I’ll never forget my first introduction to jazz music. The year was 1999 and I was watching the movie Runaway Bride starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. The scene came up where Robert’s character sneaks into Gere’s hotel room and finds a Miles Davis cassette tape. Miles Davis had a fairly prominent role in the film and I remember looking the soundtrack up to find out what song it was that I enjoyed so much. I immediately purchased the album Kind of Blue and my love for jazz music has grown rapidly ever since. To this day, Kind of Blue remains one of my favorite albums of all time.
That one moment when I heard the first piece of instrumental jazz music that really resonated with me has shaped my musical interests and appreciation for the classic genres ever since. Prior to 1999, I listened to a heavy selection of music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but after, my interests grew to accommodate various styles of jazz, blues, classical and opera. It’s quite amazing how deeply a single song can influence you.
Therefore it is my hope that this list of thirty jazz albums every man should listen to will introduce you to some music that will perhaps change your life in the way Miles Davis changed mine. You may recognize some of these albums from our guide to 30 albums every man should listen to, but this feature will focus exclusively on jazz music.
What is Jazz Music ?
This is a tough question to answer and one that I frequently hear. After all, how can we associate vocal songs like Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’ with the same music from Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’? Aren’t they two totally different genres of music? The short answer is no.
Jazz is a very broad genre that encompasses a wide range of sub genres as well as something called fusion genres. If that wasn’t difficult enough to wrap your head around, jazz music also varies considerably based on regions which can consist of different countries or even just different regions within a single country.
There is vocal jazz and instrumental, both of which feature a fairly large variety of musical instruments from the quintessential trumpets and saxophones to electric guitar, organ and drums. There’s jazz intended to soothe your soul and transport you into a state of utter bliss, and there’s jazz intended to remind you of the really bad acid trips some of our readers probably experienced back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Jazz music as a broad genre has actually been around for over 100 years, first introduced in African-American communities during the late 19th century. As the music spread across the whole of the United States and into other countries, it began to take on local influences which began the birth of various styles of jazz. In 1910, New Orleans Jazz popped up on the scene and then Kansas City jazz followed with a swinging blues style that was predominantly improvisational. Following that gypsy jazz took hold and then bebop and so on and forth. Primarily fast tempo and unique rhythms were known to be “jazz” until cool jazz began to take over and cause a wave through the music industry. The calmer, smooth sounds appealed to a new kind of demographic and no longer was jazz music considered a primarily African-American music style. Then, as rock and roll took over for the kids, jazz competed adding hard bop which introduced a mixture of R&B with gospel music. From there, fusions began to take hold and jazz bands began to fuse rock and roll with jazz making jazz-rock. Since then dozens of sub-genres and fusion-genres have been introduced.
Today, jazz music remains one of the most popular styles of music for the older generations and as inspiration for a younger crowd of up and coming musicians. Thanks, in part, to young musicians like Michael Buble, Matt Dusk, Nick Waterhouse and Christian Scott, jazz has been reintroduced to a younger generation of listeners for the first time in many years.
With that said, I hope you enjoy the following list of thirty jazz albums every gentleman should listen to (at least once…)
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Often referred to as the godfather of modern jazz, Miles Davis has gone through stages of producing ballads to improvisational hard jazz that takes a seasoned listener to appreciate.
Kind of Blue is, arguably, the greatest album he ever produced. In fact, it’s often considered by critics to be the greatest jazz album of all time. You can buy the album here.
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
Only in jazz does an artist record an entire album in one session and have it catapult to the top of the charts. A Love Supreme was a studio album recorded by John Coltrane and his band back in 1964. All things considered, it’s by and large my favorite album produced by him and very possibly the most critically acclaimed album he ever made. It’s one of those albums that just about every person who enjoys jazz has or wants. You can buy the album here.
Pat Metheny Group – The Way Up
A fairly recent addition to the jazz world, the album was released in 2005 and received such acclaim that it won a Grammy Award. Like many other jazz albums, rather than separate songs, the album is a single song that’s broken up into four different tracks to make it easy for the listener to navigate. Much of it is improvised and it draws on some inspiration from past legends which can be heard if one is listening intently enough. You can buy the album here.
Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus
Another album you’ll find in our music guides, Saxophone Colossus is one of my top ten favorite albums of all time. Sonny Rollins has the ability to take the listener right to the beach, even if you happen to be in the middle of Alaska during winter. It’s cool grooves are island infused and if you ask me, St. Thomas is one of the greatest jazz songs ever written. That’s just my opinion though. You can buy the album here.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Another album in my top ten list, I not only listen to Time Out on a regular basis, but the song ‘Take Five’ is in just about every jazz-related and easy listening playlist I have on iTunes. On top of having the digital album, I also own it on vinyl, cassette and compact disc. It gets a lot of wear in my house. You can buy the album here.
Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport
Often ranked amongst the most famous albums in the history of jazz music, it was recorded live during a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 and by all accounts was responsible for the revival of Ellington’s career, which most critics thought was over. The album is quintessential Ellington and Ellington is quintessential jazz. It’s one of those albums that, if you enjoy jazz, you must listen to at least once. You can buy the album here.
Brad Mehldau Trio – Art of the Trio, Vol. IV: Back at the Vanguard
Released in 1999, this is quite possibly the best album produced by this incredible pianist. Its unique style and graceful elegance is a perfect blend of harmony and soul that captivates the audience. It’s received critical acclaim and is one of those albums that you’ll just keep turning back on. For those unsure of his talent, check out the video below of his cover of the famous Beatles song ‘Blackbird’. You can buy this album here.
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane – At Carnegie Hall
Recorded live at the Morningside Community Center in Harlem, the album has long been considered some of the finest work by both Monk and Coltrane. Newsweek called it the “musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest,” with the other acts which included Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Ray Charles paling in comparison. It’s a fantastic album and offers a classic take on some really improvisational music. You can buy the album here.
Christian Scott – Yesterday You Said Tomorrow
I’ve written about him before and it’s because of his unbelievable ability to create a smokey sound with his trumpet that is rarely seen due to the amount of extraordinary talent it requires. The album is solid from start to finish, but his song Isadora is what really sets him apart and earns my high praise. He’s been called a young Miles Davis and there’s a reason for it. He’s just that good. You can buy the album here.
Nick Waterhouse – Time’s All Gone
Another young artist we’ve written fairly extensively about. Not only has Waterhouse been featured in the 30 Albums Every Man Should Listen To, but we also did a feature on him, his music and his incredible sense of style. A blend of west coast jazz, swing, big band and soul, his album Time’s All Gone is a perfect blend of modern music and classic grooves. His single “Some Place” was so popular amongst enthusiasts, that it still sells today for as much as $300 for the one song. You can buy the full album here.
Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool
Another terrific album from Miles Davis, this one is widely considered a classic when it comes to cool jazz. Inspired by classical music, it features a compilation of recordings made over the course of three sessions. It’s an incredible album and it’s one that you’ll need a great bottle of wine for. You can buy the album here.
Cannonball Adderley – Something’ Else
One of the most influential albums ever made, it features inspired tracks from a variety of other musicians that paired with the saxophone king to create his album. It’s raw, it’s poignant and yet, it offers an easy-listening experience that will melt your worries away. You can buy the album here.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a huge Miles Davis fan. However, I’ll be honest and say this isn’t one of my favorite albums – although I do own a couple of copies. The fact is that I can’t be selfish and only list albums I personally enjoy. Bitches Brew is unlike any jazz album by Davis that you’ve ever heard. It’s completely experimental and uses instruments like the electric piano and guitar which give it a very unique and unconventional style. Initially it was received very mixed reviews, but has grown to be considered one of the top jazz albums ever produced. That’s why it’s on this list. I may not like it very much – but you may and that’s what music is all about. You can buy the album here.
Chet Baker – Embraceable You
Chet Baker received terrible reviews for this album, and yet it remains one of the most romantic albums of ballads that you’ll probably ever hear. The uniquely soothing voice from a man who lived a very troubled life is somewhat perplexing as he focuses on songs that are guaranteed to influence romance and love. It’s an incredible album and is absolutely worthy of your attention. You can buy the album here.
Louis Armstrong – The Best of the Hot 5 and Hot 7 Recordings
Louis Armstrong is probably one of the most influential musicians of all time and is wholly considered the first great jazz musician. He managed to set an impossible standard for even the greatest recording artists and he did so with one of the most unique voices ever heard. The man is a genius when it comes to music and there really is no other musician quite like him. This is just one of his many popular albums, but in my opinion, it’s one of the best. You can buy the album here.
Despite it not being on the album, the following video is of what can probably be described as his most iconic song:
John Coltrane – Blue Train
Blue Train is a very standard hard bop album and the second studio album John Coltrane produced. To this day it’s one of my favorites and is well worth a listen to. The original recording had five tracks on it, with two additional bonus tracks added in 1997. One interesting point of conversation is that a number of members of his band at the time later went over to perform with Miles Davis. This is a great album and it’s certified Gold by the RIAA which is something few jazz albums can claim. You can buy the album here.
Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
A fusion of Getz playing the sax and Gilberto on the guitar, this album is pretty much single handedly responsible for the bossa nova music scene that swept the United States. Winning Best Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, the album is to-date one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. You can buy the album here.
The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall
Now this is an album worthy of recognition. The quintet that performed at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada was comprised of jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. It was recorded live and was the only time the five of them were ever recorded as a group. Many of the guests in attendance at the concert commented on it being one of the best concerts of all time. Unfortunately, there was a boxing match happening at the same which resulted in such a small crowd that the checks issued to each of the musicians bounced. Regardless, the concert will go down in history, not just for the live performance but for the album it managed to produce. You can buy the album here.
Fats Waller – Handful of Keys
Dizzy Gillespie once said that “Fats could eat up a piano” and it was true. There aren’t many jazz pianists that lived less than forty years but managed to attain such a distinguished level of success. Handful of keys is a prime example of why Fats was considered such an incredible pianist. His charm and style on the piano left listeners in awe and his talent continues to do the same thing today. If you enjoy fast piano jazz, this is a great album to check out.
Michael Brecker – Two Blocks from the Edge
This critically acclaimed album is Brecker’s fifth studio album as a leader. Released in 1998, his style is less unique, but more technical with a certain flair to it that makes it worth listening to over and over again. The album isn’t as well known as most jazz recordings, but will impress even the most discerning jazz aficionado who falsely claims to have ‘heard it all’. You can buy the album here.
Billie Holiday – Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles
Billie Holiday is one of the most commercially well known, mainstream jazz musicians to have ever hit the scene. Next to Ella Fitzgerald, there are no two female jazz musicians featured in as many film scores as they are. Lady Day is a great example of Holiday’s raw, unadulterated talent and passion. It is everything good about her taken to the next level and it showcases her finest achievements from start to finish. It’s a truly mesmerizing album. You can buy the album here.
Charlie Parker – Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve
This boxset of ten albums is on this list because it pretty well contains every important hit that Charlie Parker produced. Parker is one of the boldest and most well respected jazz musicians of all time. His talent is full of emotion and energy and this is a perfect album to either introduce you to his music or build on your collection of his work. You can buy the album here.
Dizzy Gillespie – The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
Dizzy Gillespie was one of the best known trumpet players to ever grace the stage. This two disc album is a compilation of all of his important bebop and latin jazz work. His talent was one that had range and he capitalized on being able to play a number of styles of jazz. This is probably the only album he ever produced that takes you on a journey of his dynamic range. You can buy the album here.
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Another album you’ll find on our 30 albums every man should listen to list. Ella Fitzgerald is one of jazz musics greatest singers and her voice is instantly recognizable from the soundtracks to dozens of blockbuster films and television shows. Her work is nothing short of inspirational and her work with the label that produced this record resulted in some of most highly acclaimed recordings showcasing her incredible voice and talent. You can buy the album here.
Bill Evans – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
This three disc box released in 2005 was from when Bill Evans trio recorded their first set ever at the famous Village Vanguard in 1961. The album is nothing short of superlative and was determined by the US Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” when it was added to their National Recording Registry. It’s well worth listening to and one I’m sure you’ll acquire if you do. You can buy the album here.
Charlie Parker – The Essential Charlie Parker
This was one of the very first jazz albums I bought after Kind of Blue. Many musicians have long tried to imitate his unique style, but few have come close. The Essential Charlie Parker is probably my favorite album by the Bird. His sax style is nothing like you’ve ever heard before, or will probably ever hear again. You can buy the album here.
Oscar Peterson Trio – Night Train
Released in 1962, this is arguably one of Peterson’s most emotional and dynamic albums. It takes everything good about a jazz pianist and kicks it up an extra notch. This is the kind of album that inspires future generations of pianists both in the jazz world and out. It’s elegant, it’s refined and it is the perfect compliment to a romantic evening at home. You can buy the album here.
Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Mingus has long been known as a perfectionist and this album was pretty much the pinnacle of his life’s work. Backed by an eleven piece orchestra, it’s a blend of inspiration that he credited to his psychotherapist at the time. Mingus was a well received jazz musician who had some incredible success with a number of albums and although many contend that his finest work was the Mingus Ah Um album, I would argue that this one is probably the very best. You can buy the album here.
Nina Simone – Sugar in My Bowl: The Very Best of Nina Simone
Nina Simone is one of those artists that some people love and others can’t stand. She’s been all over the map with her recordings, focusing on everything from classical music to the most alternative and creative jazz you’ll ever hear. While she wasn’t at the top of her game when this album was recorded, it still remains one of the most influential jazz albums of all time. Many of her fans developed their loyal following due to this album and it’s been the inspiration for many musicians since. You can buy the album here.
While it’s not featured on the album, the following song in the video is probably one of her best known recordings that’s easily recognizable by those who have a mild interest in jazz:
Wynton Marsalis Septet – Live at the Village Vanguard
In my opinion, he’s one of the most iconic jazz musicians of all time. This ninth album is a seven-disc set of live recordings, all of which were recorded over the course of five years at the famous Village Vanguard in New York. The discs are intended to simulate a different night of the week and the hope was that the listener could put on the album of the night and being inspired or seduced into its rhythms to carry him or her forward to the next day. It’s an absolutely incredible set and no list, in my mind, is complete without it. You can buy the album here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of thirty jazz albums that, I believe, are worthy of listening to. Each album represents a different sound, emotion and glimpse into the world of jazz music. It’s the telling of a story through music and one that I hope will influence you to become a fan, the same way Miles Davis did for me back in 1999.