Village Voice). Still, there’s much debate among voters as to what Latin jazz really is, with a quarter throwing up their hands and skipping the question. For those who do venture a vote, saxophonist Miguel Zenón has been a perennial favorite, winning for the seventh time this year.

Voters were asked to pick one album.

  1. Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo, El Arte Del Bolero, Vol. 2 (Miel Music) 13
  2. Aruán Ortiz Trio, Serranias: Sketchbook for Piano Trio (Intakt) 9
  3. Harold López-Nussa, Timba a la Americana (Blue Note) 7
  4. Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band, Cry Me a River (Alma) 5
  5. Susan Alcorn & Septeto Del Sur, Canto (Relative Pitch) 4
  6. Sammy Figueroa, Something for a Memory (Busco Tu Recuerdo) (Ashé) 4
  7. Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band, Vox Humana (Jazzheads) 4
  8. Edward Simon, Femininas: Songs of Latin American Women (ArtistShare) 4
  9. David Virelles, Carta (Intakt) 4

 Total albums receiving votes: 52. No selection on 41 ballots (25.7%). Full list is here.


Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant at Newport Jazz in 2022. Photo: Paul Robicheau

As jazz and pop grew estranged in the 1940s, it became increasingly complicated to evaluate singers and instrumentalists against each other. It is unusual, but not unheard of, for singers to appear in the top 10s (Cécile McLorin Salvant has finished in the top five twice, and several others made the top 10, but mostly in 2006-08). So the Vocal category gives voters a second chance to consider vocalists, and most of them do (nonvotes were only 13.2%).

Still, what qualifies as a Vocal album is pretty subjective, so that leaves it up to the voter. Salvant, certainly, as she won the category for the sixth time. On the other hand, only four of Matana Roberts’s 29 voters also picked her here, and five of Arooj Aftab’s 15. Two other top-20 new releases with some vocals were largely overlooked here: Irreversible Entanglements (2), and Jaimie Branch (1). Even Meshell Ndegeocello, with 10 new releases votes, only received one here.

Voters were asked to pick one album.

  1. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Mélusine (Nonesuch) 27
  2. Jo Lawry, Acrobats (Whirlwind) 11
  3. Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke, Lean In (Edition) 10
  4. Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding, Alive at the Village Vanguard (Palmetto) 9
  5. Arooj Aftab-Vijay Iyer-Shahzad Ismaily, Love in Exile (Verve) 5
  6. Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden (Constellation) 4
  7. Fay Victor, Blackity Black Black Is Beautiful (Northern Spy) 4

 Total albums receiving votes: 59. No selection on 21 ballots (13.2%). Full list is here.

New Albums List


Jazz Poll organizer extraordinare Tom Hull

We’d like to thank the 159 critics and journalists who voted: Paul Acquaro, David R. Adler, Scott Albin, Shannon Ali (Shannon J. Effinger), Larry Appelbaum, Hrayr Attarian, Chris Barton, Joe Bebco, Bill Beuttler, Dan Bilawsky, Larry Birnbaum, Larry Blumenfeld, Philip Booth, Mike Borella, Shaun Brady, Stuart Broomer, Bill Brownlee, Dan Buskirk, Dave Cantor, Katchie Cartwright, Esteban Arizpe Castañeda, Jeff Cebulski, John Chacona, Gary Chapin, Nate Chinen, Brad Cohan, Troy Collins, Thomas Conrad, J.D. Considine, John Corbett, Mark Corroto, Michael Coyle, David Cristol, Raul da Gama, Francis Davis, Anthony Dean-Harris, Steve Dollar, Laurence Donohue-Greene, Troy Dostert, Alain Drouot, Ken Dryden, Chuck Eddy, John Ephland, Lee Rice Epstein, Steve Feeney, Gary Finney, Phil Freeman, Filipe Freitas, Pat Frisco, Jon Garelick, Ana Gavrilovska, Richard Gehr, Andrew Gilbert, Kurt Gottschalk, David A. Graham, Stephen Graham, Ludovico Granvassu, George Grella, Jason Gross, Scott Gutterman, James Hale, Eyal Hareuveni, Chris Heim, Tad Hendrickson, Andrey Henkin, Geoffrey Himes, Rob Hoff, Larry Hollis, Mark Holston, Tom Hull, Peter Hum, Jim Hynes, Robert Iannapollo, Willard Jenkins, Martin Johnson, Sanford Josephson, Ammar Kalia, Richard B. Kamins, George Kanzler, Fred Kaplan, Yoshi Kato, Glenn Kenny, James Koblin, Elzy Kolb, Stuart Kremsky, David Kunian, Art Lange, Josh Langhoff, Will Layman, Devin Leonard, Lance Liddle, Mark Lomanno, Suzanne Lorge, Brad Luen, Phillip Lutz, Jim Macnie, Howard Mandel, Peter Margasak, Paul Medrano, Ken Micallef, Allen Michie, Milo Miles, Bill Milkowski, Roz Milner, Ralph A. Miriello, Rick Mitchell, Chris Monsen, John Frederick Moore, Allen Morrison, Ivana Ng, Stuart Nicholson, Fotis Nikolakopoulos, Tim Niland, Ysi Ortega, Dan Ouellette, Phil Overeem, Annie Parnell, Terry Perkins, Sergio Piccirilli, Dan Polletta, Peter Quinn, Derk Richardson, Britt Robson, Lloyd Sachs, Bret Saunders, Rich Scheinin, Sarah Schmidt, Gene Seymour, Mike Shanley, John Sharpe, Adam Shatz, Rob Shepherd, Hank Shteamer, Slim, Stewart Smith, Sammy Stein, Mark Stryker, Mark Sullivan, Dave Sumner, John Szwed, Jeff Tamarkin, Derek Taylor, Neil Tesser, Michael Toland, Michael Ullman, Ludwig vanTrikt, George Varga, Seth Colter Walls, Ken Waxman, Bob Weinberg, Jason Weiss, Ken Weiss, Michael J. West, Richard Williams, Jerome Wilson, Josef Woodard, Ron Wynn, Scott Yanow, Kazue Yokoi.

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