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Primed for Jazz

(James Steinberg for The Washington Post)

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By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Before you even hear it, a jazz album can be a vexing thing. The cover tickles your retina with its sleek design, while the flip side serves up hyperbolic liner notes intended to sell you on a piece of music that it presumes you could never understand.

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Who needs all that?

Sure, jazz has been elevated to the level of high art, but that shouldn't put its pleasures out of anyone's reach. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a degree in musicology, cultural studies or advanced goatee-stroking to enjoy its infinite wonders, just curiosity.

Wonderment helps, too. I've always been enamored of jazz's more mysterious qualities; the ambiguity that scares some people away from this music is probably what draws me to it most. Listening to jazz can feel like an excursion into the beautiful, limitless unknown.

For many novices, however, the biggest problem is finding a place to start. The genre's sprawling 100-year history is a cauldron of categories -- from swing to bebop to free jazz -- each of which has spawned countless recordings. With the newcomer in mind, I've put together a list of 10 jazz recordings on Page 4 that should provide a fast track to transcendence.

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