Best Jazz Albums of All Time

What are the best jazz albums of all time?

Best jazz albums of all time? Well, that’s a heated topic prone to much debate! Jazz is a culturally rich music that has evolved tremendously over the last century, from jazz big bands to bebop, from hard bop to free jazz and so much more!

So the best jazz albums of all time are largely dependent on personal preferences and this list aims in no way, shape or form to be definitive and all encompassing.

We do hope, however, that it will provide some avenues of exploration for you to fall in love with the immensely rich contemporary art form that is jazz music!

So read on and discover some of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded by icons the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Wayne Shorter and more!!

Also check out our list of Best Rap Songs that Sample Jazz!

13. Stan Getz and João Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1963)

Stan Getz and João Gilberto's Getz/Gilberto (album cover


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Personnel:
Stan Getz – tenor saxophone
João Gilberto – guitar, vocals
Astrud Gilberto – vocals
Antônio Carlos Jobim – piano
Sebastião Neto – double bass
Milton Banana – drums, pandeiro

Track Listing:
1. The Girl from Ipanema
2. Doralice
3. Para Machucar Meu Coração
4. Desafinado
5. Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)
6. Só Danço Samba
7. O Grande Amor
8. Vivo Sonhando

Label: Verve

Is bossa nova jazz? Sure.

Is it jazz’s beautiful and exotic cousin that’ll sweep you off your feet with its seductive accent and overtones of tropical paradise on a hot summer day?

Most definitely.

Putting the genre on the map was the matter-of-factly named Getz/Gilberto, a 1964 collaboration between iconic saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto.

Critically acclaimed and widely regarded as one of the best jazz albums of all time, Getz/Gilberto is the epitome of suave featuring the soothing vocals of João and Astrud Gilberto and the breezy tenor of Getz soaring freely above the trademark bossa claves and syncopations of the Brazilian rhythm section.

The record is full of gems, most notably stellar renditions of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado” and “Corcovado”, yet the album opener “The Girl From Impanema” is, without doubt, the standout track as well as one of jazz’s most famous and quotable melodies.

Getz/Gilberto is an essential listen for anyone delving into jazz music’s rich cultural heritage as well as a pivotal album that opened the genre to drawing inspiration from other cultures and types of music, bringing about constant reinvention and infinite possibilities for years to come.

12. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)

Hank Mobley's Soul Station album cover


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Personnel:
Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone
Wynton Kelly – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Blakey – drums

Track Listing:
1. Remember
2. This I Dig of You
3. Dig Dis
4. Split Feelin’s
5. Soul Station
6. If I Should Lose You

Label: Blue Note

Hank Mobley is at times overshadowed by some of his more renowned peers, yet the tenor saxophonist rightfully deserves a firm spot among the all-time greatest horn players in jazz.

Case in point, his 1960 album Soul Station is simply a stellar display in hard bop acrobatics and perfect from top to bottom on so many levels.

Featuring a momentous quartet comprised of pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and the mythological Art Blakey on drums, Soul Station is a masterclass in effortless and deeply swinging licks that would put a pendulum in the heart of a hurricane to shame.

Expressive and emotive, full of subtle nuances and cunning phrasing Soul Station really has no weak spot, but “This I Dig of You”, “Split Feelin’s” and Mobley’s rendition of the jazz standard “If I Should Lose You” are particularly exhilarating.

Do us a favor, sit tight, and definitely give this one a spin!

11. Horace Silver – Song for My Father (1965)

Horace Silver's Song for My Father album cover


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Personnel:
Horace Silver – piano
Carmell Jones – trumpet
Blue Mitchell – trumpet
Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone
Junior Cook – tenor saxophone
Teddy Smith – bass
Gene Taylor – bass
Roger Humphries – drums
Roy Brooks – drums

Track Listing:
1. Song for My Father
2. The Natives Are Restless Tonight
3. Calcutta Cutie
4. Que Pasa
5. The Kicker
6. Lonely Woman

Label: Blue Note

Horace Silver’s 1965 Blue Note album Song for My Father sits comfortably at position ten on our Best Jazz Albums of All Time list.

Inspired by a trip to Brazil, the record features a tactful blend of hard bop with Latin jazz influences and two different quintet lineups, in addition to a few trio performances.

The bright and upbeat title song, “Song for My Father”, written in honor of Silver’s paternal, is as classic as can be and widely regarded as one of the most significant standards throughout jazz music.

From there, the album shifts back and forth from fast-paced numbers to more introspective compositions, while exulting deeply soulful melodies and a remarkable level of maturity.

Also noteworthy is a swinging quintet rendition of Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker”, which preceded the saxophonist’s album of the same name by several years.

All in all, Horace Silver’s Song for My Father is a beautifully crafted album full of intricacies and depth, taking the listener on a journey that bridges the gap between cultures and various jazz genres.

Have a listen below!

10. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1957)


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Personnel:
Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone
Tommy Flanagan – piano
Doug Watkins – bass
Max Roach – drums

Track Listing:
1. St. Thomas
2. You Don’t Know What Love Is
3. Strode Rode
4. Moritat
5. Blue 7

Label: Prestige

Sonny Rollins‘ 1957 masterstroke Saxophone Colossus is one heck of a colossal album (lame pun intended)!

The lead-off calypso-inspired “St. Thomas” is, to this day, Rollins’ eponymous composition and features a blazing tenor solo full of twists and turns, stop and go, and euphoric run-off licks.

But the record doesn’t stop there!

The saxophonist’s rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is just heart-wrenching and acutely poignant while “Strode Rode” is a fast-paced banger with Rollins making full use of his chops.

Saxophone Colossus is closed out by “Morirat” and “Blue 7”, two fun and pleasant tracks filled with hints of cocktail hour and smoky jazz clubs from an era long-forgotten.

From top to bottom, Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus is a stellar outing from a legendary tenor player and a record well-worth revisiting time and time again.

9. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (1959)

Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um album cover


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Personnel:
Charles Mingus – bass, piano
John Handy – alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet
Booker Ervin – tenor sax
Shafi Hadi – alto sax, tenor sax
Willie Dennis – trombone
Jimmy Knepper – trombone
Horace Parlan – piano
Dannie Richmond – drums

Track Listing:
1. Better Git It in Your Soul
2. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
3. Boogie Stop Shuffle
4. Self-Portrait in Three Colors
5. Open Letter to Duke
6. Bird Calls
7. Fables of Faubus
8. Pussy Cat Dues
9. Jelly Roll

Label: Columbia

Charles Mingus’ 1959 Columbia Records debut, Mingus Ah Um, is a stellar display of compositional range featuring everything from hard-swinging bangers to deeply introspective ballads.

A tribute of sorts to some of the bassist’s most cherished memories, the album features several nods to other jazz greats including the now standard “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, in honor of saxophonist Lester Young, and the self-explanatory “Open Letter to Duke” and “Jelly Roll”.

Mingus Ah Um firmly holds its own amidst the onslaught of distinguished jazz albums released in the famed year that was 1959. Mingus’ large ensemble beautifully pays homage to jazz’s past while remaining complex and innovative and always true to his unique vision and flair (and let’s be honest abrasiveness).

An essential release for both jazz fans and newcomers alike, Mingus Ah Um defies conventions and boxes while superbly bridging the gap between all the musical influences of the era.

Well worth a serious listen.

8. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)

Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come album cover


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Personnel:
Ornette Coleman – alto saxophone
Don Cherry – cornet
Charlie Haden – bass
Billy Higgins – drums

Track Listing:
1. Lonely Woman
2. Eventually
3. Peace
4. Focus on Sanity
5. Congeniality
6. Chronology

Label: Atlantic

Ornette Coleman broke all the rules and his 1959 debut album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, would forever create a schism within the genre, birthing a new school of thought we now call Free Jazz.

The Shape of Jazz to Come was revolutionary in many ways. Coleman featured a quartet devoid of piano or guitar thereby eliminating comping and freeing musicians from the shackles of structure.

Headlined by Coleman on alto, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins, each composition is bookended by a brief melody yet the bulk of the album features expansive and unstructured improvisations sans chord changes.

The opener, “Lonely Woman”, has since become one of jazz music’s most iconic compositions and the de facto introduction into Free Jazz, in addition to being admired and covered by many other musicians.

The Shape of Jazz to Come is bold, highly creative, and at times cacophonous and dissonant, yet overall the album has made a visionary statement that has forever changed the course of jazz history.

7. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1965)


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Personnel:
Herbie Hancock – piano
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet
George Coleman – tenor saxophone
Ron Carter – bass
Tony Williams – drums

Track Listing:
1. Maiden Voyage
2. The Eye of the Hurricane
3. Little One
4. Survival of the Fittest
5. Dolphin Dance

Label: Blue Note

In 1965, 24-year-old Herbie Hancock recorded Maiden Voyage, his fifth studio album, at Rudy Van Gelder’s illustrious Englewood Cliffs studio.  

The session, produced by Alfred Lion for Blue Note records, featured Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor, Ron Carter on bass, and 19-year-old Tony Williams on drums.

A concept album dedicated to the nautical theme of exploration, Maiden Voyage is one of the foremost releases of Blue Note’s 1960s golden age and was presented with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

The album captures the spirit and energy of the era, featuring a combination of tight and complex compositions in addition to the improvisational slyness of Hancock and acolytes. 

The title track, “Maiden Voyage”, is marvelously stunning with its slow build-up hinting at majestic new beginnings and travels on the open sea in addition to being acknowledged by Hancock as his favorite composition.

Bobbing and weaving from up-tempo and swinging tunes to peaceful and elegant ballads and featuring stellar solos throughout, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage is a timeless classic well worth taking in mindfully in a single sitting.

6. The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out album cover


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Personnel:
Dave Brubeck – piano
Paul Desmond – alto saxophone
Eugene Wright – bass
Joe Morello – drums

Track Listing:
1. Blue Rondo à la Turk
2. Strange Meadow Lark
3. Take Five
4. Three to Get Ready
5. Kathy’s Waltz
6. Everybody’s Jumpin
7. Pick Up Sticks

Label: Columbia

Between “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” alone, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out has surely secured its place in the annals of jazz history.

Released in 1959, Time Out earned a #2 spot on the Billboard pop albums chart as well as the title of the first jazz album to ever sell a million copies. 

More interestingly, the album was the first jazz record to focus entirely on the use of odd time signatures which have now become quite common among today’s jazz musicians.

The idea stemmed from a trip to Turkey where Brubeck was taken aback by a traditional Turkish folk song in 9/8 time, later inspiring the composition of his famed “Blue Rondo à la Turk”.

Time Out‘s masterpiece remains nonetheless the timeless “Take Five” written by saxophonist Paul Desmond in 5/4 and one of jazz’ most preeminent singles outside of the genre. 

For all these reasons, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out earns our number five spot for Best Jazz Albums of All Time.

5. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’ (1959)

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Moanin' album cover


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Personnel:
Art Blakey – drums
Lee Morgan – trumpet
Benny Golson – tenor saxophone
Jymie Merritt – bass
Bobby Timmons – piano

Track Listing:
1. Moanin’
2. Are You Real
3. Along Came Betty
4. The Drum Thunder Suite
5. Blues March
6. Come Rain Or Come Shine

Label: Blue Note

Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers group has always been the gold standard of jazz bands and the list of stalwart musicians who have gone through its ranks is simply too long to enumerate here.

With 45 studio albums, 25 live releases, and a rotating cast of some of the finest jazz musicians known to mankind, the group’s 1959 Blue Note debut Moanin’ remains the Messengers’ best-known and most celebrated release.

Featuring a quintet comprised of Blakey on drums, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on sax, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass, Moanin’ is a masterclass in jazz, full of excitement, swing, and boisterous solos, augmented by the thunderous charisma of the band’s fearless leader.

Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” remains to this day one of jazz’s most recognizable melodies and Blakey’s “The Drum Thunder Suite” is a barnburner from start to finish.

Overall, Art Blakey’s Moanin’ is truly one of the quintessential jazz albums of all time, required listening for all, and hopefully a part of every serious vinyl collector’s stash!

Have a listen and thank us later.

4. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1966)

Wayne Shorter's Speal No Evil album cover


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Personnel:
Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet
Herbie Hancock – piano
Ron Carter – bass
Elvin Jones – drums

Track Listing:
1. Witch Hunt
2. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum
3. Dance Cadaverous
4. Speak No Evil
5. Infant Eyes
6. Wild Flower

Label: Blue Note

Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil is arguably one of the best jazz albums of the saxophonist’s long and prolific career. 

Recorded for Blue Note Records in 1966, amidst Shorter’s stint with Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Speak No Evil delivers track after track of simply perfect gems amounting to one of the most satisfying jazz albums ever made.

A brilliant example of 1960s jazz, blurring Hard Bop and Modal Jazz, Speak No Evil features a stellar cast with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and a young Herbie Hancock on piano joining forces with Shorter on sax and veterans Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

Superbly refined and polished while remaining accessible, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil is one of the best places to start if you’re looking to get into jazz music. 

And if you’re a true jazz aficionado, we already know you’ve got this one on repeat! 

3. John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960)

John Coltrane's Giant Steps Album Cover


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Personnel:
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Tommy Flanagan – piano
Wynton Kelly – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Jimmy Cobb – drums

Track Listing:
1. Giant Steps
2. Cousin Mary
3. Countdown
4. Spiral
5. Syeeda’s Song Flute
6. Naima
7. Mr. P.C.

Label: Atlantic

If you’ve never heard John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album before, strap yourself in because your life will never be the same.

Two weeks following the final recording session for Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, tenor giant (pun intended) John Coltrane stepped back into the studio with pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor to record what would later become one of the greatest albums in jazz history.

A subsequent session with fellow Miles Davis’ bandmates Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb would later ensure that “Naima” be also immortalized on wax.

A textbook example of what came to be coined “sheets of sound”, Coltrane’s soloing is frenzied and unrelenting from the onset.

The title track “Giant Steps” is sure to catch you off guard if you’ve never heard anything quite like it and “Countdown” then takes things to a whole other level.

Also on the album are a slew of modern Coltrane standards, including the aforementioned “Naima”, a deeply heartfelt and moving ballad in honor of the saxophonist then-wife, “Syeeda’s Song Flute” and “Mr. P.C.” in honor of Paul Chambers (get it?).

No doubt about it, Giant Steps is firmly worthy of the number 3 spot on this list as well as being one of the most thoroughly enjoyable jazz albums ever made.

Check it out ASAP!

2. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965)

Personnel:
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
McCoy Tyner – piano
Jimmy Garrison – bass
Elvin Jones – drums

Track Listing:
1. Part 1: Acknowledgement
2. Part 2: Resolution
3. Part 3: Pursuance
4. Part 4: Psalm

Label: Impulse!

John Coltrane‘s 1965 masterpiece A Love Supreme is usually the go-to runner-up on most Best Jazz Albums of All Time lists. Apologies for our lack of originality…

Although probably not John Coltrane’s most accessible record (maybe start with Blue Train or Giant Steps if you’re just getting into jazz music), A Love Supreme has to be the saxophonist’s most significant, deeply inspired, and monumental release.

Comprised of four distinct movements mirroring Coltrane’s spiritual awakening, A Love Supreme takes the listener on an intense and meditative pilgrimage in what amounts to an act of devotion unparalleled and unrivaled by any other jazz musician to date.

1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album cover


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Buy Book: Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn

Personnel:
Miles Davis – trumpet
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley – alto saxophone
Bill Evans – piano
Wynton Kelly – piano on “Freddie Freeloader”
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums

Track Listing:
1. So What
2. Freddie Freeloader
3. Blue in Green
4. All Blues
5. Flamenco Sketches

Label: Columbia

Well, this one’s a bit of a gimme! Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue earns the #1 spot on pretty much all the Best Jazz Albums of All Time lists that you’ll find online and is widely regarded as one of the most influential jazz records ever. Period.

Released in 1959 on Columbia, Kind of Blue offers a clear demarcation from Miles Davis’ previous Hard Bop era and presents a unique style of modal jazz, influenced in part by pianist Bill Evans who joined the band in 1958. 

Using modality instead of the more common chord changes of the time, Kind of Blue expanded the creative freedom of musicians as improvisations could be developed using a set of scales over several bars instead of constantly jumping from one chord to the next.

Overall, the album is laid-back, unhurried, and spacious and features a multitude of some of the most iconic jazz standards still played to this day.

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album was pivotal in many ways, expanded the boundaries of the genre, and provided a fresh new direction for jazz music to further explore.