Jazz is arguably more polarizing than most, but jazz albums could transform listeners for life once they understand it.
Listening to a jazz record is like being taken on a journey, with the musicians as your guide. With so many thousands of unique records in jazz history, maybe a definitive list of ‘best albums’ is not feasible.
However, a cluster of albums has come to be viewed as essential jazz records: records that every jazz enthusiast knows – or must know, has influenced and gained critical acclaim from other musicians.
This article started to highlight the best albums of all time, but there were just too many excellent records missing.
Hence, here are the top 10 best jazz albums of all time.
What is the biggest selling jazz album of all time?
“Kind of Blue” is still the best-selling jazz album, fifty years since its release. And Kind of Blue sold over 4 million records, and the record continues to sell 5,000 copies every week on average.
How hard is the song Giant Steps?
John Coltrane’s Giant Steps is recognized as one of the most significant challenges in jazz, with a whopping 286 bpm and an ultra-demanding chord sequence.
Who buys old jazz albums?
Cash For Records is delighted if customers wish to sell their jazz vinyl record collection. Cash For Records buys and sells Jazz 33s, 45s, and 78s for cash.
Does jazz sound better on vinyl?
Based on how it was created and its lack of digital components, vinyl sound offers a unique atmosphere that is exceptionally similar to listening to live music.
10. Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch!
Jazz multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy’s 1964 album Out to Lunch, Symbolizes a pinnacle moment in 1960s avant-garde jazz.
Out To Lunch, produced just four months before Dolphy’s tragic death, is one of the most challenging recordings in the Blue Note library.
Dolphy’s compositions are far out, with jaggedly written lines, various theme elements, and dissonance to outperform the band.
The opening “Hat and Beard,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk, has a military-like rhythmic pattern, with a choppy walking bass line accompanying a technical melody.
Following the phrase, Dolphy immediately leaps in with his bass clarinet and blows a solo, complete with serrated, stuttering runs and weird accidental notes, which sets the whole tone and feel for the rest of the album.
Out to Lunch! was chosen as part of the Penguin Guide to Jazz’s advised “Core Collection” and awarded it a “crown,” commenting, “If it is a masterwork, then it is not so much a flawed as a little tentative masterpiece.”
In his AllMusic essay “Free Jazz: A Subjective History,” Chris Kelsey named the album one of the 20 Essential Free Jazz Albums.
- “Hat and Beard.”
- “Something Sweet, Something Tender.”
- “Out to Lunch.”
- “Straight Up and Down.”
9. Bill Evans – Sunday at Village Vanguard
Sunday at the Village Vanguard is a live album by Bill Evans and his trio, including Evans, drummer Paul Motian, and bassist Scott LaFaro. The CD was often recognized as one of the best live jazz albums in 1961.
The recordings for Sunday at the Village Vanguard were recorded on June 25, 1961, at the Village Vanguard in New York City.
Sunday at the Village Vanguard was the Bill Evans Trio’s final appearance with bassist Scott LaFaro, who died in a car accident eleven days just after recording.
Thom Jurek, a music journalist for AllMusic, said of the album: “This trio still is widely regarded as his best, especially to the symbiotic chemistry of its members.
Riverside released The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961, a professionally remastered three-CD box set in 2005 that contained practically all of the material from the whole day’s recording at the Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961.
- “Gloria’s Step”
- “My Man’s Gone Now”
- “Alice in Wonderland”
- “All of You.”
- “Jade Visions”
8. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
Mingus Ah Um is an album by Charles Mingus released by Columbia Records in October 1959. It was his first album for Columbia Records.
Mingus developed a distinct sound with the help of John Handy, Jimmy Knepper, Booker Ervin, and several others, fusing gospel, pop, and blues influences to create something uniquely his own. At the same time, the record is intensely personal and political.
Tracks like “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” pay homage to Lester Young, whereas “Fables Of Faubus” explicitly targets Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.
In 2013, the record was honored in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Mingus Ah Um was chosen by the Library of Congress as one of fifty recordings to be inducted into the National Recording Registry. In 2020, Rolling Stone listed the album as number 380 on their Top 500 Albums of All Time.
- “Better Git It in Your Soul”
- “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”
- “Boogie Stop Shuffle”
- “Self-Portrait in Three Colors”
- “Open Letter to Duke”
- “Bird Calls”
- “Fables of Faubus”
- “Pussy Cat Dues”
- “Jelly Roll”
7. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
Maiden Voyage is a jazz album led by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock that Rudy Van Gelder produced for Blue Note Records on March 17, 1965
Hancock is accompanied by tenor saxophonist George Coleman, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams.
Many of the song titles are related to marine ecology or the sea, and the artists expand on the theme through their use of space.
Herbie Hancock has created more classic records than most individuals have in total. His talent on the piano is practically unrivaled, and he performs with such passion and emotion that it’s impossible not to admire him.
Maiden Voyage is his most famous work. “Dolphin Dance” and the opening track have become jazz classics, entering the list of tracks to which any band of jazz players can begin jamming. Hancock refers to “Dolphin Dance,” inspired primarily by Count Basie’s “Shiney Stockings.”
In 1999, the album received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
- “Maiden Voyage”
- “The Eye of the Hurricane”
- “Little One”
- “Survival of the Fittest”
- “Dolphin Dance”
6. John Coltrane – Giant Steps
Giant Steps is John Coltrane’s fifth studio album, released by Atlantic Records in February 1960. The album is recognized as among the most impactful jazz albums.
Most of its songs become standard practice material for jazz saxophonists. It was one of fifty recordings chosen by the Library of Congress in 2004 to be placed in the National Recording Registry. It was certified gold in 2018 after selling 500,000 copies.
There are two tracks, “Naima” and “Syeeda’s Song Flute,” named after Coltrane’s wife and daughter. The third, “Mr. P.C.,” is an abbreviation for bassist Paul Chambers, who recorded on the album. The fourth, “Cousin Mary,” is named after Coltrane’s younger cousin, Mary Lyerly.
The Giant Steps chord sequence comprises a different series of chords that establish the critical center a major third apart. It has quickly become a favorite among jazz students’ practice routines.
- “Giant Steps”
- “Cousin Mary”
- “Syeeda’s Song Flute”
- “Mr. P.C.”
5. Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport
Ellington at Newport is a live album by Duke Ellington and his orchestra from their 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, which resurrected Ellington’s sagging career.
George Wein, a jazz promoter, calls the 1956 concert “the biggest display of Ellington’s period; it represented just about everything jazz was and could be.”
It is in the book 1001 Albums You Should Hear Before You Die.
According to jazz journalist Scott Yanow, Ellington’s performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival created a sensation that propelled the remainder of his career.
Following the Ellington Orchestra’s debut at the festival, the first release was partially replicated in the studio.
Two years later, Ellington issued a follow-up CD recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. He performed both new and old songs at the event, but the album only had five tracks when it was released.
- “Festival Junction”
- “Blues to Be There”
- “Newport Up”
- “Jeep’s Blues”
- “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”
4. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
Somethin’ Else is a jazz album recorded and released in 1958 by alto sax player Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on the Blue Note label.
The album was produced while Adderley was a member of Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet, and it is one of the few recordings Davis released as a sideman after 1955. Miles Davis appears on the session in one of his few Blue Note sessions.
Somethin’ Else was chosen as part of the Penguin Guide to Jazz’s proposed “Core Collection.”
“Autumn Leaves” remained in Davis’s book, while “Love for Sale” was played by the Davis Sextet two months later.
Adderley’s brother Nat wrote the twelve-bar blues “One for Daddy-O” for Chicago radio DJ Holmes “Daddy-O” Dayle.
- “Autumn Leaves”
- “Love for Sale”
- “Somethin’ Else”
- “One for Daddy-O”
- “Dancing in the Dark”
3. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
Ornette Coleman’s third album is titled The Shape of Jazz to Come. The album’s recording session was held on May 22, 1959.
It was his first album for Atlantic Records, released in 1959, and featured bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Billy Higgins, and trumpeter Don Cherry.
Although Coleman had hoped to name the album Focus on Sanity after the fourth song, Atlantic producer Nesuhi Ertegun offered the final title, believing that it would give listeners “an idea about the particularity of the LP.”
Coleman emphasized bright melodies and rough, blues-influenced vocals. Coleman did not produce “smooth jazz.” It was harsh, dirty, and exquisite all at once. The Shape of Jazz to Come is his most precise illustration of it.
The album was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2012. The album was named one of the 500 best albums by Rolling Stone.
It was named one of the 20 essential free jazz albums by AllMusic. In 2015, the album was honored in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- “Lonely Woman”
- “Focus on Sanity”
2. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (Impulse!)
American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme was recorded at Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey on December 9, 1964. Impulse! Records released A Love Supreme in January 1965.
He directed a quartet that included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. It is primarily regarded as Coltrane’s masterpiece and was one of his best-selling CDs.
It had sold approximately 500,000 copies by 1970, significantly exceeding Coltrane’s average sales of 30,000; however, it never peaked on the Billboard 200.
A Love Supreme is a four-part suite divided into four sections: “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.” On all parts, Coltrane plays tenor saxophone.
A Love Supreme was classified as modal Jazz, avant-garde Jazz, Free Jazz, hard bop, and post-bop by Rockdelux.
“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane was one of the first jazz albums to have a hyper-spiritual focus, with his soul’s profound, spiritual qualities showing in music.
Coltrane had a slew of hits albums before this, but something strikes out about A Love Supreme.
Whether it’s the dynamic depth of his performance, the idea, or the sheer brilliance on exhibit throughout, this record will be one of the all-time greats.
- Part 1: “Acknowledgement”
- Part 2: “Resolution”
- Part 3: “Pursuance”
- Part 4: “Psalm”
1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Kind of Blue is an album from the American jazz trumpeter, songwriter, and bandleader Miles Davis.
It was produced on March 2, and April 22, 1959, and Columbia Records released it on August 17, 1959.
Davis led a sextet that included pianist Bill Evans, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, and new band pianist Wynton Kelly replacing Evans. On one piece, “Freddie Freeloader.”
Davis moved away from his early hard bop sound to favor more musical modal exploration, as he had previously done on his album Milestones.
Kind of Blue is solely based on mode, departing from Davis’ former hard bop jazz approach with its complicated chord structure and improvisation.
In his solo career, Coltrane developed this modal approach. Many critics consider Kind of Blue the best jazz album of all time, Davis’ masterwork, and one of the best albums.
Its impact on music, spanning jazz, rock, and classical, has caused writers to name it one of the most influential albums ever recorded.
The album was chosen as one of fifty recordings to be placed in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002. It was named number 12 on the Rolling Stone publication’s list of the 500 best albums in 2003.
- “So What”
- Freddie Freeloader”
- “Blue in Green”
- “All Blues”
- “Flamenco Sketches”
Putting out a list of the top jazz albums is a near-impossible process with such a wide range of styles to pick among – and no shortages of performers who have contributed multiple essential pieces to the evolution of jazz.
It’s easy to see how a small group of artists, or subgenres, might easily dominate the list.
These are our views, so don’t take them as solid facts, but we believe you’d be hard-pressed to disagree with most of these getting selected.
What is considered the best jazz album of all time? ›
1. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. Kind of Blue (1959) is the top jazz album on most 'best-of' lists and is cited as jazz's biggest-seller.Who is considered the greatest jazz artist of all time? ›
Of course, everyone will have their own opinion, but if you're looking for a specific top 10 jazz musicians of all time, here's ours: Miles Davis. Louis Armstrong. John Coltrane.What was the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies? ›
Time Out was the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies. The album was certified platinum in 1997 and double platinum in 2011. The single, "Take Five", also sold over a million.What is the most recorded jazz song of all time? ›
The most recorded standard composed by a jazz musician, and one of the most covered songs of all time, is Duke Ellington's and Juan Tizol's "Caravan" with over 500 uses.What is the #1 album of all time? ›
Michael Jackson's Thriller, estimated to have sold 70 million copies worldwide, is the best-selling album ever. Jackson also currently has the highest number of albums on the list with five, Celine Dion has four, while the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Madonna and Whitney Houston each have three.What is considered the greatest album ever? ›
The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the list, with Rolling Stone's editors describing it as "the most important rock 'n' roll album ever made". The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966) was ranked second in recognition of its influence on Sgt. Pepper.Who is the real king of jazz? ›
Paul Whiteman, (born March 28, 1890, Denver, Colorado, U.S.—died December 29, 1967, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, U.S.), American bandleader, called the “King of Jazz” for popularizing a musical style that helped to introduce jazz to mainstream audiences during the 1920s and 1930s.Who is considered the #1 jazz piano player of all time? ›
1: Art Tatum (1909-1956)
At the pinnacle of our list of the 50 best jazz pianists of all time is the man regarded as a keyboard deity. Visually impaired from infancy, Ohio-born Tatum learned to play the piano by ear as a child and, blessed with perfect pitch, quickly excelled at the instrument.
- A Jazz Profile of Ray Charles + Get Happy with Cappy Lewis (2 LP on 1 CD) ...
- Jazz Goes Broadway + The Four Brothers - Together Again! ( ...
- Just Too Much + The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop (2 LP on 1 CD) ...
- The Music of Frank Comstock (2 LP on 1 CD) ...
- Midwest Jazz + Jazz Young Blood (2 LP on 1 CD)
Herbie Hancock's 1973 album "Headhunters" was was the first jazz album to go platinum, and the best-selling jazz record of all time to that point. It brought the sound of rock in the jazz world and in the process, angered many purists.
What is the most beautiful jazz song? ›
- Lush Life. Lush Life was written by Billy Strayhorn between 1933 and 1936: Strayhorn was, remarkably, still a teenager when he began its composition. ...
- Infant Eyes. ...
- Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. ...
- Stardust. ...
- Body and Soul. ...
- Naima. ...
- Blue In Green. ...
- Embraceable You.
- “Yesterday” by The Beatles. ...
- “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. ...
- “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones: ...
- “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. ...
- “Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, sung by Judy Garland.
- Fleetwood Mac — “Rumours” ...
- Hootie & the Blowfish — “Cracked Rear View” ...
- Pink Floyd — “The Wall” ...
- Led Zeppelin — “Zeppelin IV” ...
- The Beatles — “The Beatles” ...
- AC/DC — “Back in Black” ...
- Eagles — “Hotel California” ...
- Michael Jackson— “Thriller”
Springsteen is first artist to have top 5 album over 6 decades in US.Who has the most #1 albums in a row? ›
1 studio albums (as of 5 November 2022): Taylor Swift – 11, in 2008-22; Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, reputation, Lover, folklore, evermore, Fearless (Taylor's Version), Red (Taylor's Version) and Midnights; Jay-Z – 10, in 2002–17; Kanye West – 10, in 2005–21; The Beatles – 9, in 1964–68; Eminem – 9, in 2000–20; ...Who is the best selling musician of all time? ›
Perhaps unsurprisingly, British rock band The Beatles are top of the list for best-selling artists worldwide, with 183 million units certified sales. Second is Garth Brooks with over 157 million units sales, followed by Elvis Presley with 139 million units.Who is the greatest jazz guitarist of all time? ›
1: Wes Montgomery (1923-1968)
Topping our list of the best jazz guitarists of all time is a revered and profoundly influential Indianapolis fretboard genius who couldn't read a note of music.
Legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) became known as the “First Lady of Song,” “Queen of Jazz,” and “Lady Ella” for her singular tone. Ella Fitzgerald's voice featured prominently on the 1940s musical soundtrack. She was one of the superstars of the era and an all-time musical great.Who is the most famous jazz? ›
- 1 Louis Armstrong72%
- 2 Nat King Cole69%
- 3 Frank Sinatra69%
- Sammy Davis, Jr. 65%
- 5 Ella Fitzgerald64%
- 6 Billie Holiday61%
- 7 Bing Crosby60%
- 8 Tony Bennett59%
Who is the king of smooth jazz? ›
How Kenny G, King Of Smooth Jazz, Created Busch Light's Super Bowl Serenade.Who is the best jazz pianist today? ›
- Brad Mehldau. While his recent Mehliana collaboration with freakishly accurate drummer Mark Giulana is a bit of a detour into electronica, Brad is a harmonic genius and technical master. ...
- Gerald Clayton. ...
- Danilo Perez. ...
- Tigran Hamasyan. ...
- Aaron Parks. ...
- Sam Yahel. ...
- Keith Jarrett. ...
- Aaron Goldberg.
Johnson. Perhaps the best known jazz trombonist of all time, J.J. Johnson was the first one of the earliest musicians on the instrument to play in the bebop style.Who is the God Father of Jazz? ›
Trumpet player and band-leader Buddy Bolden is considered by many to be the godfather of jazz after he mastered the art of improvisation around the turn of the century. Louis Armstrong said Buddy was "a one-man genius ahead of 'em all" and vocalist Nina Simone even wrote a song about him.Who is the father of jazz music? ›
Louis Armstrong was born in a poor section of New Orleans known as “the Battlefield” on August 4, 1901. By the time of his death in 1971, the man known around the world as Satchmo was widely recognized as a founding father of jazz—a uniquely American art form.What is the smoothest jazz? ›
- George Benson – Affirmation. ...
- Bob James – Since I Fell For You. ...
- Lonnie Liston Smith – Rainbows Of Love. ...
- Incognito – Pieces Of A Dream. ...
- Sade – Your Love Is King. ...
- Chris Botti – Good Morning Heartache (feat. ...
- Norman Brown – After The Storm. ...
- Grover Washington Jr.
With bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Red Garland and premiering John Coltrane with his tenor saxophone, the group became known as the decade's premier jazz group. Kind of Blue, released in August of 1959, is the best-selling jazz record of all time.Who buys old jazz albums? ›
The best place to sell Jazz vinyl records are record collectors, antique collectors, auctions and local record stores. If you're looking to sell your old Jazz vinyl record collection quickly for the most cash, it's typically better to sell to a record collector or antique collector.Who was the first black musician to record jazz? ›
Among the contenders for the first Black musicians to make a jazz record are pianist Charles Prince's Band, who recorded “Memphis Blues” in 1914, and then in 1915 he became the first to record a version of WC Handy's “St Louis Blues.” In April 1917, Charles Prince's Band recorded “Hong Kong,” a “Jazz One-Step.” Not to ...What song has been certified platinum the most? ›
|Song||Artist(s)||Number of times Platinum|
|"Despacito"||Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber||13×|
|"Just the Way You Are"||Bruno Mars||13×|
|"Love the Way You Lie"||Eminem featuring Rihanna||13×|
Who was the first black band to record jazz? ›
Joe Oliver and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, featuring a young Louis Armstrong, make the first jazz recordings by an African American band at Gennett Records in rural Richmond, Indiana.What is the quickest song to a billion streams? ›
Pulse Music Group “AS IT WAS” IS THE FASTEST SONG IN HISTORY TO REACH 1 BILLION SPOTIFY STREAMS.What is the fastest song to hit one billion streams? ›
"One Dance" became the first song to hit 1 billion streams on 12 December 2016, and held the streaming record for almost a year before being surpassed by "Shape of You" on 21 September 2017, which went on to become the first song to reach 2 billion streams in December 2018 and 3 billion streams in December 2021.What is the most streamed song of all time? ›
The most-streamed song in Spotify history is credited to… The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights." The song, which was released in November 2019, has been streamed over 3 billion times on the platform!Who won best jazz album? ›
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental AlbumWhat is considered the greatest hip hop album? ›
- Illmatic: Nas. View at Amazon. ...
- To Pimp A Butterfly: Kendrick Lamar. £17.99. ...
- Madvillainy: Madvillain. View at Amazon. ...
- Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): Wu-Tang Clan. View at Amazon. ...
- Ready To Die: Notorious BIG. View at Amazon. ...
- The Chronic: Dr Dre. ...
- All Eyez On Me: 2Pac. ...
- The Marshall Mathers LP: Eminem.
The King of Jazz | Playbill. Classic Arts Features The King of Jazz Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrates the music of Paul Whiteman. He's known as "the King of Jazz." Actually, it's a name he gave himself. Nonetheless, his music is a cornerstone in the foundation of jazz.What are the top 3 albums of all time? ›
- 1 Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd. This is simply the greatest album ever made. ...
- 2 Sgt. ...
- 3 Abbey Road - The Beatles. ...
- 4 Led Zeppelin IV (aka ZOSO) - Led Zeppelin. ...
- 5 Revolver - The Beatles. ...
- 6 The Wall - Pink Floyd. ...
- 7 A Night at the Opera - Queen. ...
- 8 Thriller - Michael Jackson.
|Rank||Artist||No. 1 total|
8. Jay-Z holds the record for most number one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200 chart. The rap superstar has had 13 no. 1 albums on the Billboard 200.