The 10 best jazz albums in history, as you might expect, include a pretty heady crowd of artists. To put it plainly, the artists that make up this list are geniuses. Most were virtuosos of their preferred instrument, and all had the ability to write songs that are close to incomprehensible for casual music fans. But don’t let that deter you, because these jazz albums have qualities that nearly everyone can appreciate.
- “Giant Steps” – John Coltrane. Perhaps no jazz artist has as many legends and stories about him than John Coltrane. A tenor saxophonist, Coltrane is known worldwide for his unbelievable skill. His most famous album, “Giant Steps”, with its unrelenting chord changes and breakneck song structures, feature Coltrane at his best.
- “Go” – Dexter Gordon. Like Coltrane, Dexter Gordon was a skilled tenor saxophonist. His album “Go”, however, is a much more laid-back take on the instrument’s sonic capabilities. Instead of sheer technical skill, Gordon was adept at the kind of phrasing and melodies that are reminiscent of longing vocals. This jazz album is cool jazz at its finest.
- “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” – Charles Mingus. Charles Mingus, a legendary jazz bassist, had his masterpiece with “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”. It is highly compositional and well orchestrated, but purposefully dissonant and explorative. Though abrasive at first, hints of beauty are quickly apparent when listening to this experimental jazz album.
- “Head Hunters” – Herbie Hancock. Though he may not have invented the jazz fusion subgenre, Herbie Hancock came close to perfecting it with his 1973 album “Head Hunters”. Combining elements of funk, R&B, and jazz, “Head Hunters” has the rare dual threat of accessibility and musical genius. Few jazz albums are as funky, to say the least.
- “Bitches Brew” –Miles Davis. Miles Davis pioneered several musical genres throughout his long and illustrious career. On his album “Bitches Brew” it was both free jazz and fusion. “Bitches Brew” is wildly dissonant and unpredictable, but giving it a full, devoted listen is a very rewarding endeavor. Davis truly takes his listeners on a trip in this free jazz album.
- “Time Out” – The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Released in 1959, “Time Out” was more unique for its time than most other jazz albums. Brubeck had traveled the world prior to recording it, and found that other cultures were able to use odd time signatures with grace in their music. On “Time Out” he took the idea of using unconventional rhythms in jazz songs and ran with it.
- “Sonny Side Up” – Dizzy Gillespie. Though normally known for his collaborations with the indomitable Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie recorded this album with jazz greats Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins in 1957. It was put together a little hastily, but the low production quality on this bop album is easily overcome by the Gillespie led trio’s immense talent.
- “Roots and Herbs” – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. This band was known for helping to pioneer the jazz subgenre hard bop. It incorporated strong blues influences, and was a bit more structured than other subgenres like bebop. On no album is this awesome style of jazz heard better than on “Roots and Herbs”.
- “Waltz for Debby” – The Bill Evans Trio. Bill Evans is known among jazz pianists for his thoughtful almost existential style of playing. His 1961 cool jazz album “Waltz for Debby” really showcases this style. For jazz that you can really relax to – and enjoy every single note – look no further than this album.
- “Kind of Blue” – Miles Davis. Perhaps the single best jazz album of all time, 1959’s “Kind of Blue” has become known as a high point in American music. Besides Davis, the album features jazz legends including John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley. For those trying to find a point to start from in jazz music, there is no better album to listen to than “Kind of Blue”.
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