So you like jazz, huh? That means you probably listen to a lot of Norah Jones. A little Harry Connick, Jr., perhaps? Listening to the newer generation of famous jazz musicians is all well and good. They are, after all, the ones bearing the torch these days. However, never forget the artists who blazed the trail for jazz musicians everywhere. Here are some of those famous jazz musicians you should never miss out on if you’re a true-blue jazz lover.
I love jazz, and believe it or not, I have the albums of some of the famous jazz artists you are about to miss. If you don’t have their tracks on your iPod, you are missing out BIG TIME!
Who Are These Famous Jazz Musicians That You Should Definitely Listen To?
Discover What Made These Artists Really Great
If you ever want to really get into jazz, you have to do more than just listen to the works of the current crop of jazz artists. While the new generation is generally good, they owe everything to the famous jazz musicians and artists listed here, in no particular order.
Charlie Parker is widely considered as one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of all time. Parker is known for his rapid but clean playing and improvisation on the saxophone.
His compositions are widely innovative, marked by complex chord progressions and harmonies. He was fondly referred to as “Bird”, a nickname which carried over into the titles of some of his most famous compositions, including “Bird of Paradise”, “Bird Gets the Worm”, and of course, “Yardbird Suite”. The world lost this jazz great in 1955.
Substance abuse has cut short the careers of many promising artists, and it’s just unfortunate that Billie Holiday was one of them.
A singer blessed with a singing voice that was as intense as it was intimate, Holiday has influenced many other jazz vocalists, particularly with the way she manipulated the phrasing and tempo in her singing. It is said that her vocal style takes a lot from jazz instruments, which is quite amazing by itself. Sadly, substance abuse got the better of her, and in 1959, she passed away from cirrhosis of the liver.
Louis Armstrong owned what is probably one of the most unique voices in the history of modern music. Although countless other artists have covered songs such as “What A Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly”, Armstrong’s versions remain the most memorable and distinctive.
Apart from that gravelly voice, Armstrong was also a virtuoso trumpet player and a highly-skilled scat singer. Renowned as well for his charisma, Armstrong is regarded to be one of the artists responsible for the creation of modern jazz as we know it. He died of a heart attack in 1971.
A BBC poll named him the greatest jazz artist of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine called him one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. There is no shortage of acclaim from just about every direction for Miles Davis, trumpeter and bandleader.
Aside from his brilliance on the trumpet, Davis is also renowned for his reinventions of his musical style, which he did with a lot of success for the duration of his 50-year career. Artists who dabble in cool jazz, hard bop, funk, fusion, funk and even techno music owe a lot to Davis, as he was at the forefront of the emergence of these musical developments. He died in 1991 from respiratory distress.
You don’t get to be called “Queen of Jazz” or “The First Lady of Song” for nothing. Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most recognizable names in jazz, and for good reason. Her voice had a range, a flexibility, a sultriness and an agelessness to it that few vocalists—jazz or otherwise—can boast of.
She collaborated with practically all the great names in jazz, a number of whom are on this list. In a career that spanned six decades, Ella Fitzgerald gave us unforgettable songs such as “Cheek to Cheek”, “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. She died of complications from diabetes mellitus in 1996.
Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole started out as an accomplished jazz pianist, but his soft baritone proved too good to resist, and he has since become one of the most popular male jazz vocalists of all time. He is, in fact, should be counted as one of the best male singers of all time. His rich and dreamy vocals can be enjoyed in recordings such as “Mona Lisa”, “Night Lights” and “Unforgettable”. Unfortunately, Cole died relatively young, succumbing to lung cancer in 1965 at the age of 45.
You know you’ve got something special when someone as great as Miles Davis asks you to join his new band. That’s what exactly happened to Herbie Hancock, without a doubt one of the greatest and most famous jazz musicians alive today.
Credited as one of the creators of “post-bop”, Hancock boasts of some of the most diverse works in music. Of all the jazz greats, he is perhaps one of the first to incorporate electronic music into his compositions. For his jazz standards, just try “Cantaloupe Island”, as well as “Chameleon”. For his forays into other genres, there’s the iconic “Rockit”, an 80s breakdancing anthem if ever there was one.
With more than a thousand compositions, Duke Ellington has perhaps one of the most extensive body of work in jazz. Many famous jazz musicians were bandleaders in their own right, but Ellington was the bandleader for what is widely perceived as the greatest orchestral jazz unit in music history.
For more than 50 years, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra recorded and performed some of the greatest jazz standards in American history, including “Satin Doll” and “Mood Indigo”. Today, jazz is unquestionably an art form, and much of the credit for that is given to Duke Elllington, thanks to his own charisma and his ingenious use of his jazz orchestra. He died in 1974, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire countless artists today.
In an art form where improvisation is the norm, Thelonious Monk earned a reputation for being one of the most improvisational of all jazz musicians. To call his piano playing unorthodox would probably be an understatement. He often paused abruptly, even as everyone else in the band played on. Sometimes he just got up and danced in the middle of a performance. Nevertheless, he is regarded as one of the greatest jazz artists of all time. Enjoy his improvisational style in jazz standards such as “I Mean You”, “Epistrophy” and “Straight, No Chaser”.
Another Miles Davis band member, another eventually famous jazz musician. Along with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea was instrumental in the advent of electric jazz fusion. A piano virtuoso, Corea is well-known for his jazz fusion style that utilized elements of Latin jazz. His 50-year career has produced an extensive discography, including forays into avant-garde and even children’s songs. Like Hancock, Corea is a living legend, and continues to make great music at the age of 75. His hits include “Spain” and “Elektric City”.
If you’re just getting into jazz, you have to give these famous jazz musicians a try first. By the time you get a sample of their works, you’ll realize that they are some of the most influential people not only in jazz, but in modern music in general.
Any of your famous jazz musicians missing from this list? Hit the comments and start naming names!
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Featured image via Marvin Hamlisch