Top 20 Best Albums to Get to Know Jazz
Louis Armstrong once said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know,” and the man was right. Getting to know jazz is much more about listening and experiencing than defining the genre and all its subgenres. These 20 jazz albums were handpicked from only the very best to get you get acquainted to jazz. From classic to acid, and avant garde to Latin, it’s all here!
Handful of Keys by Fats Waller
Handful of Keys by Fats Waller is considered an essential jazz album. Waller is a forerunner of modern jazz, writing some of the most famous jazz standards of all time. This album is a compendium of his best live performances.
Complete Live at the Crescendo by Count Basie
Count Basie, a renowned musician and bandleader, is considered one of the fathers of modern jazz and is always listed on the top. His talented band accompanied the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan. Complete Live at the Crescendo offers a glimpse of the master at work.
Ella & Louis by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis was the first of three albums that beautifully merged the vocal charms of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This essential jazz album offers gorgeous ballads sung by two of the most influential jazz artists and vocalists of all time.
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
Kind of Blue is considered Miles Davis’ masterpiece, and it is one of the most influential and best-selling jazz albums of all time. This album, an absolute favorite, is rich in melodious improvisation and a delightful testament of musical genius at work.
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane is one of the most acclaimed jazz albums ever, and it is also considered Coltrane’s masterpiece. This album delivers a taste of avant garde and free jazz while remaining melodious and highly enjoyable.
Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington
Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington was recorded live at the Newport jazz festival in 1956. Ellington’s band played a combination of old and new with a touch of improvisation that drove the crowd wild, earning this performance a place in every collectors’ best.
Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk
Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk was the first album to include his compositions. It considered the epitome of modern jazz and a must have in any jazz collection. This album’s complex compositions are a testament of Monk’s genius.
Getz / Gilberto by João Gilberto and Stan Getz
Getz / Gilberto is considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim concocted a delightful album that perfectly combined jazz and bossa nova. This album was both critically acclaimed and a commercial success.
Sarah Vaughan Sings Mancini Songbook by Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan is considered one of the best female jazz vocalists of all time. In Sarah Vaughan Sings Mancini Songbook, she offers wonderful renditions of Henry Mancini’s fabulous compositions. It’s a treat for the ears and the soul.
The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini has had a prolific music career writing unforgettable film scores. The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini is a timeless Grammy award-winning score that offers orchestra jazz at its finest.
Marsalis Standard Time – Volume I by Wynton Marsalis
Marsalis Standard Time offers the very best of neo classic jazz with Wynton Marsalis revisiting the greatest jazz standards of all time. This Grammy award-winning album offers magnificent execution and very enjoyable way to get acquainted with jazz.
Eleanora Fagan (1915–1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater
Grammy award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater is one of the very best contemporary jazz vocalists. With Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater, the songstress has created a truly riveting homage to Billie Holiday.
Vocabularies by Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin has won multiple Grammy awards for his fabulous vocal jazz renditions. McFerrin’s music is a must for those interested in contemporary vocal jazz. Try Grammy award-winning Vocabularies, or the Best of Bobby McFerrin to get started.
Out to Lunch! By Eric Dolphy
Although avant garde or free jazz might not be for everyone, if you want a taste, try the best. Out to Lunch! by Eric Dolphy is widely acclaimed as the best in this subgenre. Included in all kinds of best of jazz lists, Out to Lunch! showcases great musical dexterity and unparalleled creative genius.
Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman
Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman is also hailed as one of the very best albums of free jazz. Pushing boundaries in all aspects, this album was recorded by two quartets improvising for more than 40 minutes. It’s a first in free jazz history.
Dance Mania by Tito Puente
Tito Puente, also known as “The King of Latin Music” and “The Musical Pope,” had a successful career spanning over 50 years composing and playing Latin jazz and music. Dance Mania is considered one of Latin jazz most emblematic albums.
Soul Sauce by Cal Tjader
Cal Tjader’s vast work is rich in Latin and Afro-Cuban flavor. He is considered one of the most successful non-latino, Latin musician. His Soul Sauce is an all time Latin jazz favorite, ideal for adding a little spice to your jazz collection.
Below the Bassline by Ernest Ranglin
Ernest Ranglin has played with greats like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. His fantastic guitar playing and significative musical career has earned him an accolade of awards. Below the Bassline by Ernest Ranglin offers flavourful reggae jazz with a touch of rhythm and blues.
One Armed Bandit by Jaga Jazzist
One Armed Bandit by Jaga Jazzist is future jazz party for the ears. Offering a fusion of progressive rock with jazz, this album is constantly recommended by nu jazz enthusiasts. It is an album rich in flavors, that while innovative, maintains a strong jazz identity.
Emergency on Planet Earth by Jamiroquai
Although Jamiroquai may be more recently known for funky disco beats, their first few albums were decidedly acid jazz. Their album Emergency on Planet Earth tops the best in acid jazz lists. Just one listen, and it’s clear to see why: it features cool acid jazz beats with fabulous funk flavors.
Take Your Pick and Enjoy!
The jazz albums listed here offer a comprehensive journey from the beginnings of jazz to the most current exponents, with ample variety, and all top ranking among jazz enthusiasts. If you want to know more about jazz, take the time and offer them a listen. You might end up with a favorite album… or two!