Musicians

5 Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Jazz has been experiencing a resurgence. While many have loyally followed the genre for decades, a younger audience is also embracing this eclectic, expressive music.

Regardless of which group you fall into (or if you’re somewhere in between), spending time with the best jazz albums of all time is never a mistake. It can help you learn about the history of the genre and experience its evolution first hand. At times, it means opening yourself up to a moving experience, committing your attention to a wild and varied journey through the music.

But what makes a great jazz album? And which ones are the best? Here’s a look at what you need to know.

What Makes a Best Jazz Album of All Time?

If you asked any jazz fan for their top jazz albums of all time, you’d likely get a different list. The trick is, taste is somewhat subjective. Plus, listening to every album ever created is essentially impossible, so nearly every listener has gaps in their knowledge, whether they like to admit it or not.

But, for the purposes of this list, the goal was to focus on releases by leading musicians who made groundbreaking contributions to the genre. In part, this means looking at both enjoyability and the album’s significance. Plus, there’s a sprinkling of personal opinion, as being entirely subjective would be an incredibly tall ask for something like jazz.

If you are wondering which jazz albums are almost universally worth a listen, here are five of the best jazz albums ever created.

5 Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

When it comes to a timeless classic, it’s hard to beat Kind of Blue from quintessential jazz musician Miles Davis. While the album turned 60 in 2019, it’s as engaging today as it was when it first released. Along with Miles, the album features the musical stylings of other jazz greats, including Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. Throughout, the vibe is relaxed but intriguing, making it ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy an album that really marked a historical moment in the genres’ history.

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

Speaking of John Coltrane, A Love Supreme is often considered the origin of the spiritual jazz subgenre. It’s still considered a profoundly influential album, using jazz to explore concepts it had yet to tap in such a meaningful way. The music plays out like a journey, taking the listener along for an unexpected ride. At points, the emotional peaks are practically overwhelming in their intensity, but also fully satisfying. Many listeners may feel wholly spent at the end, but would typically agree that the exhaustion is well worth it.

Chick Corea: Return to Forever

Featuring a rich and highly textured sound, Return to Forever is another album that is as much about the journey as it is the destination. There’s an almost opulence to much of the experience, with the music swirling around like mental syrup. Every track is an enveloping adventure, making it a worthwhile listen for any jazz fan.

Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um

Featuring a mix of energetic songs and soothing ballads, Mingus Ah Um is as unpredictable as its fiery-tempered creator was often said to be. Plus, with the addition of “Fables of Faubus,” the album has a degree of political edginess, allowing listeners to reflect on a time when racial tensions and school integration were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Plus, it’s a solid reflection of Charles’s unique style, making it a worthwhile addition to have in any jazz aficionados’ collection or playlist.

Cannonball Adderley: Somethin’ Else

Along with being one of the best small group ensemble jazz albums ever recorded, Somethin’ Else is considered by many to be Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s strongest outing. The alto saxophonist is accompanied by the likes of Miles Davis (a rare instance where he took a sideman role) as well as Art Blakey, Hank Jones, and Sam Jones.

Tips for Listening to These Amazing Jazz Albums

While you can technically listen to jazz anywhere, if you want to fully experience what these albums offer, it doesn’t hurt to take some extra steps. For example, finding a quiet space to play the music that provides strong acoustics can be wise. Otherwise, you might want to opt for high-quality headphones, ensuring you can hear every nuance as it strolls by.

If you have the opportunity, consider snagging vinyl copies of the albums above. Many consider the musical experience far superior, even if it isn’t always the most convenient format to use. But that isn’t technically necessary, as many find that digital is a suitable substitute.

Above all, make sure you strive to create your ideal experience. Jazz is often about meaning moved, surprised, and inspired, so consider what your perfect experience looks like and work to craft it. That way, it’s the best approach for you, and that is really what matters.

10 Up-and-Coming Jazz Musicians to Watch

While jazz already has a long and storied history, that doesn’t mean it ever stopped evolving. Innovators reshape the genre regularly, introducing the world to unique sounds and astonishing skills, unlike anything that’s been witnessed before.

As the third decade of the 21st-century begins, many young jazz musicians are doing more than paying homage to jazz’s roots; they are creating something new and exciting. They are the future of the genre and are ensuring that jazz remains as relevant and enticing as it always was.

Whether you are a fan of jazz already or are new to its nuanced and eclectic sound, you’ll find these young musicians electrifying. Here’s a look at ten up-and-coming jazz musicians to watch today.

1. Shabaka Hutchings

Shabaka Hutchings was born in London but raised in Barbados, and became an award-winning player who can transition between the clarinet and saxophone with a startling amount of ease. While he started out in calypso bands, he transitioned, becoming a bastion in the UK contemporary jazz scene.

Currently, he leads three separate bands. Possibly the most intriguing is The Comet is Coming, a unique trio that blends jazz, electronic music, and a whole lot of attitude to create something futuristic that will likely alter the course of several genres.

2. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Hailing from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s trumpet playing is awe-inspiring. While his music respects the origins of jazz, it also includes a variety of influences. He fuses jazz with hip-hop, African music, rock, and more. It seems his goal is to always keep the listener on the edge of their seat, and he accomplishes it in spades.

3. Kamasi Washington

Jazz has been connecting with a younger audience in recent years, and Kamasi Washington is one of the musicians responsible. In 2015, he released The Epic, an inspirational triple-set that has strong jazz roots with hip-hop influences. He even made an appearance on To Pimp A Butterfly, an innovative album by Kendrick Lamar.

4. Esperanza Spalding

With a voice reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell, Esperanza Spalding isn’t just a talented jazz musician, but an innovator. Her compositions genuinely take the listener on an unexpected journey, weaving together jazz, Latin, rock, and funk sounds into an avant-garde fusion experience unlike any other.

Makaya McCraven

Paris-born but raised in the United States, Makaya McCraven is a self-proclaimed “beat scientist” with serous drum skills and a talent for composing. He applies a hip-hop attitude to avant-garde jazz, focusing on keeping the listener guessing as he weaves a tune.

6. Nubya Garcia

Another young jazz musician in the UK scene that’s making waves is Nubya Garcia. The tenor saxophone player and composer released a critically acclaimed debut album – Nubya’s 5ive – in 2017 and has continued to impress ever since. She’s also recorded with some greats, including Ezra Collective and Sons of Kemet, as well as Makaya McCraven, another up-and-comer. Additionally, she plays with Maisha, a spiritual jazz ensemble.

7. Camila Meza

Born in Chile, Camila Meza easily qualifies as a triple threat. Along with being an exceptional guitarist and singer, she’s also an accomplished songwriter. Her music features classic jazz elements melded with the sounds of Brazil, South American folk, and even American pop.

8. Kendrick Scott Oracle

With a sound dripping with R&B and hip-hop undertones, Kendrick Scott Oracle is a drummer and composer from Houston. His take on jazz is exquisite but incredibly unique, often featuring unexpected additions, like turntables, alongside traditional instruments like saxophones and pianos.

9. Jazzmeia Horn

With a name like Jazzmeia Horn, it can be easy to see how jazz would ultimately be a calling. The singer from Texas scored rave reviews with her debut album in 2017, A Social Call. Her sound resembles the active approach used by greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae, but it never feels derivative. Instead, Jazzmeia Horn is uniquely her own, and the jazz world will be better for it.

10. Connie Han

Connie Han, a pianist from Los Angeles, exudes a maturity far beyond her age. Her blend of traditional and modern jazz is both edgy and a bit unexpected, a reflection of her unique vision for the genre. Her album Crime Zone pays homage to jazz piano greats like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Kenny Kirkland while still maintaining her own sound, and it’s truly something worth experiencing.