An Intro To Jazz: 20 Essential Albums For Beginners
An essential intro to jazz for beginners, these 20 albums offer a guide to jazz that traces the music’s development over the 50s and 60s.
Everybody starts somewhere, so we hope that this feature can serve as an intro to jazz, the best albums for beginners to the genre. Taken together, the below 20 albums form an intro to jazz – each one is a brilliant album that no discerning jazz fan would be without. Both credible and accessible, they offer an entry point into jazz for beginners looking to make that first step into the unknown. We’ve included albums that consistently make the lists of the most important jazz albums of all time, along with other albums that have added breadth to the genre. There’s also big band swing, a shining example of jazz guitar, stunning vocal jazz, and some of the funkiest organ ever captured in the studio. Plus a whole lot more.
We’ve listed these albums chronologically, so you can get a sense of jazz’s progression across the years. If you have any albums that you consider to be essential jazz for beginners, then let us know in the comments.
While you’re reading, listen to our Jazz For Beginners playlist here.
Louis Armstrong: Satchmo At Symphony Hall (Decca, 1951)
If you’re looking for the best albums for jazz beginners, you need to start with Louis Armstrong. One of jazz’s founding fathers, trumpet sensation and gravel-voiced singer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong became an ambassadorial figure for the genre in his later years. He recorded this memorable concert at the age of 46, in Boston, during November 1947. Though bebop was beginning to make its presence felt in the jazz world, there was still room for Satchmo and his authentic New Orleans-style jazz, as packed concert halls attested to. Satchmo At Symphony Hall contains some of Armstrong’s seminal tunes and features him fronting a seven-piece band that included Jack Teagarden on trombone. It wasn’t released until 1951, when it appeared as a 2LP set.
Key cut: Royal Garden Blues
Thelonious Monk: Genius Of Modern Music Volume 2 (Blue Note, 1952)
Thelonious Sphere Monk’s advanced musical language – featuring angular melodies and unusual dissonances – was deemed controversial when he first emerged on the New York jazz scene during the late 40s. Blue Note Records, however, admired his individuality and took a chance on him, recording a clutch of 78rpm 10” singles that were eventually compiled into two albums. The second volume initially contained eight songs, including the first recorded version of Monk’s classic tune “Straight, No Chaser.” The album was expanded to 12 songs in 1956 (when it was issued as a 33rpm 12” LP) and included “Monk’s Mood.” In the CD age, both volumes were combined into a single album called Genius Of Modern Music, which makes an excellent intro to a jazz great.
Key cut: Straight, No Chaser
Billie Holiday: Billie Holiday Sings (Clef, 1952)
Born Eleanora Fagan, in Baltimore, Billie Holiday possessed one of the most recognizable voices in jazz: languid and imbued with an inherent sadness and a naked emotional honesty that resulted from her tough upbringing and romantic disappointments. After her apprenticeship with several big bands, Holiday carved out a distinguished solo career, first at Columbia and later at Verve. This 1952 album (initially released as an eight-track set on a 10” format) found her recording for producer Norman Granz’s Clef label and serving up indelible versions of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “You Go To My Head,” and a touching rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude.” In 1956, an expanded 12” version was released under the title Solitude. A timeless intro to jazz’s “Lady Day” at her peak.
Key cut: You Go To My Head
The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall (Debut, 1953)
Want a quick intro to some jazz giants? The Quintet was a modern jazz supergroup that formed specifically for a one-off gig in Canada, at Toronto’s Massey Hall, on May 15, 1953. It was the only time that alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Max Roach played together as a group (it was also the final time that Parker and Gillespie were captured on tape together). Despite his drug problems, the mercurial Parker is on magnificent form, shining brightly on a six-track album that was once hailed as the greatest ever jazz recording (even though Charles Mingus, who released it on his own Debut label, felt compelled to overdub his bass parts in a studio, as his instrument was inaudible on the original tape). A rare meeting of jazz giants.
Key cut: A Night In Tunisia
Clifford Brown And Max Roach: Clifford Brown And Max Roach (EmArcy, 1954)
One of the early architects of a jazz style known as hard bop, which came to dominate the genre during the 50s, Clifford Brown was a gifted trumpeter who was cut down in his prime. Though he was killed in a car accident when he was just 25, on 25 June 1956, his genius is preserved by the many recordings he made. Clifford Brown And Max Roach was one of his best, made in tandem with a quintet he co-led with drummer Max Roach. It features Bud Powell’s piano-playing brother, Richie, who also died in that fatal car accident with Brown, along with tenor saxophonist Harold Land. “Brownie”, as the trumpeter was known, is sensational throughout the album, but especially brilliant on a thrilling version of Victor Young’s “Delilah.” He shows his prowess as a composer with his own fine number “Joy Spring,” which is an archetypal example of hard hop.
Key track: Joy Spring
Count Basie And His Orchestra: April In Paris (Verve, 1957)
Originally from Red Bank, New Jersey, Bill Basie, like his contemporary Duke Ellington, adopted an aristocratic title for a stage name and was a major force in the rise of the swing big bands of the 30s. Though most big bands had bitten the dust by the 50s (largely due to economic factors), Basie kept his going and enjoyed something of a renaissance. Regarded by many as the Basie band’s finest moment in a recording studio, April In Paris captures the swagger, verve, finesse and fuel-injected power of an ensemble that featured in its ranks trumpeter Thad Jones, saxophonist Frank Foster and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green. Among the many highlights is the buoyant title track, along with “Shiny Stockings” and “Corner Pocket.” You won’t find a better intro to big band jazz.
Key cut: Corner Pocket
John Coltrane: Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958)
Coltrane’s journey from an average bar-walking blues player into a seer-like jazz pathfinder is miraculous. Blue Train was the saxophonist’s first truly great album, coming after he kicked his heroin habit for good. It was recorded in September 1957 as a one-off for Blue Note during a time when “Trane” was actually contracted to Bob Weinstock’s Prestige label. The album features a sextet – with Curtis Fuller’s trombone adding richer sonorities to the horn section – and contains five songs, all but one written by Coltrane. Blue Train’s most memorable cut is its 10-minute title tune, which begins with a distinctive clarion call-like horn theme before morphing into a showcase for Coltrane’s unique approach to improvisation (which was described as “sheets of sound” by one US jazz critic).
Key cut: Blue Train
Cannonball Adderley: Somethin’ Else (Blue Note, 1958)
An alto saxophonist from Tampa, Florida, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was initially viewed as the heir to Charlie Parker. He found his own individual voice on his instrument, though, as this 1958 album – his only release on Blue Note – clearly illustrated. Cannonball, who was playing in the Miles Davis sextet at the time (and would go on to record the iconic Kind Of Blue with the trumpeter a year later), managed to rope his boss into the sessions. Miles rarely appeared as a sideman after 1955 but shines in a quintet opposite Cannonball using a muted horn on the tracks “Autumn Leaves” and “Love For Sale.” He also wrote the title song. There may be no better intro to late 50s hard bop jazz.
Key cut: Autumn Leaves
Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers: Moanin’ (Blue Note, 1958)
A powerhouse drummer and bandleader who could drive his musicians with a propulsive sense of swing, Art Blakey had a missionary-like zeal in his desire to spread the jazz gospel. Moanin’ arguably represents the pinnacle of Blakey’s work with his long-running band, The Jazz Messengers – dubbed “The Hard Bop Academy” on account of the all the many talented musicians that came through its ranks (ranging from Wayne Shorter to Wynton Marsalis). The gospel-influenced title song (written by Philly pianist Bobby Timmons), with its antiphonal cadences, anticipates the soul jazz style that would emerge from hard bop. Other great moments on the album include the tunes “Along Came Betty” and “Blues March,” two classics both penned by Blakey’s then tenor saxophonist, Benny Golson. Blakey’s prowess as a sticksman is highlighted on the dramatic “Drum Thunder Suite.”
Key cut: Moanin’
Chet Baker: Chet (Riverside, 1959)
With his chiseled demeanor, Chet Baker became the poster boy for the West Coast “cool” jazz scene of the 50s (despite the fact that he hailed from Oklahoma). Behind the matinee-idol good looks, however, there lurked a serious addiction to drugs which derailed his career several times. By the time Chet came out, the trumpeter had already been incarcerated for drugs offenses. Despite his many travails, he sounds in good shape on an album that focuses exclusively on his trumpet playing (rather than his vocals). The material is a selection of standards (including “How High The Moon” and “It Never Entered My Mind”) and features pianist Bill Evans, flautist Herbie Mann and guitarist Kenny Burrell. For a beginner looking for the best jazz albums in this style, Chet is an essential intro.
Key cut: It Never Entered My Mind
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out (Columbia, 1959)
California-born pianist Dave Brubeck had a penchant for playing music in unusual and unorthodox meters, and his quartet’s most famous song was this album’s title cut. An infectious number written in 5/4 time, “Take Five” became a hit single in 1960 and was written by Brubeck’s alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, initially as a vehicle to showcase the quartet’s drummer, Joe Morello. Other highlights on the album include “Blue Rondo A La Turk’ (rendered in 9/4 time) and “Three To Get Ready” (in 3/4). Brubeck’s popularity showed that innovations in jazz didn’t need to come at the expense of the music’s accessibility. Undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz albums ever, and one of the best jazz albums for beginners too.
Key cut: Time Out
Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959)
Obviously jazz beginners need to have an album from Miles Davis. But what? This iconic album, which began as a routine session, succeeded in transforming Miles Davis into a superstar. An off-the-cuff experiment in modal jazz (in which the music was created using set scales and fewer chords), Kind Of Blue became the biggest-selling jazz album of all time and vividly demonstrated that innovation wasn’t necessarily the antitheses of commerciality. Davis leads a stellar sextet that includes saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, plus Bill Evans on piano. The album, which redefined modern jazz, proved to be one big highlight from start to finish, beginning with the chilled groover, “So What,” and progressing to the mellow, Spanish-tinged “Flamenco Sketches.”
Key cut: So What
Ella Fitzgerald: Ella In Berlin: Mack The Knife (Verve, 1960)
During the live performance in Germany that resulted in this classic album, jazz’s “First Lady Of Song” did the unthinkable and forgot the lyrics to an impromptu version of “Mack The Knife” (in her defense, the song wasn’t in her repertoire, and she prefaces the performance by saying, “We hope we remember all the words”). The irrepressible singer improvised her way out of the predicament with new, spontaneously-created lyrics that included, at the song’s climax, the unforgettable line, “We’re making a wreck, what a wreck, of “Mack The Knife’.” The performance won Fitzgerald a Grammy in the category of Best Vocal Performance, Female, and remains a shining example of how spontaneity can shape jazz’s greatest performances. One of the best jazz albums for any beginner to the genre.
Key cut: Mack The Knife
Jimmy Smith: Back At The Chicken Shack (Blue Note, 1963)
Why do beginners to jazz need this album in their collection? Well, Jimmy Smith was the man who gave credibility to the Hammond organ in a jazz context. He was a prolific recording artist for Blue Note Records during the late 50s and early 60s. Back At The Chicken Shack was recorded in 1960 at the same time as Smith’s Midnight Special album, but its four songs weren’t released until three years later. They find the Norristown organ-grinder in the company of tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarist Kenny Burrell (on two tracks) and drummer Donald Bailey. The title track is a long, lazy blues that epitomized Smith’s down-home-style soul jazz aesthetic. Turrentine’s sax, with its husky intonation and churchy inflections, is also a stand-out feature of an album that is a jazz organ masterclass.
Key cut: Back At The Chicken Shack
Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery (Riverside, 1960)
The super-talented and profoundly influential Indianapolis-born fretboard maestro didn’t let his inability to read music affect his career. Influenced by Charlie Christian, Montgomery patented a distinctive and dexterous style that combined horn-like single-note melodies with block chords and unison octaves. This was his third album, recorded in New York with a quartet that contained pianist Tommy Flanagan, and the Heath brothers, Percy and Albert, on bass and drums, respectively. Montgomery charges out of the blocks with a fleet-fingered rendition of Sonny Rollins’ hard bop staple “Airegin,” but shows his sensitive side on tender ballads such as “In Your Own Sweet Way.” It’s his own compositions that impress the most, however, especially “Four On Six” and “West Coast Blues,” which are now regarded as jazz standards. Beginners looking for an album that can serve as an intro to jazz guitar should look no further.
Key cut: Four On Six
Bill Evans Trio: Waltz For Debby (Riverside, 1962)
A deeply sensitive musician who possessed an extraordinary musicality and exquisite good taste, Evans pioneered a singular approach to the piano that reflected his interest in classical music (especially the work of the Romantic and Impressionist composers) as much as jazz. The companion album to Sunday At The Village Vanguard, Waltz For Debby was taken from the same live performances, recorded on 25 June 1961. Evans’ trio (with Scott LaFaro, who died in a car crash 10 days later, on bass, and drummer Paul Motian) show an almost telepathic awareness of each other’s instruments and excel on a beautifully pensive “This Foolish Heart” and a sublime version of the title track. This is piano trio music at its finest, and one of the best jazz albums for any beginner.
Key cut: My Foolish Heart
Oliver Nelson: The Blues And The Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961)
A saxophonist who garnered more acclaim for his savvy arranging skills, St Louis-born Nelson didn’t make it past his 43rd birthday (he died in 1975 from a heart attack) but is fondly remembered by jazz fans for creating this album, one of genre’s greatest. Helmed by producer Creed Taylor, who had just launched Impulse! Records, The Blues And The Abstract Truth teamed Nelson with Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Roy Haynes, to create a timeless masterpiece. The album’s keystone is an original Nelson composition called “Stolen Moments,” which had been recorded a year earlier by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. It’s now considered a jazz standard.
Key cut: Stolen Moments
Duke Ellington And Coleman Hawkins: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse!, 1963)
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was 64 when this, his collaboration with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, was released. Hawkins was an admirer of the jazz aristocrat and the possibility of the two men working together had been broached as far back as the 40s, but for various reasons, the pair didn’t combine their talents until they convened in Van Gelder Studio in August 1962. Ellington didn’t use his full orchestra for the recording, instead, calling upon a smaller band comprised of its main stars, including alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. While the pair offer up enjoyable versions of classic Ellington tunes (“Mood Indigo,” “Solitude”), newer numbers, like the jaunty, joyous, opener, “Limbo Jazz,” are also noteworthy. A great album to listen to as an intro to jazz for beginners.
Key cut: Limbo Jazz
Stan Getz And João Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto (Verve, 1963)
Getz/Gilberto was the album that not only launched the solo career of singer Astrud Gilberto but also helped to put the Brazilian bossa nova phenomenon on the world stage. Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz had already delved into Brazilian music via his 1962 collaboration with guitarist Charlie Byrd on the album Jazz Samba, but here he sought authenticity by hooking up with vocalist/guitarist João Gilberto. The performances of both were overshadowed by a cameo from Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, on the song “The Girl From Ipanema,” which became a huge global hit when released as a single (and also snared a Grammy). A sublime meld of American jazz and Brazilian bossa nova, and a great intro to this moment in jazz history.
Key cut: The Girl From Ipanema
Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965)
Though he studied engineering at university, Herbie Hancock’s first love was music, and, after a stint playing piano in trumpeter Donald Byrd’s band, he got offered a solo deal by Blue Note Records in 1962. Maiden Voyage, a concept album characterized by a nautical theme, was his fifth album for the label, recorded in 1965, when Hancock’s day job was playing the piano in the Miles Davis Quintet (bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, both from Miles’ band, take part in the sessions). The album’s opening title track, with its gently pulsing groove, over which trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist George Coleman combine their horns in a sweet caress, is now regarded as a jazz standard, as are the serene “Dolphin Dance” and more febrile “The Eye Of The Hurricane.” Hancock has made many albums since, but, as good as they are, none quite fit the bill for beginners looking for an intro to jazz as well as Maiden Voyage.
Key cut: Maiden Voyage
Looking for more? Discover the best jazz albums of all time.
September 30, 2014 at 6:13 pm
Interesting list, but I can’t possibly agree to a top twenty that doesn’t include anything by Ornette Coleman!
September 30, 2014 at 8:39 pm
Ummm… Clearly you missed the point. It’s 20 albums to begin a journey into jazz with, not the 20 best jazz records. For the dilettante, Ornette would certainly be too advanced and likely offputting while the titles listed act as gateways into the genre, being access points. I’d argue any top 20 without Ayler is fairly worthless yet I wouldn’t say “Spiritual Unity” should have a place on this list. Free jazz is most certainly not the place to start for the uninitiated. “No Sun Ra?! Pffft…”
October 14, 2014 at 10:00 pm
‘Free jazz is most certainly not the place to start for the uninitiated.’
Really? If it weren’t for Anthony Braxton, Jon Lloyd, and Evan Parker, I doubt I would have acquired a taste for Sarah Vaughan and Grant Green. I just wouldn’t have had a point of entry.
Different people will have different routes in. Casting the net a little wider might have been a better idea.
‘We like it, but we are supersophisticated’ is probably not the most useful attitude … if one wants to proselytize.
April 5, 2015 at 9:49 am
If you think one of your friends is ready for it, take them straight to free jazz. However, a larger population of folks will be aware of, at least Sarah Vaughn, before they get introduced to Ornette, and an even smaller population of those introduced to free jazz, will enjoy it. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t great, it’s just that much of, at least, America’s ears are tuned to noises that are formulaic, melodic, and done in a rhythm that is somewhat recognizable to all ears A higher percentage of people at this point in history would not discover Sarah Vaughn through Braxton.
August 8, 2017 at 10:10 pm
Very correct Mr Quinlan. I concur.
October 28, 2017 at 1:25 pm
Except… It’s 2017. I can imagine Ornette Coleman might have been a bit inaccessible in 1960 or even a decade later. But now? Our ears have gotten used to much stranger sounds.
April 1, 2015 at 3:06 pm
June 13, 2015 at 4:28 pm
Totally agree with you.
October 25, 2015 at 2:12 am
Hear, hear! Although “Shape of Jazz to Come” leaps to mind, “Sound Grammar” might make a great intro as well.
October 27, 2017 at 2:42 pm
We are talking Jazz novices here. Ornette might be a little too complex for them.
January 10, 2018 at 8:51 pm
My “route in” was Stanely Clarke, the track “Hello Jeff” in particular. Now I have a decent jazz collection that includes Ornette Coleman. Go figure.
May 9, 2018 at 8:58 pm
I grew up with te bands of Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington. My dad was and still is a big fan.
So it wasn’t hard at all to become a jazz addict 😉
May 9, 2018 at 8:52 pm
I can give a big thumbs up for every list that does NOT include any album by OC, but that’s a matter of taste 😉
Peronally, I would include an album by Johnny Hodges in the list Preferably the one he recorded with Lalo Schifrin.
The smooth sound of Hodges is a very good start for the beginning jazz lover.
July 21, 2018 at 1:57 am
If you want some free jazz, Eric Dolphy was more influential.
July 21, 2018 at 2:02 am
If you start beginners on O.C that’s like suggesting The Rite of Spring for Classical newbies.
October 1, 2014 at 12:37 pm
Where are Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller et al, some of the greatest jazz pianists that ever lived? Then there’s Milt Jackson and Gene Krupa, Mary Lou Williams, Benny Goodman and Hoagy Carmichael, I could go on…….
April 1, 2015 at 7:50 pm
and where is Bernard Peiffer? Formidable.
July 21, 2018 at 1:59 am
It’s a top 20 list, not a top 500 list. These 20 albums are a solid way of getting into Jazz and exploring further.
October 1, 2014 at 1:54 pm
charles mingus “mingus mingus mingus mingus”
April 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm
I love this album too, especially ‘Get Hit In Your Soul’ – if this doesn’t make you feel good, you’re in deep trouble! Wonderful!
October 1, 2014 at 7:04 pm
I would replace Monk with the MJQ recording that featured Django. More accessible. Also during the period 1954-56: Miles Davis Walkin’ and Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus.
April 3, 2015 at 5:40 pm
Isn’t it something that in 2015, Monk’s earliest commercial recordings are still considered not accessible enough for an introductory list of recommended jazz classics? I would choose Brilliant Corners or any of his Prestige albums myself.
April 5, 2015 at 10:27 am
Word. Monk was a genius. I don’t dislike the guy’s music, but I was surprised to see Chet Baker on a small list of jazz classics to recommend. He wasn’t bad, but I’d put a boatload of jazz legends before him that aren’t even on this article’s list.
October 24, 2015 at 1:23 pm
Whose music is more accessible than Chet Baker’s? As for MJQ – before I learned to appreciate jazz, hearing them put me off listening to contemporary jazz for ten years! This is not an exaggeration for effect but simply the truth.
October 25, 2015 at 9:29 pm
Chet played trumpet like Miles, sang like Sinatra, and looked like a movie star (James Dean specifically). You really can’t get any more accessible than that.
October 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm
I don’t think the list -august as it is- achieves the purpose of serving as “the essential” gateway to appreciating this rich and varied art form. If I were going to get someone interested in Jazz I would never exclude Jazz made after 1970. This is the Ken Burns/Orchestra Hall version of Jazz -that it all evaporated after the 60s.
The wider breadth of music made since then offers countless wonderful avenues into Jazz with more chances to resonate with new listeners and encourage them to explore the rich tapestry that we all enjoy.
Jim from Miami
April 2, 2015 at 1:27 am
I agree with you George Greene. Gateway seems to me (and was for me) music that sounds in jazz and thereby whets one’s appetite for more specialized jazz. I think some of the electric Hancock and some of the CTI and better smooth jazz, as well as Branford Marsalis’ eclectic albums would be better introductions to jazz; then Kind of Blue and Maiden Voyage, and some vocals like Nina Simone, Ester Phillips Joe Williams Harry Connick Jr.and the like, moving further into the purer jazz area.
June 7, 2015 at 5:01 pm
A great Gateway album is Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. I’m not a huge jazz snob, but I’d also throw in the Mo Better Blues soundtrack featuring the Terrance Blanchard Quartet. I also think everyone needs to listen to Whipped cream and other delights by Herb Alpert.
October 24, 2015 at 12:52 pm
Totally agree–if the only way to get into jazz is to ignore the last 50 years, then it’s not worth getting into.
March 6, 2021 at 7:40 am
Good point. Some albums from more recent times to include might be Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Jazz at the Pawnshop, Diana Krall’s Live in Paris, Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, Dianne Reeves’ Better Days, Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block, The Singers Unlimited’s In Tune, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s Cheek To Cheek, Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Joni Mitchell’s Mingus, Sting’s A Touch of Jazz, Tony Bennett’s Duets, Ella Fitzgerald’s Live in Berlin, Flora Purim’s Stories to Tell, Chaka Khan’s CK, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Getz/Gilberto, Eliane Elias, Esperanza Spalding, and more. Pick your favorite old rock star; he probably has a jazz standards album out now!
October 14, 2014 at 5:07 pm
I must agree with my fellow lovers of Jazz. It is an incomplete list. If one was going to introduce someone to this wonderful world, there MUST be an inclusion of one of the greatest groups that made the scene and went on for over 40 years: The MJQ. Mr. John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay and Kenny Clark in the beginning. Together they were “The Gentlemen of Jazz.” They took Jazz out of the clubs and into the Concert Halls all over the world.
October 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm
A very odd list, either as the 20 best or the 20 entry points.
My suggestions for entry points (so no Ornette, Dolphy, George Russell, or Cecil Taylor which is too bad—and no Herbie Nichols). I am not a fan of vocalists so I have left out Billie Holiday et al. Not enough room for such a short list. Especially if trying to include post -1970 jazz.
1. Kind of Blue for Miles Davis
2. Giant Steps for John Coltrane (even though I love Blue Train I think an Atlantic session is a better, more accurate entry point)
3. Mingus Ah Um for Charles Mingus
4. Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Pepper sessions
5. Louis Armstrong Hot 5 and Hot 7 sessions—the source of his fame
6. Count Basie Decca sessions with Lester Young—far more important than April in Paris
7. Bill Evans Live at the Village Vanguard—definitive trio
8. Newk’s Time or Saxophone Colossus for Sonny Rollins—Rollins is essential
9. Thelonious Monk Genius of Modern Music—toss up between the two volumes, no. 1 has Misterioso and Epistrophy but no. 2 has Criss-Cross; buy the combined rerelease from the 1970s or the complete Monk on Blue Note CD package
10. Carla Bley Social Studies
11. Fats Waller piano sessions
12. Joe Lovano From the Soul [or Friendly Fire]
13. Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage
14. Gil Evans New Bottle, Old Wine—a great place to discover Cannonball Adderley
15. Duke Ellington The Blanton-Webster Band
16. Charlie Parker sessions with Red Rodney and John Lewis on Verve—accessible plus you get John Lewis
17. Dizzy Gillespie Big Band 1957 sessions
18. Clifford Brown / Max Roach
19. Chick Corea & Gary Burton Crystal Silence
20. Joe Henderson Lush Life—with Wynton Marsalis
April 5, 2015 at 10:33 am
You got it going on. Your list is great! Aside: I’m a big fan of jazz vocalists. I might not include them in this kind of list, but if I could sneak 2 in it would be Ella at Dukes Place and at least one thing with Joe Williams and Count Basie, but I think those all might be classified as blues/swing music. So, not a part of this list.
April 7, 2015 at 7:54 am
I reckon the Count Basie swings Joe Williams sings the best vocal album ever.
April 6, 2015 at 5:20 am
I thought the original list was fine, until I saw yours. Now that I think about it, I don’t think it is possible to list only 20 “best” albums for entry level referral.
July 21, 2018 at 2:04 am
No Lee Morgan? I think you know where I’m going with this.
October 14, 2014 at 6:40 pm
Dexter Gordon “Ballads”
April 1, 2015 at 8:18 pm
That is one of my favorites (as is just about any Dexter Gordon album)
October 15, 2014 at 12:55 am
Woody Herman, Stan Kenton. How about the complete JATP series that catapulted many of the jazz greats to fame, complements of Norman Granz, the first breaker of color lines and supreme promoter of jazz.
October 15, 2014 at 7:54 pm
Is Ornette too difficult? I’d have thought “Ramblin'” would grab anybody tempted towards jazz. So I’d include ‘Change of the century’s
I don’t see why anyone has to start with the earliest jazz-I certainly didn’t!
October 16, 2014 at 6:22 am
No quibbles with most of the selections (I would have chosen Ella’s sessions with Armstrong to represent her work. and I would have chosen Breakfast Dance and Barbeque or the Atomic Basie to represent the new testament band). The problem with this list is that it’s far too short to show the many faces of jazz. Serious omissions include Prez with Billie and with Basie, Woody, Holman’s Contemporary Concepts, Tatum, Pee Wee Russell, Mark Murphy, Dexter, Newk, Gil Evans, Brookmeyer, Mulligan’s early 60s band, and Thad Jones’ wonderful writing. I would have included a CD with Armstrong’s magnificent West End Blues, The Hi-Los And All That Jazz (for their signing, Marty Paich’s charts, and Jack Sheldon), one of the Terry Gibbs Big Band sets that included writing by Shorty Rogers, Al Cohn, and Holman, and Bill Henderson’s early LP that shows a definitive reading of “It Never Entered My Mind,” and Thad Jones’s wonderful writing for singers (My How the Time Goes By). And there’s a wonderful session on Verve with Oscar Peterson propelling Dizzy and Roy Eldridge into the stratosphere.
October 16, 2014 at 2:16 pm
The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett was what drew me in. It appealed to my enjoyment of classical music yet there was a lot more. I would have to put that on my list of ten that would be godo starters.
October 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm
Needs more sixties Blue Note .
October 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm
If anything, all the comments provided demonstrate the uselessness of this listing. What do we need lists on subjects that are purely depending on personal tastes?
October 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm
I disagree with the comment about lists. They inform and stimulate. No reasonable person takes them as definitive, but there are also no bad choices on this list, discussion ensued, learning happened. Lists are great.
How about a list of the ten worst?
Sven De Bruyn
April 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm
Kudos to that!
peter deeb article
November 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm
WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for Read about peter deeb
January 18, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Billie got me into jazz…if there’s no Billie on any list… forget about it…she sang with and for the v best of them…
April 1, 2015 at 2:40 pm
The albums I typically play for people who are newish to jazz (nieces, nephews, etc.) are Blue Trane, Concierto by Jim Hall, and pretty much anything by Ella, Bill Evans, or Clifford Brown. Occasionally I’ll throw in Lester Young or Paul Gonsalves (Boom-Jackie-Boom-Chick is usually among people’s favorites). There are so, so many amazing entry points to this wonderful category of music…
April 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm
In 1964 I was at the RFH to see the Duke. Paul Gansalves was “unwell” so they plucked a stand-in from the audience. Luckily they chose Tubby Hayes and he was brilliant. Went on to record with Paul. Tubby should be on the list.
April 1, 2015 at 7:41 pm
that should of course read ‘Gonsalves’.
April 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm
I hate these lists that act as if jazz ended in the 60s….there has been 40-50 years of music that lists like this ignore.
April 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm
The list acts as if Jazz started in the 1950’s, never mind the 40s years since
How about Earl Hines, lester young, Sidney bechet, Eddie Condon, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid ory, George lewis,etc
Usual approach at most music colleges on their jazz courses !!!
April 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm
Where’s “Mingus Ah Um”?
April 1, 2015 at 3:05 pm
With only twenty albums you can not possibly cover all that should be required listening, however this is a good start. Some of my favorites are missing also but you have to start somewhere.
April 1, 2015 at 3:12 pm
I know someone of note is always bound to be left out. That’s the nature of lists. But no Charles Mingus? Unthinkable.
April 6, 2015 at 7:47 am
The Quintet’s Jazz At Carnagie Hall has Mingus
April 7, 2015 at 12:45 am
As a side man. He was a great bassist but he’s more important as a composer/bandleader and he doesn’t have a writing credit on the album.
April 6, 2015 at 7:50 am
The Quintet’s Jazz At Massie Hall features Mingus
April 1, 2015 at 3:17 pm
If the author’s purpose was to stimulate discussion, the objective has been accomplished. Heres my suggestion: Each of us, as fans of the genre, should prepare our own list of “entry level” jazz albums, so that we can recommend it to our curious friends. Or, make a playlist of 20, or 50, or 100 tracks to share with those folks. There is just so much wonderful music that the majority of our friends know nothing about… let’s be the Jazz Apostles!
October 25, 2015 at 6:16 pm
gene ammons /boss tenor
April 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm
I completely agree – “Ah Um” should be there – easily accessible and brilliant. Even my six year old loves that record. Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon – all would fit quite nicely. If we were branching out ever so slightly, Yusef Lateef, Eastern Sounds. . .
April 1, 2015 at 3:48 pm
Good list. Need Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus, for sure!
April 1, 2015 at 3:56 pm
While I could easily add 20 more, this is nevertheless a great representation of Jazz LP albums. Love it!
April 1, 2015 at 4:26 pm
“The Hottest New Group In Jazz” by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
April 1, 2015 at 4:44 pm
Where’s Sarah Vaughn with Clifford Brown ?, Lambert Hendricks and Ross, Sonny Clark, Ben Webster, Birth of the Cool. Tough to pick just 20. Thanks for keep;ing the music alive.
April 1, 2015 at 4:55 pm
Wheres, Sarah Vaughn + Clifford Brown, Birth of the Cool, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Ben Webster, Gene Harris, Amazing Oscar P
April 1, 2015 at 5:16 pm
How can “Birth of the Cool” be off this list?
Martin Val Baker
April 1, 2015 at 5:40 pm
Far too much “modern jazz’….. Where are George Lewis, Kid Ory, Bessie Smith, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, KId Thomas, Lizzie Miles, and all the great pre 1940 musicians……
April 1, 2015 at 5:49 pm
The album by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane would be on my top 20 (top 10 for that matter).
April 1, 2015 at 5:53 pm
Don Ellis – Electric Bath
Charles Mingus – Blues & Roots; Pithecanthropus;
April 1, 2015 at 6:09 pm
No Kenny G?!
April 2, 2015 at 12:55 am
Heh, heh. Good one!
April 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm
Ha ha ha!
April 6, 2015 at 8:56 am
I thought the original list was quite excellent, until I saw yours and a few other selections from others. Now that I think about it, I don’t think it is possible to list only 20 “best” albums for referral to entry level seekers.
April 1, 2015 at 6:51 pm
faltan, creo, los siguientes: mingus, parker, jarrett, corea, rollins, gordon, wheater report, bad plus, casandra wilson…
April 1, 2015 at 6:59 pm
infaltables: davis, gillespie, parker, armstrong, coltrane, mingus, evans, monk, jarrett, holiday, ellington…
April 1, 2015 at 7:12 pm
Pandora, here I come baby!
April 1, 2015 at 7:32 pm
severe forgetfulness : keith jarrett “koln concert”
April 1, 2015 at 7:51 pm
There’s too many great jazz albums to mention depending on our own preference.My personal favorite is Chick Corea’s RTF “Light as feather”. though it’s not included.
April 1, 2015 at 8:33 pm
Lester Young Trio!
April 1, 2015 at 8:50 pm
I appreciate the inclusion of the Massey Hall concert. But for that to be the only mention of Charlie Parker is a bit criminal. Even for a “starter” jazz set, maybe adding the Dial Sessions in some form would provide a foundation for the rest? Just thinking out loud…
April 1, 2015 at 9:48 pm
All fine albums for sure. But no Hot Fives and Sevens by Louis? No Ella doing the Duke songbook? No Charlie Parker with strings? Just shows how hard it is to get it down to 20.
April 1, 2015 at 10:51 pm
Although Herbie Hancock’s album is good it should be replaced by the incredible A Love Supreme by the indomitable John Coltrane.
April 2, 2015 at 12:52 am
I understand the concept and own, or have owned, many of the albums included and am acquainted with most of the others. My only contribution would be to add Round Midnight by Miles Davis from 1958. This album literally changed my life. I still own it and listen to it.
April 2, 2015 at 12:57 am
breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the classic ‘Getz/Gilberto’. Boy oh boy, I’ll never get tired of that album. As much as I was surprised that there was no Mingus, Parker, or Rollins, I still find this list a great ‘starter kit’
April 2, 2015 at 1:42 am
1. A journey into jazz without Charlie Parker? That’s a glaring omission!
2. Jazz continues to thrive to this day. The present should be represented via any of the following:
– Pat Metheny “Bright Size LIfe”
– Chick Corea “Friends”
– Joe Lovano “52nd Street Themes”
– Michael Brecker “Tales From The Hudson”
– Steps Ahead “Modern Times”
– Pat Metheny Group “Still Life Talking”
– Joshua Redman “Freedom In the Groove”
– Chris Potter “Ultrahang”
April 7, 2015 at 12:42 am
Have you never heard the Quintet album? Bird, Diz, Bud Powell, Mingus and Roach. Everybody who cares about jazz at all should have this album, or at least know about it, and there’s your Bird spot on the list.
April 2, 2015 at 2:30 am
Best list of this type that I’ve seen.
I question whether the complainers own, or have even listened to most of these.
It’s easy to post your personal favorites, but to come up with a list like this, that won’t alienate the neophyte is no small task.
Thank you for posting this.
April 2, 2015 at 5:59 am
Well said. I admire your words because we could all laud our favourites, but this list is GOLD for the uninitiated.
April 2, 2015 at 2:55 am
What about the clarinets of Artie Shaw, Sydney Bechet, Paul Desmond, Benny Goodman or more recently, Eddie Daniels. Just sayin’
April 2, 2015 at 3:08 am
Because they have occupied space on my disc drive a great deal in the recent past, I highly recommend Joshua Redman’s “Timeless Tales (for Changing Times)” and “Art Pepper plus Eleven” with Marty Paich arrangements….very accessible and underrated!
April 2, 2015 at 3:23 am
ah um Mingus maybe?
April 2, 2015 at 3:33 am
Can’t argue with your choices. When asked by friends which albums they should listen to, I will suggest many of these, especially Kind of Blue, Time Out and Mingus Ah Um (not in list). Although I agree with the inclusion of Ella and Billie, I would think a Sarah Vaughan album should have been included (I’ve always loved No Count Sarah).
April 2, 2015 at 4:04 am
Paul Shaw’s list has about 10 I would include — Ellington, Basie, Armstrong, Miles Davis, Mingus, Rollins, Monk, Evans, Hancock. Coltrane could be debated but Giants Steps is a good entry point. That’s far better than the primary list, where other than overlap I would only include the Blakey album.
But Waller played better behind his own vocals, so I would go with Art Tatum (his Capitol recordings are probably most accessible). I would combine Parker/Gillespie, their seminal early bop sides. I would include Benny Goodman small group sides that include Charlie Christian. I would include a Bechet, either RCA or Blue Note sides. Maybe the Wes Montgomery choice for guitar album, but I quite frankly like Grant Green’s Idle Moments or the sides with Sonny Clark better. That leaves room for Billie (early sides) and Ella (tough to choose). Coleman Hawkins is tough to fit in, maybe just a 78 with Body and Soul.
April 2, 2015 at 4:54 am
Where is Night Train by Oscar Peterson? I agree with a lot of this, but there are some glaring omissions
April 2, 2015 at 5:58 am
I’m sorry, is MJQ no longer politically correct? A perfect introduction to jazz.
April 2, 2015 at 6:40 am
I could never just pick 20 albums to begin someone’s journey into jazz.But what i would do is to get them to listen to cd’s that have various artists on them.The first one i would let them listen to is the 5 disc set called “Ken Burns Jazz” it goes from the earliest recording of ‘Jass’ as it was first called to about the early 90’s.Then I would hit them up with Blue Note’s Series of cd’s called “The Blue Breaks” which is more upbeat stuff that the younger generation would enjoy. Nest there was a series of cd’s called “Priceless Jazz” which featured a great number of the Different jazz performers from the all eras of jazz. And then there a verve remixed and unmixed series that would once again get the younger generation into listen to jazz.From there I believe you’d be able to pick whole albums or cd’s of whichever artists you prefer.Just remember variety is the spice of life!!! (sorry for the long essay).
April 2, 2015 at 8:07 am
Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive
Bobby Hutcherson – Now
Roland Kirk – I Talk to the Spirits
Three that would be on my list.
April 2, 2015 at 9:57 am
I certainly agree on this list. Especially Davis, Evans and Getz Jobim.
April 2, 2015 at 10:00 am
and i am going to look for Ken Burns ‘Jazz’. He is one of America’s reknown historians.
April 2, 2015 at 10:43 am
Wow, I read every post, enjoyed reading them ALL, and each one, each name, each album stirred a warm memory. I even saw a couple of names I’ve never heard before! Great.
April 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm
I’ll get blasted by the purist, but:
Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow or Wired.
April 2, 2015 at 3:51 pm
It’s a nice list, but I like mine better: http://www.amazon.com/A-Microcosm-of-Jazz-1926-2000/lm/1WX8TKB32IZO/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_title_full
July 13, 2020 at 8:05 pm
Hi there mate! I know this was your post 5 years ago, but i was wondering if you still have the list saved somewhere else? The link you posted is sadly not available anymore. Thanks in advance!
April 2, 2015 at 4:44 pm
There should be some Sarah Vaughn on the list. The John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman collaboration is also worthwhile. Maybe something from Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster. Art Tatum for sure.
April 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm
These are all fantastic picks and every one of them deserves to be listened to and absorbed again and again. I usually don’t put up a fuss about lists like this because I recognize that they are subjective….My problem, however, is that a list supposedly made to bring non-jazz listeners into the fold does not include a single record from the last 20 years. If you really want jazz music to continue to be relevant and draw in new listeners, then we have to stop treating it as if it’s just cool music that was recorded in the past and now belongs in museums and coffee shops. The whole philosophical premise of jazz is that it is the music of right now…so get people excited about the music being made right now! There are so many great artists doing cool and innovative things who are also continuing the legacy left by the artists in your list …Esperanza Spalding, The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin & Wood, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Roy Hargrove, Jason Moran, Miguel Zenon, and so many more. This music is alive but we’re all pretending like it died in the 80s or something. Jazz “purists”, troll away.
April 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm
Ryan Smith makes a really good point. There are great musicians today to listen to in clubs and concert halls -Bill Charlap, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor sax, Roy Haynes, drums, Renee Rosnes, piano, Kenny Washington, drums, Sonny Rollins, tenor sax, Singers Rene Marie and Annie Ross, Trumpet: Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt. There’s a lot of great players around.
April 2, 2015 at 9:11 pm
This is great…I would add Sonny Stitt, Paul Gonzales, Kenny Burrell, Mose Allison, Nat and Cannonball Adderley Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone. I will continue to watch and listen, Thank you
April 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm
This list is great because its not a who’s who of vocal/pop jazz. Elevator music. I recently played Tony Malaby, a great sax player with an advanced tone and style, to my sister. She does not have an advanced jazz ear, but she loved it. It doesn’t matter what jazz is on the list, as long as its real jazz.
April 2, 2015 at 10:10 pm
Great list, but I was disappointed that it didn’t include Horace Silver.
I think that the Best of Blue Note, Vol 1 is a great one album intro to jazz. I’ve given it to a few friends. It includes:
1. Blue Train – John Coltrane
2. Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock
3. Cristo Redentor – Donald Byrd
4. Moanin’ – Are Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
5. Blues Walk – Lou Donaldson
6. Song For My Father – Horace Silver
7. Back At The Chicken Shack – Jimmy Smith
8. Chitlins Con Carne – Kenny Burrell
9. The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan
April 3, 2015 at 12:18 am
George Benson – George Benson & Jack McDuff
Toots Thielemans – Smooth and Easy
Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker – Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945
Modern Jazz Quartet – Jazz Progressions
Herbie Hancock – Cantaloupe Island
These are the albums I like. But I really enjoy seeing everyone else’s list of favorites.
April 3, 2015 at 9:27 am
Where’s Kenny G?
I’m not surprised that many comment “Where’s this person?” or “I’d choose this album”. It’s a list of 20 albums to begin a journey into Jazz with. I’m sure there are hundreds of albums that could have been chosen. Maybe those unhappy campers can start their own websites and post their lists.
Pedro Marinho da Silva
April 4, 2015 at 2:44 pm
I can think of Wheeler, Dorham, Werner, Washington, but G? Maybe in C or D….
As for the list it’s an exercize like other hard ones….
Jazz has more than 100 yo, thousands of composers, players, singers (m/f)….
Man, it’s Easter Time but don’t cruxify me….
Praise the Lord, the “Love Supreme”!!!
Greetings from Portugal,
I LOVE THIS MUSIC!!!
Pedro Marinho da Silva
April 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm
When I was still at school in 1948 I heard scratchy shellac recordings of Meade, Albert and Pete, to say nothing of Jimmy Yancey. Those records had me hooked and I still play them today (but not the 78s).
Listen to what you like and experiment with the new but don’t become fixated. Life’s too short
April 3, 2015 at 4:11 pm
A Love Supreme? A Love Supreme? A Love Supreme?
April 3, 2015 at 8:28 pm
Birth of the Cool sucks – it would not attract anyone new to jazz. I would add Soul Station, though. Great lost. Likewise, yeah, Kid Ory is great, but he’s not gonna bring anybody new in – nor would Teagarden. How ’bout some Horace Silver?
April 7, 2015 at 12:50 am
“Birth of the Cool” sucks? Boy, glad you tipped me off about that, I’ll stop loving it now!
April 4, 2015 at 7:00 am
My thoughts after reading the list, commentary & comments r that if you gonna start someone listening to the true art this entry point is a pretty darn good one and just like jazz the comments were improvisational…varying from each individual w/the foundation being consistent like the bass fiddle keeping time…I of course would have added n some Horace Silver, Charlie Parker (obviously an oversight on the list creators part) Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter just to name a couple…yet I disagree w/anyone that claim they could remove any of the artist mentioned from the list…add yes but remove…blasphemous…
April 4, 2015 at 7:49 pm
“Charlie Chan” on Jazz at Massey Hall is a pseudonym for Charlie Parker, used for contractual reasons, if I recall correctly.
April 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm
I would bet that some, perhaps even most of the comments come from musicians. Well, you should all go practice.
April 4, 2015 at 9:49 pm
April 4, 2015 at 11:15 pm
April 5, 2015 at 1:04 am
I give away my “era” of jazz that got me interested in the first place – as a teenager – – – -Dave Brubeck group – Take Five among thousands of others and Ella Fitzgerald’s Carnegie Hall album. Favorites of mine. I thank you for starting this conversation. It’s a good idea for anyone who’s exploring the style. Everyone has their own ideas. And this means Jazz in not dead, but living in all of us.
April 5, 2015 at 5:47 am
Great list that gives a good sampling of some the greats of jazz, but I would have added one the premier jazz-fusion albums and certainly the best selling, Heavy Weather by Weather Report.
April 5, 2015 at 12:05 pm
Ah Em. I don’t see any Mingus recordings in there. Robert’s Shape of Jazz to Come is a landmark recording. So is Bitches Brew
April 5, 2015 at 12:55 pm
Accessibility and palatability, people! Be aware of what a backlash there is against REAL jazz these days. Radio has destroyed context and progressive articulation. Leave this list be. Ièm sure that even some of this will be hard for some EDM-softened ears.
April 5, 2015 at 1:24 pm
I came to these more classic recordings through discovering fusion in the 70s, so I would include some Weather Report or Return to Forever. Then work back.
April 5, 2015 at 2:24 pm
As a young musician just learning how to construct a solo, how to put improvised musical sentences together. how to build layer upon layer of musical thoughts and ideas…IMO…the CD to listen to would be The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett. This CD is a master class in how to display the ultimate form of the art….almost perfect in it’s ability to tell the intended story. The only other performance I can think of that comes close…… is Jazz goes to College by the Dave Brubeck Quartet…specifically Paul Desmond’s many solos. These CDs typify what Jazz and contemporary music is all about…each artist telling their own story in a truly personal way. Isn’t that the aspiration of any good musician?
April 6, 2015 at 1:52 am
Agree with preference for Brubeck’s Jazz Goes to College. Desmond’s performance was probably inspired by live audience at Ann Arbor
October 24, 2015 at 7:54 pm
I have an album that came out shortly after Jazz Goes to College called College Goes to Jazz. Pretty darn good for college kids, but I don’t think any of ’em ever became famous.
April 5, 2015 at 5:40 pm
Return to Forever-Romantic Warrior very accessible
April 5, 2015 at 6:52 pm
Saxophone Collosus got me interested. Favorite album Dexter Gordens Our Man in Paris. Ella and Louie for vocals and Ellington- Armstrong sessions too.
April 5, 2015 at 9:39 pm
Love this discussion. So many gems; so little time. All recommendations have merit. To the newbie: start with any “Greats” list, jump in, and keep your ears open.
David W Delaney
April 6, 2015 at 1:40 am
Agree with others on MJQ, Oscar Peterson, and Sarah Vaughan; would also add Shorty Rogers/Gerry Mulligan for West Coast primer.
April 6, 2015 at 11:27 pm
Quite a good representative list. Certainly would make a good intro. I would certainly have the hot fives and seven to represent Louis Armstrong and the Never no more Lament to represent Ellington. Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan would be a must, as would any of the Parker/Gillespie collaborations. Of course all this would mean being able to include box sets. I notice all your selections are single albums.
April 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm
This may not garner the approval of the purists, but I think that an album such as Abbey Lincoln’s “A Turtle’s Dream” (1994) is an excellent way to introduce people to jazz who think they don’t like it. I have recommended it countless times to folks who told me they didn’t like jazz, and, more often than not, they start exploring jazz afterwards.
Also, Ella’s “Songbook” albums turn out to be a great way to get people into jazz singers. I have known many people who only knew her scat singing (which, of course, is great) and were turned off by it, only to fall in love with her treatment of the standards.
April 7, 2015 at 12:35 am
A few of these could be dropped in favor of some Sonny Rollins and Lester Young. A good double-dip would be “Billie Holiday and Lester Young: A Musical Romance.” Both are excellent on every track. I could say a lot more if I took the time to think about it, but no Lester=no list.
April 7, 2015 at 4:46 am
Uh, Love Supreme?
April 7, 2015 at 5:49 am
I would have liked something more modern on the list, for example I would have included Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek: Belonging.
April 7, 2015 at 5:28 pm
These comments are the supplemental discography! Just as relevant as ‘The (original) List’. As a kid who started playing in the early ’60s I heard Jazz on my mom’s kitchen radio. Sinatra, Bennett, Nat King Cole, Ella, Sarah, Holiday, et. al. My 1st album was a $0.69 LP of Dixieland (bought from the Sears Calogue Store) with Al Hirt, Pete Fountain & Bob Havens. Great entry to Dixieland (& back to Armstrong, Bix, Jelly Roll then Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey . . .)! I got my 1st taste playing jazz at the age of 12 in the local summer ‘dance band’ for jr. & senior high school kids. So big bands like Elington, Basie, Kenton, Herman, Miller, (& later, Buddy Rich & Maynard Ferguson) were my next playing opportunities. The small groups playing standards were also important discoveries for me. Goodman, MJQ, Parker, Miles, Coltrane, Lester Young, Colman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Brubeck, Mulligan are some of my favorites. When you jump into the middle of the pool you have a lot of direction in which to swim.
April 15, 2015 at 7:25 am
Sure, the embrace of this canon could have been wider, but just starting with the few of these that could initially entice is enough to take someone into the art. The ‘Round Midnight’ soundtrack was enough for me if only because it named who to seek out. This list does far more than that.
May 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm
I love lists like this because of the debate they inspire. Lists are always subjective so those who are easily offended by any particular list-maker’s subjectivities need to lighten up. My only quibble: no Django Rheinhardt.
June 7, 2015 at 11:02 pm
I got hooked on jazz as a teen in the early 1950’s. My dad (who started playing the sax when a youngster) would sometimes comment unfavorably about some of the music I listened to but then he introduced me to the music is Django Reinhardt!! Go figure!! ‘-)
June 7, 2015 at 11:24 am
I would add Song For My Father by Horace Silver and perhaps one of the Grant Green/Sonny Clarke albums. My personal choice would be Nigeria.
June 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm
A lot of good choices but no Afro Caribbean jazz, e.g. Diz and Chano, Machito, Mario Bauza, Chico O’Farrill, Tito Puente, or more comtemporary greats e.g. Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, Bobby Sanabria, Papo Vazquez. Anyone who doesn’t find their best work “accessible” really doesn’t like music.
June 7, 2015 at 5:06 pm
Actually my Entry point was Herbie Hancock’s “Future Shock” well Parachute pants and spinning on your head were cool then… when I dug into jazz itself, my journey began With “Great Moments in Jazz” from Atlantic records. Compilations like that are a great way to find what you like and then find your path to musical heaven.
June 7, 2015 at 9:14 pm
Definitive is what you want for a list like this. Some are and some aren’t. There are several excellent choices. Dave Brubeck is not definitive. Charles Mingus is. The only Duke is a token so you can have the Hawk in the list. There are many definitive players missing, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Betty Carter, LH&R – they are often missing from lists like these, but Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker – they always make the lists. Why not Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, undeniably one of the best recordings of this music? These are a list of famous musicians, not the definitive albums.
June 7, 2015 at 10:16 pm
Brubeck was not “definitive?” What planet are you listening on? Everyone has different tastes, but good grief!
June 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm
All the adulation for Coltrane. One would think he was the only jazz saxophonist in the world. Far too much emphasis on modern jazz and the be-bop era. I’ve loved jazz for 50 years and I wouldnt’ listen to 2/3 of these albums. Basie, Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Louis and Ella, Ellington, Zoot, Django, Pizzarelli’s, Desmond. A lot of jazz is very esoteric, but it’s also the reason a lot of people don’t like it. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
June 8, 2015 at 7:41 pm
1. kind of blue, miles 2. a love supreme, coltrane 3. maiden voyage, hancock 4. speak no evil, wayne shorter 5. mosaic, art blakey and the jazz messengers 6. the concert, live at massey hall, charlie parker quintet 7. power to the people, joe henderson 8. now he sings, now he sobs, chick corea 9. bill evans at the village vanguard 10. one step beyond, jackie mclean 11. Charlie Parker Savoy Sessions (with miles davis) 12. gerry mulligan quartet with chet baker (Dbl CD) 13. Mingus Ah Um, Charles Mingus 14. Soul Station, Hank Mobley 15. Song for My Father, Horace Silver 16. Lester Young w/ the Oscar Peterson Trio 17. Duke Ellington @ Newport 18. The Real McCoy, McCoy Tyner 19. Brilliant Corners, Monk 20. Tomcat, Lee morgan That’s what I’d give someone…
June 11, 2015 at 4:22 am
I don’t know why Gypsy Jazz is excluded at every turn in the jazz world. At some point it starts to feel intentional. Why would you not have a Django album – you know, the man who single handedly inspired what may be the most loved style of jazz in the world. Check out Adrian Moignard, Gonzalo Bergara, Joscho Stephan, Sebastian Ginaux, Andreas Oberg, and of course Bireli Lagrene.
June 27, 2015 at 10:32 pm
My point of entry into jazz? Frank Zappa. Then came George Duke, Jean Luc Ponty, Sugarcane Harris, Weather Report, etc… The Grand Wazoo made me appreciate Big Band in a different light which made me check out Toshiko Akioshi, Oliver Nelson, Buddy Rich…
August 11, 2015 at 5:17 am
I’m a big fan of Stanley Turrentine. Any reason why he never gets a mention – even in the top 50?
August 31, 2015 at 8:07 am
Thanks, exactly what I was looking for, didn’t knew where to start… Listening some of it now.
September 28, 2015 at 11:35 pm
For me, my starting point for listento jazz was Gerry Mulligan – Walk on Water.
Otherwise I´ll think Paul Desmond would be an eccellent start, but all depends of wich direction tou come from.
If you normaly listen to Punk, Rock or Metal (and everything thats include in that) maybe Coltrane and Coleman would work easy.
October 24, 2015 at 3:55 pm
Anything by Ella, George Shearing and Mel Torme, Maynard Ferguson Echoes of an Era and Nat King Cole After Midnight along with Dave Brubek’s Time Out should be annexed in.
October 24, 2015 at 4:00 pm
Oops! nevermind, I must have passed over Time out and Ella, but still Some Nat King Cole, Maynard Kenton and George Shearing would be great and why not a little Horace Silver and Cal Tjader? And some Weather Report for the rockers’ training wheels to start to come off?
October 25, 2015 at 12:54 am
Charlie Parker : Cool Blues . This album is an example of a new direction of the continuous journey which jazz is travelling on in perpetuity .
October 25, 2015 at 9:06 am
Where’s Chick Corea????
October 25, 2015 at 12:46 pm
Two disagreements. I would include jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. He contributed mightily to single string playing, and to the introduction of Gypsy Jazz. Another is Benny Goodman. I feel strong enough about him to say that he is to the clarinet what Louis Armstrong is to the horn.
October 25, 2015 at 11:59 pm
A lot of you commenting on this article end up proving part of the article as well as the maxim “you cannot please everybody”. If your favorite wasn’t on the list, don’t complain about it as you may just have different taste from the writer. I can think of artists not on the list but so what? The writer did their best.
November 4, 2015 at 11:42 pm
…and where´s Bix?
April 3, 2016 at 4:59 am
Lists like this are, by their very nature, subjective. So, piss and moan all you want to in that overly snobbish, self-assured way. These selections are one person’s very valid list of albums for beginners in the jazz listening arena. There are plenty of places one could start, but this ain’t too shabby. It could change someone’s life.
September 17, 2016 at 9:18 am
Jazz is music for trouser janglers
June 16, 2017 at 11:55 am
Nobody’s listening 21th century’s jazz here !! 😉
June 16, 2017 at 12:26 pm
It seems the vibraphonists got ignored.
June 16, 2017 at 4:57 pm
No Lester Young and no Dexter Gordon? !
June 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm
Some west Coast Jazz starting with Stan Kenton and Shorty Rogers, among many others…
June 17, 2017 at 12:05 pm
Well, one person’s opinion, I suppose – for what it’s worth (?). I could agree perhaps with about twelve of these, or make a list of twenty completely different albums. The good thing is it’s got people discussing.
July 23, 2017 at 6:56 pm
One of my introductions to Jazz was my father playing “Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band on Tour with Special Guest Zoot Sims”. I still have his copy in my collection and it still thrills me. Out of print now, but copies can be found on Ebay.
July 23, 2017 at 6:56 pm
I would add Dizzy Gillespie- from the bluebird years. I think it would flow well with the rest of your list. Anthropology, Manteca, Cool Breeze, Ow, all heavy swinging classics!! definitely turned be on to jazz 20 years ago
July 24, 2017 at 12:41 am
This list is very biased against pre-Bepop. What about the Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert? Or the Duke Ellington 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert? Where is Bix Beiderbecke, or Django Rheinhardt/Stephan Grappelly; and what about Lester Young; or “the Birth of Cool”? I would also add either “Yardbird Suite” (a three-record collection) or “Bird’s Best Bop on Verve.”
July 24, 2017 at 1:14 pm
What no Charlie Parker? I don’t think that one can tell the story of jazz in no less than 40 albums. And if a friend of mine was interested in jazz, ain’t no way Id start them off with free jazz. I would start wifh Charlie Parker.
August 9, 2017 at 4:26 pm
I had my own share of “what, no this or that?”, but we are talking an entry level list; music to get people into jazz. In that sense, with the exception of Kenny G, (Seriously? I mean, SERIOUSLY??) ALL the names and albums mentioned are good, and its been fun reading these comments. One I would add, almost a jazz primer of sorts. My first exposure to jazz (at age 12) was the music of Henry Mancini for the TV series Peter Gunn. I remember thinking “WHAT IS THIS MUSIC?!” Music from, and More music from Peter Gunn are still available. Exquisite horn sections et al. (Listen to Dreamsville.) Happy listening!
October 27, 2017 at 2:46 pm
As always with these lists, someone will feel an important artist or two was left out. But I think most can agree that this would be a wonderful list for a Jazz Novice to get started.
August 2, 2018 at 4:47 am
Ah Um – Charles Mingus
October 23, 2018 at 9:46 pm
Where’s Bunny Berigan??
November 24, 2018 at 5:04 pm
So glad that “Maiden Voyage” made the list.
May 26, 2019 at 12:41 pm
This list needs, nay demands, Giant Steps by Coltrane.
90s Columbia House order: Giant Steps, Kind of Blue, Song for my Father and The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.
These four discs blew my mind then, I still return to them today. Essential, timeless, legendary.
Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS
August 29, 2022 at 5:53 pm
NO ALBUM BUT you can get THE CHRIS NOWAK PROJECT on YOUTUBE!!!
In my books, this is the BEST MINOR BLUES ever composed!!!!!
Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS
September 2, 2022 at 3:54 am
Another great BLUES that I composed!!
UNION DUES BLUES: