Another 10 Essential Jazz Albums

Ahmad Jamal - Photo by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center

News | Nov, 22nd 2017

We've gathered together a third batch of jazz classics to add to your shelves! (See our past entries here and here.) These albums feature a diverse set of jazz greats who pioneered a range of styles, from bossa nova to hard bop. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling of classic albums (listed in no particular order!) that all jazz collectors should check out. Happy listening!

Ellington at Newport

Artist: Duke Ellington | Release Year: 1957

Personnel: Duke Ellington (piano), James Woode (bass), Sam Woodyard (drums), Johnny Hodges (alto saxophone), Russell Procope (alto saxophone), Harry Carney (baritone saxophone), James Hamilton (clarinet and tenor saxophone), Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone), Britt Woodman (trombone), Quentin Jackson (trombone), Cat Anderson (trumpet), Willie Cook (trumpet), Clark Terry (trumpet), and Willis Nance (trumpet)

Start With: "Festival Junction"

Why You Need This Album: This live album finds the Ellington Orchestra triumphantly swinging their way back into the national consciousness. Their 1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance was a rapturous experience, and Paul Gonsalves’s legendary 26-chorus solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" left the audience screaming for more.

Purchase: iTunes


Artist: Stan Getz & João Gilberto | Release Year: 1964

Personnel: Stan Getz (tenor saxophone), João Gilberto (guitar, vocals), Antônio Carlos Jobim (piano), Sebastião Neto (bass), Milton Banana (drums, pandeiro), Astrud Gilberto (vocals)

Start With: "Desafinado"

Why You Need This Album: This classic, hugely successful album finds tenor saxophone titan Getz delving into Brazilian music alongside the creator of bossa nova himself. Jobim composed many of the album’s now classic tracks, which seamlessly blend Gilberto’s cool voice and smooth guitar with Getz’s warm tone.

Purchase: iTunes

Ready for Freddie

Artist: Freddie Hubbard | Release Year: 1962

Personnel: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bernard McKinney (euphonium), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), McCoy Tyner (piano), Art Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums)

Start With: "Arietis"

Why You Need This Album: This is an incredible hard-bop showcase of a young Freddie Hubbard’s talents. The tunes are mostly originals by Hubbard, although Shorter does contribute one of his more indelible originals (“Marie Antoinette”). The rhythm section, led by Jones’s thunderous drumming, is locked-in and swinging, and the album features outstanding solos throughout.

Purchase: iTunes

Liberation Jazz Orchestra

Artist: Charlie Haden | Release Year: 1970

Personnel: Perry Robinson (clarinet), Gato Barbieri (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Dewey Redman (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone), Don Cherry (cornet, flute, Indian wood & bamboo flutes), Michael Mantler (trumpet), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Bob Northern (French horn, hand wood blocks, crow call, bells, military whistle), Howard Johnson (tuba), Sam Brown (guitar, Tanganyikan guitar, thumb piano), Carla Bley (piano, tambourine), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums, percussion), Andrew Cyrille (drums, percussion)

Start With: "The Introduction"

Why You Need This Album: This album is a blend of free jazz and folk traditions, with Ornette Coleman composition “War Orphans” sitting comfortably next to Spanish folk tune “El Quinto Regimiento." There is a sincerity and humanity in this music, and the struggle between strife and hope is evoked through alternating passages of dissonance and harmonic beauty. Plus, the project features a bevy of 1960s jazz masters, including bandleader and bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Dewey Redman, and drummer Paul Motian.

Purchase: iTunes

Bird and Diz

Artist: Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie | Release Year: 1952

Personnel: Charlie Parker (saxophone), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Curley Russell (bass), Buddy Rich (drums), Thelonious Monk (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), Carlos Vidal (bongo), Max Roach (drums), Al Haig (piano), Tommy Turk (trombone), Kenny Dorham (trumpet)

Start With: "Bloomdido"

Why You Need This Album: This is the only time that Parker recorded with Monk, whose comping and soloing shake up Parker’s usual straight-ahead bebop sound. All of the tunes are originals by Parker, except for “My Melancholy Baby.” Latter-day releases of the album feature multiple takes for almost every tune, so you can hear for yourself how the masters’ approaches changed as the sessions evolved.

Purchase: iTunes

Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics

Artist: Carmen McRae | Release Year: 1962

Personnel: Carmen McRae (vocals), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (tenor saxophone), Nat Adderley (trumpet), Norman Simmons (piano), Mundell Lowe (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)

Start With: "Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?)"

Why You Need This Album: Hear the swinging jazz vocalist Carmen McRae honor her friend and idol, Billie Holiday, soon after Holiday’s passing. McRae’s smooth, pure voice hits home in every tune, and the band, including trumpeter Nat Adderley, complements Holiday with beautifully crafted solos.

Purchase: iTunes

Somethin’ Else

Artist: Cannonball Adderley | Release Year: 1958

Personnel: Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)

Start With: "Autumn Leaves"

Why You Need This Album: This is a swinging album with sidemen who are mostly all bandleaders in their own right. Adderley’s sweet sound permeates the album, contrasted by Davis’s cool vibe.

Purchase: iTunes

The Printmakers

Artist: Geri Allen | Release Year: 1985

Personnel: Geri Allen (piano), Anthony Cox (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums, mouth percussion, timpani)

Start With: "Printmakers"

Why You Need This Album: Jazz lost one its brightest talents and most fiercely original voices when Allen passed away earlier this year. It’s not the only essential Allen record, but it’s a must-have; the album opens with Cyrille’s mouth percussion, setting the tone for a restlessly exploratory and joyful album.

Purchase: iTunes

Night At The Village Vanguard

Artist: Sonny Rollins | Release Year: 1958

Personnel: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Wilbur Ware (bass), Donald Bailey (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), Pete LaRoca (drums)

Start With: "A Night in Tunisia"

Why You Need This Album: This piano-less trio date finds Rollins live, without a net, pushing himself to the limits of his extraordinary improvisational talents. Captured not long before his self-imposed exile from the scene, Rollins recruited two different rhythm sections for the album, which is still one of the highlights of the Village Vanguard’s recorded output (no small feat!).

Purchase: iTunes

At the Pershing - But Not for Me

Artist: Ahmad Jamal | Release Year: 1958

Personnel: Ahmad Jamal (piano), Israel Crosby (bass), Vernel Fournier (drums)

Start With: "Poinciana"

Why You Need This Album: Both achingly minimalist and spectacularly rich, this is one of Jamal’s best albums and a landmark piano trio record. Jamal creates melodic, uplifting, entrancing passages, taking his audience through a journey of rich chords and extended lines and flourishes.

Purchase: iTunes

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