You’ve built the bookshelf, covered it with great books, but it needs a little something more. Some classic records perhaps? Why not treat yourself to this essential guide to the best jazz albums in the history of recorded time – bar none?
Ok that claim may be a little strong, but for those of you who have never ventured into the exquisite world of Jazz (or for those needing affirmation on their collection) we at ManMade have put together this list of the all-time greats, plus a guide on why and how to enjoy them. Buckle up.
Best Jazz Albums: THE STANDARDS
These are the jazz records you simply cannot miss. These are the 2001: A Space Odysseys and Goodfellas and Ghostbusters. Start here and see what strikes your fancy.
1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
The most influential jazz album there is. Period. Widely considered one of the best jazz albums of all time.
2. Time Out – Dave Brubeck Quartet
The soundtrack of New York City’s bachelor pads in the 60’s.
3. Blue Train – John Coltrane
Coltrane’s first album as band leader and the album that first demonstrated Coltrane Changes.
4. Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus
The coalescence of Mingus’ influences: driving Hard Bop and old-timey Gospel, plus a little Third Stream, Free Jazz, and classical music.
5. The Shape of Jazz to Come – Ornette Coleman
The birth of Free Jazz and the groundwork for Avant-Garde Jazz.
6. The Complete Savoy and Dial Sessions – Charlie Parker
No list of jazz albums would be complete without the word from Bird. Get your Bebop fix here.
7. The Complete Hot 5 and Hot 7 Recordings – Louis Armstrong
The first true standard for jazz soloists.
Best Jazz Albums: NEXT STEPS
You’ve dabbled about now, you have a good sense of the groundwork, and you’re ready for something a bit meatier.
8. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
Nearly a gospel album, Coltrane is the only horn in the quartet and gets all the freedom he needs. As essential a jazz record as they come.
9. Ellington at Newport – Duke Ellington
At a time when big-bands were dwindling, this concert revitalized Ellington’s career and literally changed the course of music in 20th century.
10. Moanin’ – Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
The essential hard bop album, with traces of gospel and blues.
11. Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis
Literally the birth of Cool Jazz and one of Davis’ many and defining rebirths.
12. Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley
Adderley brings the Bebop, Art Blakely the Hard-Bop, Sam Jones the bass, Hank Jones the Swing, and Miles Davis the Cool.
13. Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1 – Thelonious Monk
Monk is second only to Duke Ellington as most recorded jazz composer, which says something since Ellington composed more than 1,000 songs, while Monk had only about 70.
Best Jazz Albums: DEEPER CUTS
Now that you’ve developed your taste, here are the good ol’ deep cuts for those who are ready – plus some lesser known, but highly regarded, game-changing albums.
14. Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins
Only five soulful songs and every one became a hit. Don’t miss it.
15. Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown – Sarah Vaughan
All Music calls it “one of the most important jazz-meets-vocal sessions ever recorded.”
16. Concert By The Sea – Erroll Garner
A janky recording of one of the all time great pianists who couldn’t read a lick of music.
17. Out To Lunch – Eric Dolphy
The high point in 60’s avant-garde jazz.
18. The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery – Wes Montgomery
Trademark thumb-picking and octaves-employed, this record established Montgomery as “the most formidable modern guitarist of the era.”
19. The Blues and Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
This post-bop classic explores the structure of the blues with a killer lineup and great subtlety a la Kind of Blue.
THE FAR OUT STUFF (MIXED GENRES AND GREAT HITS)
Kopi Luwak is to coffee, what these albums are to jazz.
20. Head Hunters – Herbie Hancock
The defining moment for Jazz Funk and the one of the best-selling jazz fusion albums of all time.
21. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis
An older Davis rejects typical jazz rhythms and experiments with electric instruments and freer, rock-inspired style.
22. Speak No Evil – Wayne Shorter
Describing the album, Shorter said, “I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes — the kind of place where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witch burning too.”
BONUS: DINNER PARTY SOUNDTRACKS
Disclaimer: All of these are truly great albums and should be given a properly focused listen… that said, they’ll be a perfect soundtrack for your next dinner party.
23. Go! – Dexter Gordon
You’ll feel the nightclub surround you in all the best ways.
24. Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz & João Gilberto
Lilting, intimate, and relaxing, it spawned a bossa nova craze and won the 1965 Grammy for Best Album.
25. Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown and Max Roach
The New York Times calls it, “Perhaps the definitive bop group until Mr. Brown’s fatal automobile accident in 1956”
26. Sugar in My Bowl: The Best of Nina Simone – Nina Simone
Simone’s best from a versatile five year period. Yes, that’s 26. We went for it!
If you’re looking for some more in-depth jazz reading check out The Every Man’s Guide to Jazz.