It can be hard to nail down the ten best jazz albums ever recorded, since jazz is one of the only art forms to continually reinvent itself. Most people associate jazz with the big band craze of the early 1920s and '30s. It has had many reincarnations, however, including acid jazz, avant-garde jazz, “gypsy” jazz, and others. It would be impossible to compile a comprehensive list of important jazz albums. There are a few, however, that had an obvious influence on every popular album to follow.
- "Deuces Wild," B.B. King. Blues form the backbone of most jazz chord progressions, as well as the basis for modern rock. What better way to jump into the blues than with the “King of Blues”, B.B. King? This album contains some of his best jazz songs, "The Thrill is Gone."
- "The Essential Louis Armstrong," Louis Armstrong. Not enough can be said about this man’s contribution to music. Bing Crosby said that “Reverend Satchmo is the beginning and end of music in America”, and he could not have been more right. Satchmo moved the direction of jazz from the traditional Dixieland towards individual solos and improvisation.
- "The Ultimate Collection," Duke Ellington. Never will you find a more definitive album of the best jazz. Duke Ellington was one of the great leaders of the Swing era of jazz, which first appeared during America’s Great Depression. This music is all about movement and dancing.
- "Essential Count Basie, Best of the Count," Count Basie. “The Count” relied on tight melodies from his orchestra, which left room for phenomenal improvised solos. While leading, he would often circulate the crowd, or head for drinks at the bar, to hear his band as the audience did. Basie melodies are recognizable for their plunking piano solos.
- "The Ultimate Ella," Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald was one of the best jazz vocalists, and is thought by many to be the greatest in history. She performed with the largest groups of her day, including Count Basie and his orchestra, Duke Ellington and his men, Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb, and many others. She had an uncommon mastery of notes and rhythm, often tweaking the melody in subtle ways.
- "Blue Monk," Thelonius Monk. No jazz collection can ignore Thelonius Monk. Monk was a pioneer of the Bop movement in jazz, saying that “if you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom.” This is jazz not for swaying crowds, but for small groups of listening intellectuals. This could be marked as the beginning of jazz’s “elitist” status.
- "Essential Jazz," Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy Gillespie is a famous name, known for revolutionizing the way we think of jazz. He has to be included on a list of the best jazz albums, just because of his skill. He played at a level previously unimagined, flinging high notes out of his trumpet with amazing accuracy and speed. He was also responsible for introducing Latin rhythms to American audiences, with his well known "Night in Tunisia."
- "Giant Steps," John Coltrane. Coltrane took each of the modifications from great artists before him-soloing from Louis Armstrong, free form from Dizzy Gillespie-and took it to a whole new level. Coltrane played jazz in an entirely free-form way, without restraining himself to standard chord progressions or melodies. His fingers moved at warp speed, resulting in a web of shimmering notes.
- "Bitches Brew," Miles Davis. Miles Davis was the head of the Cool Jazz revolution. He has been involved with jazz revolutions again and again, from bop to fusion. "Bitches Brew" began the evolution of jazz into rock, with heavy elements of electric instruments and funk. This record is the best of the fusion movement in jazz.
- "Stan Getz’s Finest Hour," Stan Getz. The collection is rounded out with a sampling of the best Latin jazz from one of the greatest saxophone players ever, Stan Getz. He was nicknamed “The Sound,” because of the unique sound exhibited during his solos. Getz regained popularity at the end of his career by introducing sultry Latin rhythms to American audiences.
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