Top 10: Jazz albums for beginners


Jazz. It’s as American as apple pie, baseball and war. With a long and complex history, from ragtime to big band swing and bebop to modern hard bob, knowing where to start might seem intimidating.  Here are ten albums that anyone interested in jazz will enjoy. Make sure to take your time and listen to these albums from beginning to end.

1. All-Time Greatest Hits- Louis Armstrong

Greatest hits albums should be exempt from this list. However, with a career that spans more  than 60 years with 25 albums and more than 200 known recorded songs, pinpointing an album that embodies trumpeter Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong is next to impossible. Armstrong is a child of ragtime and a pivotal forefather in the transition from ragtime to jazz. The album is filled with some of Satchmo’s most know hits, such as “What a Wonderful World” and “La Vie en Rose.”

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2. The Popular Duke Ellington- Duke Ellington

The Duke of Jazz, Duke Ellington, is one of the best-known jazz big band and swing pianist bandleaders. His career spans more than 60 years with some of the most influential songs in the genre. “The Popular” is chock full of those songs, as the album is a hi-fi recording of his hits. The album has Ellington’s most known song,‘Take the A Train’ (referencing the quickest train that takes you to Harlem) alongside other hits like “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

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3. Bird and Diz- Charlie Parker Jr. and Dizzy Gillespie

No two musicians could be more important in the age of bebop then saxophonist Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker Jr. and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Take a listen to any record after the age of bebop, modern or old recordings, and you will hear Parker Jr. or Gillespie licks in their improvisation. The album features hits like “Relaxin’ With Lee” and “Passport” along with others, mainly composed by Parker Jr..

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4. Afro- Dizzy Gillespie

Being that jazz is primarily music from black American culture, it was natural for musicians to look into the roots of their own history and of the music they learned to love. This album didn’t have to look too far. Dizzy Gillespie intertwined the swing of big band, the structure of bebop and the rhythm and drums of Cuba to introduce the world to a new genre: Afro-Cuban jazz. The album features hits like “Manteca” and “Con Alma.” If you are not convinced, Google search “Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks.”

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5. Page One- Joe Henderson

Entering the age of hard bop jazz, records went from having large ensembles to sextets, and improvisations were more important then the structure of the tune. This album features Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Kenny Dorham on trumpet. Both Henderson and Dorham have similar improv styles, yet they compliment each other very well in this thoughtful album. It features hits like “Blue Bossa” and “Out of the Night.”

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6. Song for my Father- Horace Silver

This is another album that ties in roots from the musician’s history. Pianist Horace Silver was inspired by the rhythms and drums of his father’s home county of Cape Verde and from the sounds he heard while touring in Brazil. The album has a prominently Latin beat and sound, with hits such as “Song for My Father” and “Que Pasa?”

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7. The Sidewinder- Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was Blue Note Records go to man on trumpet. You can hear Morgan on many Blue Note recordings, but as a bandleader, he shines as his bandmates accommodate his sound. This album has a wide array of styles. One track will make you dance, the next will have you sit and listen and another will make you think of your loved ones. The album features hits like “Totem Pole” and “Hocus Pocus.”

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8. Kind of Blue- Miles Davis

Miles Davis has a style that is effortless. It sounds as if he has put theory aside and is only playing licks, yet it fits and sounds complex. The album has Davis on trumpet, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto saxophone, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The albums features hits like “Freddie Freeloader” and “Flamenco Sketches.”

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9. Moanin’- Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Most bandleaders are horn players, but not Art Blakey. Blakey was a drummer and has been able to lead a band and also compose classic and influential records. The feel of this album is complex, as it focuses deeply on improvisations. However, the grooves of each track set up the style of the improv creating a unique sound for each track. The album features hits like “Moanin’” and “Blues March.”

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10. Blue Train- John Coltrane

When you think about the sound of jazz, John Coltrane comes to mind. Coltrane made jazz his religion, which resulted in him being one of the most influential and recognizable sounds in jazz. This album is considered to be sloppy in the transitions to musicians, yet that allows the album to have an easy and unique sound. The album features hits like “Blue Train” and “I’m Old Fashioned.”

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