The Ten Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time

Condensing the recorded history of jazz into just ten albums is not an easy undertaking. For a genre that is less than 100 years old, yet born from such varied backgrounds, such a short list can’t do full justice to the music. Nevertheless, certain albums will always stand out, and no collection of jazz recordings is complete without them.

Miles Davis – A Kind of Blue: An album that undisputedly holds its place as one of the most significant jazz albums of all time, and something that any aspiring jazz listener, newcomer or otherwise, should listen too. A masterpiece that combines contemplative simplicity with some of the most complete improvised solos ever recorded.

Dave Brubeck – Time Out: When many people think of jazz, they think of ‘Take Five’, Paul Desmond’s iconic tune that has attracted so many listeners to this genre. Popularised by the track’s success, the album showcases Dave Brubeck as a great pianist and composer, and there are plenty more high quality tunes on it.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin: Art Blakey is credited with nurturing some of jazz’s greatest young talents in his band the Jazz Messengers, a group that lasted for over 30 years. This is one of their finest recordings, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, and saxophonist and composer Benny Golsen, who writes four of the six tunes on the recording.

Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus: The name says it all. Sonny Rollins was a giant of jazz in so many ways. With so much to choose from, this will remain one of his most engaging albums, as he transforms such tunes as ‘Mack the Knife’ and his own ‘St Thomas’ into improvisational masterpieces.

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley: One of the things that puts a lot of newcomers off jazz is its lack of vocals, but there are countless wonderful singers to discover. A separate article would be needed to cover this extensive field, but a good way to start would be to listen to this wonderful collaboration between two greats.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Another enormous album, and one that has not only changed the shape of jazz, but influenced other forms of music as well. In 2003, the album was ranked number 47 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It’s definitely not one of the easiest recordings on this list to approach, due to its raw power and intensity, but nonetheless something that every listener should eventually come to.

Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz: Another style of jazz that became extremely popular in the 1960s was Bossa Nova, largely thanks to Stan Getz and this hugely successful album. As with ‘Take Five’ for many, tunes such as ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and ‘Desafindo’ are what brought them closer to this genre of music.

Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come: This will probably be the hardest album on this list for non-jazz listeners to enjoy. Even for critics within the field, Coleman divided the jazz community because of his revolutionary new style that left people wondering whether he was a fraud or a genius.

Herbie Hancock – HeadHunters: A career in jazz that has spanned countless different genres, this was Herbie Hancock’s most successful foray in to the world of jazzfunk. A highly influential album that has been an inspiration to many other modern recordings.

Charlie Parker – Charlie Parker with Strings: One can’t make a list of must have albums without including one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. ‘Bird’ revolutionised the jazz language and was considered the father of modern jazz. This is probably his most unusual recording, as it takes a more popular approach. However, it does not take away from the beautiful and fluid playing that arises from this recording session.

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