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 hope it will provide some avenues of exploration for you to fall in love with the vibrant 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, Robert Glasper, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis and more!!

Also, check out our lists of Best “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” Covers and Best Rap Songs that Sample Jazz!

25. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis (1956)

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's Ella and Louis ablum cover

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Ella Fitzgerald – vocals
Louis Armstrong – vocals, trumpet
Oscar Peterson – piano
Herb Ellis – guitar
Ray Brown – bass
Buddy Rich – drums

Track Listing:
1. Can’t We Be Friends?
2. Isn’t This a Lovely Day?
3. Moonlight in Vermont
4. They Can’t Take That Away from Me
5. Under a Blanket of Blue
6. Tenderly
7. A Foggy Day
8. Stars Fell on Alabama
9. Cheek to Cheek
10. The Nearness of You
11. April in Paris

Label: Verve

Ella and Louis, released in October 1956, showcases the enchanting meeting of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, accompanied by none other than Oscar Peterson‘s famed quartet.

Building upon their earlier work for the Decca label in the late 1940s, Ella and Louis marked the beginning of a legendary trilogy released on Verve Records, setting the stage for the equally great follow-ups Ella and Louis Again (1957) and Porgy and Bess (1959).

From the infectious energy of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” to the tender intimacy of “Tenderly,” every track is a testament to their unparalleled talent and tight-knit chemistry.

Ella and Louis is a cherished gem in the jazz canon and stands as a timeless testament to the artistic genius of both musicians, having left an indelible mark on the history of jazz.

24. Charlie Parker – Charlie Parker (Compilation)

Charlie Parker – alto saxophone
Coleman Hawkins – tenor saxophone
Lucky Thompson – tenor saxophone
Kenny Dorham – trumpet
Tommy Turk – trombone
Al Haig – piano
Hank Jones – piano
Milt Jackson – vibraphone
Percy Heath – bass
Ray Brown – bass
Teddy Kotick – bass
Tommy Potter – bass
Buddy Rich – drums
Max Roach – drums
Carlos Vidal – conga

Track Listing:
1. Now’s the Time
2. I Remember You
3. Confirmation
4. Chi Chi
5. The Song is You
6. Laird Bird
7. Kim
8. Cosmic Rays
9. Star Eyes
10. Blues (Fast)
11. I’m in the Mood for Love
12. The Bird
13. Celebrity
14. Ballade
15. Cardboard
16. Visa
17. Chi Chi (Take 1 / Alternate Take)
18. Chi Chi (Take 3 / Alternate Take)
19. Chi Chi (Take 4 / Complete)
20. Kim (Alternate Take)
21. Cosmic Rays (Alternate Take)
22. Confirmation (Take 1 / False Start)
23. Confirmation (Take 2 / False Start)
24. Chi Chi (Take 2 / False Start)
25. Chi Chi (Take 5 / False Start)

Label: Verve

Charlie Parker, or Bird for the homies, forever changed the course of jazz history as one of the chief engineers of bebop. Still, more importantly, he introduced ludicrously fast phrasing to the music (see Space Balls) and turned up the excitement dial all the way up to ten.

In 1998, Verve put together a compilation album featuring all of Parker’s greatest hits in crystal clear remastered form. If you’ve ever had an Omnibook, many of the solos can be found here, all neatly packaged in a single place.

There’s just something about Bird tunes that can brighten up even the gloomiest of days, and this compilation just hits all the right notes.

So if you want to add a little be and a little bop to your life, check out Charlie Parker today.

23. Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 (Compilation)

Thelonious Monk Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 album cover

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Thelonious Monk – piano
Art Blakey – drums
Idrees Sulieman – trumpet
Danny Quebec West – alto saxophone
Billy Smith – tenor saxophone
Gene Ramey – bass
George Taitt – trumpet
Sahib Shihab – alto saxophone
Bob Paige – bass

Track Listing:
1. ‘Round Midnight
2. Off Minor
3. Ruby my Dear
4. I Mean You
5. April In Paris
6. In Walked Bud
7. Thelonious
8. Epistrophy
9. Misterioso
10. Well You Needn’t
11. Introspection
12. Humph

Label: Blue Note

Thelonious Monk‘s album Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 stands as a testament to the brilliance and innovation of the iconic pianist.

This groundbreaking Blue Note compilation showcases Monk’s distinctive approach to composition and improvisation, laying the foundation for the modern jazz movement that would follow.

With his idiosyncratic use of dissonance, angular melodies, and rhythmic intricacies, the famed pianist manages to create a musical landscape that is at once captivating and challenging.

From the hypnotic opener “‘Round Midnight” to the playful and exuberant “In Walked Bud,” each track on the album showcases Monk’s unparalleled musical creativity.

With his unconventional yet mesmerizing piano style, accompanied by a talented ensemble of musicians, Monk transports listeners into a world where tradition meets innovation in a true testament to Monk’s enduring legacy.

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

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

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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 Ipanema,” 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.

21. Brad Mehldau – The Art of the Trio, Vol. 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999)

Album cover for Brad Mehldau's The Art of the Trio, Vol. 4: Back at the Vanguard album.

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Brad Mehldau – piano
Larry Grenadier – bass
Jorge Rossy – drums

Track Listing:
1. All the Things You Are
2. Sehnsucht
3. Nice Pass
4. Solar
5. London Blues
6. I’ll Be Seeing You
7. Exit Music (For a Film)

Label: Warner Bros.

Brad Mehldau is one of the most celebrated jazz pianists of the modern era and is largely responsible for breathing new life into the genre through his modern musical aesthetics and trademark Radiohead covers.

His 1999 live album Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard, featuring Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, is one of his bests, in addition to also being one of the best jazz albums ever recorded.

From the get-go, listeners will be astonished by Mehldau’s exciting take on the Jerome Kern jazz standard “All the Things You Are,” and the recording just keeps rumprolling from there!

Of particular interest are also the beautiful original composition “Sehnsucht” as well as the closer, a breathtaking jazz trio rendition of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).”

Definitely not to be missed.

20. Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Blood on the Fields (1997)

Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's Blood on the Fields album cover

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Wynton Marsalis – trumpet, oratory vocal
Jon Hendricks – vocal
Cassandra Wilson – vocal
Miles Griffith – vocal
Roger Ingram – lead trumpet, oratory vocal
Marcus Printup – second trumpet, oratory vocal
Russell Gunn – third trumpet, oratory vocal
Ron Westray – lead trombone, oratory vocal
Wayne Goodman – second trombone, oratory vocal
Wycliffe Gordon – trombone and tuba, oratory vocal
Walter Blanding – soprano saxophone, oratory vocal
Wes Anderson – lead alto saxophone, oratory vocal
Robert Stewart – lead tenor saxophone, oratory vocal
Victor Goines – tenor, soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, oratory vocal
James Carter – baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, oratory vocal
Regina Carter – violin, oratory vocal
Michael Ward – violin, oratory vocal
Eric Reed – piano, oratory vocal
Reginald Veal – bass, oratory vocal
Herlin Riley – drums, tambourine, oratory vocal

Track Listing:

Disc 1
1. Calling the Indians Out
2. Move Over
3. You Don’t Hear No Drums
4. The Market Place
5. Soul for Sale
6. Plantation Coffle March
7. Work Song (Blood on the Fields)

Disc 2
1. Lady’s Lament
2. Flying High
3. Oh We Have a Friend in Jesus
4. God Don’t Like Ugly
5. Juba and a O’Brown Squaw
6. Follow the Drinking Gourd
7. My Soul Fell Down
8. Forty Lashes
9. What a Fool I’ve Been
10. Back to Basics

Disc 3
1. I Hold Out My Hand
2. Look and See
3. The Sun Is Gonna Shine
4. Will the Sun Come Out?
5. The Sun Is Gonna Shine
6. Chant to Call the Indians Out
7. Calling the Indians Out
8. Follow the Drinking Gourd
9. Freedom Is in the Trying
10. Due North

Label: Columbia

Blood on the Fields is a groundbreaking and monumental work by New Orleans trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.

A powerful and evocative 3-disc jazz oratorio delving into the harrowing history of slavery in America, this ambitious and profoundly moving piece earned Marsalis a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997, making him the first jazz musician to receive the honor.

The work puts front and center Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, as well as vocalists Jon Hendricks, Cassandra Wilson, and Miles Griffith, weaving together a rich tapestry of blues, gospel, and jazz retelling the poignant story of two enslaved people, Jesse and Leona, as they navigate the brutal realities of their lives.

Blood on the Fields is a testament to Marsalis’ exceptional compositional skills and ability to create a profound emotional connection with listeners, making it an essential addition to any jazz enthusiast’s collection.

19. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (1967)

McCoy Tyner Real McCoy Album Cover

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McCoy Tyner – piano
Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone
Ron Carter – bass
Elvin Jones – drums

Track Listing:
1. Passion Dance
2. Contemplation
3. Four by Five
4. Search for Peace
5. Blues on the Corner

Label: Blue Note

The Real McCoy, released in 1967, is a classic jazz album by the legendary pianist McCoy Tyner.

As his first album for the iconic Blue Note label, the record is textbook Tyner, highlighting the pianist’s exceptional talent as a composer and performer.

The album features the quartet of Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Ron Carter on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

With five original compositions, including the widely celebrated “Passion Dance” and “Search for Peace,” Tyner’s melodies and intricate harmonies captivate for a perfect blend of a piano style characterized by powerful left-hand block chords and flowing right-hand melodies.

The Real McCoy is a testament to Tyner’s brilliance as a pianist and a shining example of the creative and innovative spirit that defines the best jazz albums of all time.

18. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)

Album cover of jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington's 2015 Brainfeeder album The Epic.

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Kamasi Washington – tenor saxophone
Thundercat – electric bass
Miles Mosley – upright & electric bass
Ronald Bruner, Jr. – drums
Tony Austin – drums
Leon Mobley – percussion
Cameron Graves – piano & organ
Brandon Coleman – keyboards, organ & piano
Ryan Porter – trombone
Igmar Thomas – trumpet
Dwight Trible – lead vocals
Patrice Quinn – lead vocals
Robert Miller – drums
Shaunte Palmer – trombone
Todd Simon – trumpet
Various – String Section
Various – Choir

Track Listing:
Volume 1: The Plan
1. Change of the Guard
2. Askim
3. Isabelle
4. Final Thought
5. The Next Step
6. The Rhythm Changes

Volume 2: The Glorious Tale
1. Miss Understanding
2. Leroy and Lanisha
3. Re Run
4. Seven Prayers
5. Henrietta Our Hero
6. The Magnificent 7

Volume 3: The Historic Repetition
1. Re Run Home
2. Cherokee
3. Clair de Lune
4. Malcolm’s Theme
5. The Message

Label: Brainfeeder

LA-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington took the jazz world by storm in 2015 with his first major album, The Epic, released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label.

To call the record ambitious would be a gross understatement. Clocking in at almost three hours long and featuring a 10-piece band augmented by a 9-piece string section and full choir, The Epic is a masterpiece of grandiose proportions.

Depicting the story of an old warrior’s trials and tribulations, the album makes graceful use of long-form compositions and rampant solos, constantly shifting through moods, tempos, and majestic arrangements.

If you haven’t heard this one yet, make a night of it and let it mindfully seep in. Also, check out the live concert below recorded for NPR’s Jazz Night in America!

17. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)

Hank Mobley's Soul Station album cover

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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 sometimes 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 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!

16. Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)

Robert Glasper's Black Radio Album Cover

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Robert Glasper – keyboards, piano, Fender rhodes, synthesizer
Casey Benjamin – vocoder, flute, saxophone, synthesizer
Derrick Hodge – bass
Chris Dave – drums, percussion
Jahi Sundance – turntables
Stokley Williams – percussion

Guest Artists:
Shafiq Husayn – vocals
Erykah Badu – vocals
Lalah Hathaway – vocals
Bilal – vocals
Lupe Fiasco – vocals
Ledisi – vocals
KING (Anita Bias, Amber Strother & Paris Strother) – vocals, keyboards
Chrisette Michele – vocals
Musiq Soulchild – vocals
MeShell Ndegeocello – vocals
Stokley Williams – vocals
Yasiin Bey – vocals

Track Listing:
1. Lift Off / Mic Check (featuring Shafiq Husayn)
2. Afro Blue (featuring Erykah Badu)
3. Cherish the Day (featuring Lalah Hathaway)
4. Always Shine (featuring Lupe Fiasco and Bilal)
5. Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.) (featuring Ledisi)
6. Move Love (featuring KING)
7. Ah Yeah… That’s Just Great (featuring Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele)
8. The Consequences of Jealousy (featuring Meshell Ndegeocello)
9. Why Do We Try (featuring Stokley)
10. Black Radio (featuring Yasiin Bey)
11. Letter to Hermione (featuring Bilal)
12. Smells Like Teen Spirit

Label: Blue Note

We’ll call this one jazz, just because… In 2009, pianist Robert Glasper took a left turn by introducing his Experiment band featuring Casey Benjamin, Derrick Hodge, and Chris Dave on the album Double Booked, leading to the release of the 2012 masterpiece Black Radio.

Critically acclaimed, the album also marked Glasper’s first of many Grammy Awards, winning that year’s Best R&B Album.

Black Radio is a musical tour de force that defies genre boundaries and captivates with its innovative and intelligent blend of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. 

In addition to the core Experiment band, the record boasts an impressive lineup of superstar guest appearances, the likes of Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Lupe Fiasco, Bilal, Ledisi, Musiq Soulchild, Chrisette Michele, Meshell Ndegeocello, Yasiin Bey, and more enriching the music with an array of soulful and thought-provoking performances.

Also on the record are several covers, including beautiful renditions of Sade’s “Cherish the Day,” Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” all rearranged with Glasper’s trademark flair.

With its seamless blend of jazz virtuosity, soulful vocals, and infectious grooves, Black Radio takes listeners on a transformative musical journey. Each track unveils a unique sonic landscape, expertly crafted by Glasper and collaborators, allowing for deep emotional connections and a profound appreciation of their collective artistry.

For those seeking an album that challenges conventions and celebrates the richness of musical diversity while redefining the boundaries of modern jazz, Black Radio is that record, as well as an essential addition to any vinyl collection.

And make sure to also check out the remix EP and the follow-up albums!

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

Horace Silver's Song for My Father album cover

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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, two different quintet lineups, and 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.

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!

14. Joe Henderson – Page One (1963)

Joe Henderson's Page One album cover

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Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone
Kenny Dorham – trumpet
McCoy Tyner – piano
Butch Warren – bass
Pete La Roca – drums

Track Listing:
1. Blue Bossa
2. La Mesha
3. Homestretch
4. Recorda Me
5. Jinrikisha
6. Out of the Night

Label: Blue Note

A mainstay of the 1960s hard bop music scene, saxophonist Joe Henderson was fortunate to take part in countless major Blue Note recording sessions, including Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Bobby Hutcherson’s The Kicker, Andrew Hill’s Point Of Departure, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy to name a few.

Yet Page One, his 1963 debut for the legendary label, definitely earns him a solid spot on our Best Jazz Albums of All Time list, primarily due to its introduction of beloved jazz standards “Blue Bossa” (a Dorham composition) and “Recorda Me,” without which jam sessions today just wouldn’t quite be the same!

Featuring trumpeter Kenny Dorham, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Pete La Roca, the album is a textbook example of the hard bop of the time while also incorporating some Latin influences, notably in the two aforementioned songs.

Henderson’s horn playing is pretty spectacular throughout, confident and flowing, and a nice contrast to Dorham’s more subdued and poise trumpet.

Overall, Page One is a remarkable debut by a heavyweight saxophonist that would continue contributing to the jazz idiom for years to come. Check it out!

13. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1957)

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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 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 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.

12. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (1959)

Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um album cover

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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, innovative and always true to his unique vision and flair (and, let’s be honest, abrasiveness).

An essential release for 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.

11. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)

Herbie Hancock Head Hunters album cover

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Herbie Hancock – Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Bennie Maupin – saxophone and woodwinds
Paul Jackson – bass guitar, marímbula
Harvey Mason – drums
Bill Summers – percussion

Track Listing:
1. Chameleon
2. Watermelon Man
3. Sly
4. Vein Melter

Label: Columbia

Herbie Hancock‘s monumental Head Hunters album, released in 1973, marked a pivotal moment for jazz fusion.

As Hancock’s thirteenth studio album, Head Hunters showcased an innovative blend of jazz, funk, and electronic music that would influence generations of musicians to come.

The album’s four tracks, “Chameleon,” “Watermelon Man,” “Sly,” and “Vein Melter,” are a testament to the pianist’s ability to push the boundaries of traditional jazz while maintaining a solid connection to its roots.

“Watermelon Man,” a reimagined version of Hancock’s earlier hit, showcases the seamless integration of African and Latin rhythms with funk grooves. At the same time, “Chameleon” has become a staple in the jazz-fusion repertoire, thanks to its infectious bassline and innovative use of synthesizers.

Head Hunters was instantly met with critical acclaim and commercial success, reaching No. 13 on the Billboard 200 chart and becoming the first jazz album to go platinum.

Its impact on jazz and broader music landscapes is undeniable, and today, Head Hunters remains a timeless classic and testament to Herbie Hancock’s genius and enduring influence on the world of music.

10. Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (1975)

Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert album cover

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Keith Jarrett – piano

Track Listing:
1. Part I
2. Part II a
3. Part II b
4. Part II c

Label: ECM

Keith Jarrett‘s landmark live solo album The Köln Concert is widely regarded as the pianist’s magnum opus.

Recorded at the Cologne Opera House in Germany on January 24, 1975, the mesmerizing performance showcases Jarrett’s unparalleled improvisational skills and musical genius.

Despite facing numerous challenges on the night of the concert, including an ill-suited piano that was not up to Jarrett’s standards and extreme fatigue, Jarrett delivered a spellbinding performance that has become one of the best-selling piano albums in history, with over 3.5 million copies sold worldwide.

The Köln Concert consists of four parts, labeled as Part I, Part II a, Part II b, and Part II c, each demonstrating Jarrett’s ability to weave intricate and emotionally evocative melodies and harmonies seamlessly.

The performance was entirely improvised and not only solidified Jarrett’s status as a leading figure in jazz but also introduced a broader audience to the beauty and depth of improvised music.

Over the years, The Köln Concert has continued to inspire countless musicians and listeners, standing as a testament to the power of human creativity.

9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)

Miles Davis Bitches Brew album cover

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Miles Davis – trumpet
Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
Bennie Maupin – bass clarinet
Joe Zawinul – electric piano
Chick Corea – electric piano
Larry Young – electric piano
John McLaughlin – electric guitar
Dave Holland – bass
Harvey Brooks – electric bass
Lenny White – drums
Jack DeJohnette – drums
Billy Cobham – drum
Don Alias – congas
Juma Santos (credited as “Jim Riley”) – shaker, congas
Airto Moreira – percussion and cuica

Track Listing:
1. Pharaoh’s Dance
2. Bitches Brew
3. Spanish Key
4. John McLaughlin
5. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down
6. Sanctuary
7. Feio

Label: Columbia

Miles DavisBitches Brew, released in 1970, signaled a significant departure from the trumpeter’s previous work and marked the birth of jazz fusion, blending the music with rock and electronic influences.

The album features a large ensemble and a double electric rhythm section, contributing largely to its revolutionary sound, with recording sessions characterized by extensive improvisation and band members encouraged to freely explore new sonic territories.

Bitches Brew‘s experimental nature, combined with its use of electric instruments and studio effects, challenged the traditional boundaries of jazz at the time and attracted a new, younger audience to the music.

The album was a commercial success, obtaining gold status and became one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, with its influence inspiring a whole new generation of rock and funk musicians.

Today, Bitches Brew remains a testament to Miles Davis’ visionary genius solidifying his status as the greatest jazz musician of all times.

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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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, 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 to 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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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 and has been 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, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage is a timeless classic 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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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 undoubtedly secured its place in the annals of jazz history.

Released in 1959, Time Out earned a #2 spot on the Billboard pop albums chart and the title of the first jazz album to 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 the timeless “Take Five” written by saxophonist Paul Desmond in 5/4 and one of jazz’s 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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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 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 genuinely 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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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 want 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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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,” will 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 profoundly 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)

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 Vinyl or CD: Amazon
Buy Book: Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn

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 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 modal jazz style, influenced partly 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 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.

Top 25 Best Jazz Albums of All Time Summary

  1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)
  2. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965)
  3. John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960)
  4. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1966)
  5. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’ (1959)
  6. The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959)
  7. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1965)
  8. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
  9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)
  10. Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (1975)
  11. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)
  12. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (1959)
  13. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1957)
  14. Joe Henderson – Page One (1963)
  15. Horace Silver – Song for My Father (1965)
  16. Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)
  17. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)
  18. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)
  19. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (1967)
  20. Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Blood on the Fields (1997)
  21. Brad Mehldau – The Art of the Trio, Vol. 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999)
  22. Stan Getz and João Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1963)
  23. Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 (Compilation)
  24. Charlie Parker – Charlie Parker (Compilation)
  25. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis (1956)
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