10 Essential Jazz Albums

News | May, 21st 2015

New to jazz and not sure where to start? With many artists and extensive catalogues of music, a new jazz listener can feel intimidated. We're here to help! Check out our list of 10 albums to get you started on your jazz journey and introduce you to some of jazz's great artists.

1. Time Out

Artist: Dave Brubeck | Release Year: 1959
Personnel: Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto saxophone), Eugene Wright  (bass), Joe Morello (drums)
Start With: Take Five
Why You Need This Album: Take Five is a singular and thrilling mix of the familiar and the unexpected. What has kept this album in the limelight and in listeners’ hearts for so many years is the unending sense of effortless swing, the magnificently catchy melodies, and the beautifully choreographed dance between four luminaries of music.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

2. Blue Train

Artist: John Coltrane | Release Year: 1957
Personnel: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Drew (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Start With: Locomotion
Why You Need This Album: Blue Train features a younger Coltrane playing beautifully on some highly memorable pieces in outstanding company. From the title track’s somber mood giving way to a bluesy swing, to Moment’s Notice’s peppy start-and-stop melody, to Lazy Bird’s bop workout, Blue Train is a delight from start to finish.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

3. The Sidewinder

Artist: Lee Morgan | Release Year: 1963
Personnel: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass), Billy Higgins (drums)
Start With: Totem Pole
Why You Need This Album: The burgeoning soul jazz scene found one of its standard-bearers in Lee Morgan. Taking a page from the boogaloo playbook, the piece Sidewinder may stand as one of the funkiest hard bop tunes set to record. Just try to stop yourself from dancing to this masterpiece. A crowd-pleaser, the album’s secret weapon lies in its heavy-hitting A-team of a band that keeps you grooving even as they get into some deep musical territory.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

4. The Turnaround

Artist: Hank Mobley | Release Date: 1965
Personnel: Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Herbie Hancock (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)
Start With: East of the Village
Why You Need This Album: Hear the full range of Hank Mobley’s greatness: from his beautifully supple tenor saxophone tone, to his earthy bluesy wails, the range of his expressive capabilities make it onto this beautiful album. Recorded over several years and multiple sessions, this album also gives you a veritable who’s-who of great Jazz figures of the mid-1960s.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

5. Ella & Louis

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong | Release Year: 1956
Personnel: Louis Armstrong (vocals, trumpet), Ella Fitzgerald (vocals), Ray Brown (bass), Herb Ellis (guitar), Oscar Peterson (piano), Buddy Rich (drums)
Start With: Isn’t This a Lovely Day
Why You Need This Album: Take two of the greatest artists that music has ever known, pair them with a rhythm section of masters, and give them beloved standard fare from the songbook they helped to define and you’ve got one of the most magical albums of jazz. Relaxed, effortless, beautiful, swinging, and fun, this album will charm even the most resistant of listeners.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

6. Moanin’

Artist: Art Blakey | Release Year: 1959
 Personnel: Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor saxophone), Bobby Timmons (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass)
Start With: Blues March
Why You Need This Album: Gospel, blues, hard bop, and swing congeal in this masterpiece of an album, and at its core is the relentless propulsion machine that is Blakey’s drumming. Endlessly swinging and churning along with Blakey’s inimitable shuffle, this album is a testament to Art’s oft-quoted line, “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.”
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

7. Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Artist: Bill Evans | Release Year: 1959
Personnel: Bill Evans (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Start With: Night and Day
Why You Need This Album: After listening to this album, you’ll find yourself agreeing with its title. Gorgeously meditative, though often quite sprightly in its swing, Everybody Digs Bill Evans captures the essence of this remarkable artist and showcases the beautiful pearly sound he could draw out of the keyboard.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

8. Ellington Indigos

Artist: Duke Ellington | Release Year: 1958
 Personnel: Duke Ellington (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), Sam Woodyard (drums), Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope (clarinet, alto saxophone), Harry Carney (baritone saxophone), Johnny Hodges, Rick Henderson (alto saxophone), John Sanders (bass trombone), Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman (trombone), Cat Anderson, Shorty Baker, Willie Cook, Clark Terry (trumpet), Ray Nance (trumpet, violin), Ozzie Bailey (vocal)
Start With: Mood Indigo
Why You Need This Album: A subtle, gorgeous big band album that presents the remarkable range and capabilities of the Ellington band, this serves as a beautiful introduction to this ensemble. Keep an ear open for the lush, vocal qualities of Johnny Hodges’ alto saxophone as well as the majestic sound of Harry Carney’s baritone saxophone solo.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

9. Be Good

Artist: Gregory Porter | Release Year: 2012
Personnel: Gregory Porter (vocals), Chip Crawford (piano), Emanuel Harrold (drums), Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Aaron James (bass), Kamau Kenyatta (horns), Tivon Pennicott (saxophone), Yosuke Sato (saxophone)
Start With: Be Good
Why You Need This Album: Gregory Porter wields a beautiful, supple baritone voice, sports a deep knowledge of the Jazz tradition, shows an abiding love of R&B, and has a sense of adventure that drives him to explore new projects and write new music. On Be Good, he struck a perfect balance that will surprise and delight you at every turn.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

10. Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown

Artist: Sarah Vaughan | Release Year: 1954
 Personnel: Sarah Vaughan (vocals), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Paul Quinichette (tenor saxophone), Herbie Mann (flute), Jimmy Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)
Start With: April in Paris
Why You Need This Album: On Sarah’s singing alone, this stands as one of the most remarkable albums of jazz. Add in an all-star ensemble, and in particular the master trumpeter Clifford Brown, and you have a legendary album. Incredible ensemble work, beautiful standards, and an intuitive interplay between vocalist and horns make this a record that grabs you on the first listen and keeps you enthralled through hundreds more.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

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