Jazz has often been referred to as America’s classical music.  A fairly young genre of music when you consider the comparison to classical, but Jazz has been around long enough to evolve over time.  Throughout its transformation, its distinctive sound has won the hearts of minds of millions across the globe for decades.  Sadly, many Americans have overlooked this music and that is just a human tragedy.  Count me among the lovers of Jazz and as such, I’d like to help you avoid that tragedy with you 10 Jazz musicians every human should hear.

Dizzy Gillespie

This is the man that helped usher in the bebop era of Jazz music and if don’t you recognize his music, you will certainly recognize the man’s cheeks when he plays the trumpet.  But his talents are far from being limited to just playing an instrument.  He was a composer, band leader, and music pioneer.  No Jazz experience is complete without a little Dizzy.

Herbie Hancock

This artist was a child prodigy who performed Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11.  He would then go on to become a key innovator for the modern jazz sound.  A recipient of 13 Grammys, Herbie is truly an icon in the industry.  

Benny Goodman

Jumping back a few decades, you will find Benny one of the most popular musicians of his day.  Whether you follow jazz or not, when you listen to this sound you will recognize just how often you have heard these sounds and rhythms as they have infiltrated a great deal of our popular culture thanks to men like Benny Goodman.

Miles Davis

Don’t let the black and white film fool you, Miles transcends both old and modern jazz.  He is considered to be one of the most influence musicians of the century.  Within the jazz community, he was always at the front of every evolution in the music.  Whether that is bebop, modal jazz, cool jazz or even jazz fusion, you will find the influence of Miles Davis ever present.

John Coltrane

“Trane” as he was also known is the tragic example of a brilliant life cut far too short.  Coltrane died at the age of 42.  However, his impact on jazz and musical world at large wouldn’t be diminished.  John Coltrane is an essential piece of jazz history.

Bill Evans

Putting down the horns for a minute, let us all remember that the jazz piano deserves a spot at the table.  Bill Evans is synonymous with jazz piano itself and there are few rivals to a better jazz pianist in the entirety of the genre.  While he lived longer than John Coltrane, Evans was still a life cut too short at 50.  One can’t but wonder from both men what musical gifts they had to offer as they were to enter the more seasoned years of life.  

Brad Mehldau

Now I’m going to give you one of the young guys.  And by young I mean he is only in his forties and still very much alive.  A jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, Brad gives us a contemporary example of jazz in motion.  You will find elements of rock, pop, and classical infused into his style and the result is some really good jazz.  

Greg Porter

Lest you think all the good jazz is old jazz, let me keep you in modern days and give you another live one!  Greg Porter is a jazz vocalist and songwriter who is making an ongoing impact in the jazz industry today.  Not only has he produced an excellent body of work, but I can’t but think this best may be yet to come.

Billie Holiday

I didn’t forget about you ladies.  Jazz history is full great female musicians regardless of what his list may make you think.  I just can’t list them all!  But Billie, yes it’s a girl, Holiday is an iconic voice in jazz that many associate with an era.  A beautiful voice that could interpret the mood in jazz like few others, she was a star of her day and legend in ours.

Louie Armstrong

You have heard Louie, I promise you have.  I nearly didn’t add him to his list for that reason, but a list of jazz you must hear without Louie just seems like heresy.  The man known as “Satchmo” or “Pops” is the face of jazz that most people know.  The voice is so distinct and the music such an American classic that there was no way I could leave him off this list.

So there you have it.  I could keep going and going, but its best just turn you over to the music and let the jazz do to you what it may.  Enjoy my friends and keep playing the music.


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