30 Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Table of Contents

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

29. Charlie Parker – Charlie Parker (Compilation)

28. Clifford Brown & Max Roach – Clifford Brown & Max Roach (1954)

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

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

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

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

23. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (1967)

22. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – The Centennial Trilogy (2017)

21. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)

20. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)

19. Dexter Gordon – Go (1962)

18. Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)

17. Roy Hargrove’s The RH Factor – Hard Groove (2003)

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

15. Joe Henderson – Page One (1963)

14. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1957)

13. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (1959)

12. Chick Corea – Return to Forever (1972)

11. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)

10. Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (1975)

9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)

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

7. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1965)

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

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

4. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1966)

3. John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960)

2. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965)

1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

What are the best jazz albums of all time?

Well, the Best Jazz Albums of All Time are largely dependent on personal preferences!

Jazz is a culturally rich music that has evolved tremendously orver the last century, from jazz big bands to bebop, from hard bop to free jazz, and so much more.

So this list aims in no way, shape, or form to be definitive and all-encompassing. We simply 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!!

Read Other Articles in Our ‘Best of Jazz’ Series!

30. 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

1956 wasn’t just another year in jazz; it brought us Ella and Louis.

Picture this: Ella Fitzgerald, with her unmatched vocal chops, and Louis Armstrong, with that iconic raspy trumpet sound, teaming up for a record.

That’s not just a collab; that’s a seismic event!

Laying down the beats and setting the vibe? None other than Oscar Peterson‘s quartet, bringing their unique groove into the mix.

Sure, Ella and Satchmo had given us some teasers on the Decca label back in the 1940s, but Ella and Louis on Verve Records? That’s where the magic happened!

And guess what? It was just the kickoff of a jazz trilogy that would later include the intricate Ella and Louis Again and their deep dive into Porgy and Bess.

From the absolute banger “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” to the soulful vibes of “Tenderly,” this album wasn’t just about the tunes; it celebrated jazz, collaboration, and the sheer artistry of two legends.

Today, when we talk about Ella and Louis, we’re not just revisiting an album. We’re stepping into a pivotal chapter of jazz history that resonates, inspires, and gets our heads nodding every single time.

This record’s a must-spin for hardcore jazzheads and casual listeners alike.

29. 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

Affectionately known to fans as “Bird,” Charlie Parker is a monumental figure in jazz’s rich tapestry.

Beyond his foundational role in the bebop movement, Parker ushered in a dynamic era of rapid-fire phrasing, pushing musical boundaries and elevating the intensity to unparalleled levels.

In 1998, Verve commemorated Bird’s indelible impact with a meticulously remastered compilation of his most iconic tracks.

For those familiar with the Omnibook, a treasure trove of Parker’s solos are captured in this collection, offering a consolidated glimpse into the genius of his improvisations.

There’s an inherent vibrancy in Parker’s music, a timeless quality that infuses warmth into even the murkiest of moods.

For an infusion of pure jazz essence, with a touch of bebop flair, delve into the world of Charlie Parker.

28. Clifford Brown & Max Roach – Clifford Brown & Max Roach (1954)

clifford brown max roach album cover

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Clifford Brown – trumpet
Harold Land – tenor saxophone
Richie Powell – piano
George Morrow – bass
Max Roach – drums

Track Listing:
1. Delilah
2. Parisian Thoroughfare
3. The Blues Walk
4. Daahoud
5. Joy Spring
6. Jordu
7. What Am I Here For?

Label: EmArcy

The 1954 album Clifford Brown and Max Roach is hailed as a cornerstone in the pantheon of jazz music, capturing an era where bebop had matured and was giving way to the cool jazz movement.

The New York Times described the Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet as “perhaps the definitive bop group until Mr. Brown’s untimely death in 1956″​​.

Initially released as a 10″ vinyl with five tracks, this album was later expanded, reissued, and even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, reflecting its enduring significance​​.

The quintet’s formation was a deliberate effort by Roach and Brown, choosing members from the vibrant Hollywood jazz scene.

This ensemble, with Harold Land on tenor saxophone, George Morrow on bass, and Richie Powell on piano, became known for their tight-knit, dynamic performances that encapsulated the essence of hard bop​​.

Tracks like “Daahoud” and “Joy Spring” not only became jazz standards but also showcased Brown’s personal touch; “Joy Spring” was a dedication to his wife, whom he affectionately called his “joy spring.”

This album stands as a testament to the innovation and expressive power of jazz, characterized by some of the “warmest and most sincere bebop” ever recorded, and is recommended for both collectors and casual fans alike​​.

27. 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

When Thelonious Monk dropped Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1, the jazz world was jolted awake.

Here was Monk, known for his idiosyncratic style, unveiling an album that would not only spotlight his talents but also challenge conventions with its audacious compositions.

Crafting the distinct soundscape for this transformative project were key figures like Art Blakey, drumming with rhythmic tenacity, laying down a foundation that allowed Monk’s piano artistry to dance, dodge, and defy expectations.

While Monk had always been a distinctive presence in jazz, this album on Blue Note Records announced his genius to the world.

Pieces like ” ‘Round Midnight” went beyond showcasing Monk’s innovative approach—they reshaped the mold.

Other tracks, such as “Ruby, My Dear” and “Well, You Needn’t,” offered listeners a rich tapestry of complex chords and unexpected turns, signature of Monk’s unpredictable genius.

Today, Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 isn’t merely a testament to a bygone era.

It’s a living, breathing testament to a moment when jazz took an exhilarating detour into uncharted territory.

For Monk aficionados and newcomers alike, this album beckons with an allure that’s both historical and timeless.

It’s not just about hitting play; it’s about immersing oneself in the maverick mind of Monk.

Dive in, and let the genius carry you away.

26. 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.

25. 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 stands as a luminary in contemporary jazz, acclaimed not just for his virtuosic piano skills but for seamlessly interweaving modern aesthetics and unexpected covers—think Radiohead—into the traditionally rich fabric of jazz.

His 1999 live opus, Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard, solidifies his status.

Alongside the adept Larry Grenadier on bass and the intuitive Jorge Rossy on drums, Mehldau delivers an album that showcases his distinctive brilliance and cements its place in the annals of great jazz recordings.

Mehldau’s transformative interpretation of Jerome Kern’s classic “All the Things You Are” is evident from the opening chords.

The album continues its fervent pace, creating a sonic tapestry that’s both familiar and refreshingly avant-garde.

Highlights include the evocative original “Sehnsucht,” revealing Mehldau’s compositional prowess, and the mesmerizing culmination with a reinterpretation of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).”

This trio’s take on the iconic track is nothing short of transformative.

Dive in and let Mehldau’s genius resonate.

24. 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

When Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra unveiled Blood on the Fields, the jazz world was introduced to a monumental narrative that carried the weight of history, legacy, and collective memory.

Here was Marsalis, a modern-day trumpet virtuoso, melding his prowess with the Orchestra’s lush soundscape to tell a tale as old as America itself.

At the heart of the work, Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shines, harmoniously augmented by the vocal talents of Jon Hendricks, Cassandra Wilson, and Miles Griffith.

Together, they weave an intricate tapestry of blues, gospel, and jazz, narrating the heartfelt journey of Jesse and Leona, two enslaved individuals grappling with the harrowing landscape of their existence.

The composition not only earned Marsalis the Pulitzer Prize for Music but also underscored his role as a torchbearer in elevating jazz to a narrative form.

Today, Blood on the Fields stands not just as a masterpiece but as a reverberating call to remember, reflect, and revere the indomitable spirit of the past.

It’s a testament to the storytelling power of jazz and, with Marsalis at its helm, ensures that the tales it tells resonate deeply and indelibly.

23. 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

When the first notes of McCoy Tyner‘s The Real McCoy resonated through speakers in 1967, it wasn’t merely a new jazz album gracing the airwaves—it was a revelation.

Tyner, who had previously enthralled audiences as a core member of the John Coltrane Quartet, stepped into the limelight, presenting his own distinct vision.

Tyner’s virtuosic approach to the piano was both ferocious and lyrical, a juxtaposition that added layers of complexity to each track.

Tunes like “Passion Dance” and “Search for Peace” encapsulated the duality of his style: energetic, relentless rhythms juxtaposed with moments of profound serenity.

The ensemble backing Tyner was nothing short of stellar, with stalwarts like Ron Carter on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, and Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone.

Their collective genius took Tyner’s compositions and elevated them to sublime sonic experiences.

Henderson’s saxophone, in particular, complemented Tyner’s piano runs, creating an electrifying and introspective dynamic.

Looking back, The Real McCoy wasn’t just an album but a bold declaration of Tyner’s place in jazz royalty.

Its influence reverberated through subsequent generations of jazz musicians, inspiring them to push boundaries and redefine their sound.

Today, as listeners delve into the intricate layers of The Real McCoy, they’re not just met with extraordinary musicianship—they encounter a journey, a legacy, and a testament to Tyner’s unparalleled genius.

22. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – The Centennial Trilogy (2017)

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah The Centennial Trilogy jazz album cover

Ruler Rebel: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal
Diaspora: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal
The Emancipation Procrastination: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal
Buy CD: Amazon

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – trumpet, siren, sirenette, reverse flugelhorn, SPD-SX, sampling, sonic architecture
Weedie Braimah – djembe, bata, congas
Sarah Elizabeth Charles – special guest, vocals
Braxton Cook – alto saxophone
Joshua Crumbly – bass
Luques Curtis – bass
Joe Dyson Jr. – pan-African Drums, SPD-SX, drums, MIDI controller [SPD-SX]
Lawrence Fields – piano, electric piano
Corey Fonville – drums, SPD-SX, MIDI controller [SPD-SX]
Kris Funn – bass
Marcus Gillmore – drums, MIDI controller [SPD-SX]
Stephen J. Gladney – tenor saxophone
Cliff Hines – guitar
Dominic Minix – guitar
Elena Pinderhughes – flute
Chief Shaka Shaka – dununba, sangban, kenikeni
Matthew Stevens – guitar

Track Listing:
Ruler Rebel
1. Ruler Rebel
2. New Orleanian Love Song
3. New Orleanian Love Song II [X. aTunde Adjuah Remix]
4. Phases
5. Rise Again [Allmos Remix]
6. Encryption
7. The Coronation of X. aTunde Adjuah
8. The Reckoning

1. Diaspora
2. IDK
3. Our Lady of New New Orleans
4. Bae (Interlude)
5. Desire and the Burning Girl
6. Uncrown Her
7. Lawless
8. Completely
9. New Jack Bounce (Interlude)
10. No Love
11. The Walk

The Emancipation Procrastination
1. The Emancipation Procrastination
2. AvengHer
3. Ruler Rebel (X. aTunde Adjuah Remix)
4. Ashes of Our Forever
5. In the Beginning (Interlude)
6. Michele with One L
7. The Cypher
8. Videotape
9. Gerrymandering Game
10. Unrigging November
11. Cages
12. New Heroes

Label: Ropeadope Records / Stretch Music

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah‘s masterpiece, The Centennial Trilogy, stands as a groundbreaking and audacious triad of albums meticulously crafted to honor the centenary of the inaugural jazz recordings.

Unveiled to the world in 2017, this trilogy comprises the albums Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, and The Emancipation Procrastination.

In this particular work, Adjuah exhibits his ingenious jazz methodology, now rebranded as Stretch Music, skillfully interweaving an array of musical genres, from the rhythmic intricacies of hip-hop and the ambient textures of electronic music to the vibrant pulse of traditional African rhythms.

The Centennial Trilogy serves as a resplendent manifestation of the artist’s forward view of the evolution of jazz, bearing eloquent witness to Adjuah’s exceptional prowess as a composer, trumpeter, and orchestral conductor.

A tapestry of diverse musicians joins forces in this venture, contributing to the unique auditory tapestry that defines the project, including saxophonist Braxton Cook, flutist Elena Pinderhughes, keyboardist Lawrence Fields, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Corey Fonville. Also featured are several longtime associates, including guitarist Matt Stevens, percussionists Joe Dyson, Jr. and Weedie Braimah, bassist Luques Curtis, and others.

Across these albums, Adjuah delves into profound themes of identity, race, and societal equity, weaving together a narrative that resonates with profound emotion. More than merely a retrospective on jazz’s history, The Centennial Trilogy emerges as a resolute declaration about its trajectory forward. Adjuah pushes against conventional boundaries, urging the listener to reimagine their very conception of jazz.

Marked by its innovative blend of sonic palettes and contemplative motifs, The Centennial Trilogy has garnered unanimous acclaim from critics, cementing Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s stature as a luminary and trailblazer within modern jazz.

This monumental endeavor beckons to aficionados of jazz and devotees of music alike, offering an unparalleled and immersive auditory expedition that effortlessly transcends conventional genre confines.

21. 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!

20. 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!

19. Dexter Gordon – Go (1962)

Dexter Gordon's Go jazz album cover

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Dexter Gordon – tenor saxophone
Sonny Clark – piano
Butch Warren – bass
Billy Higgins – drums

Track Listing:
1. Cheese Cake
2. I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry
3. Second Balcony Jump
4. Love for Sale
5. Where are You?
6. Three O’Clock in the Morning

Label: Blue Note

When Dexter Gordon‘s Go descended upon the jazz scene in 1962, it wasn’t merely another album to add to the vast jazz library—it was a monumental testament to tenor saxophone artistry.

Gordon, whose tall stature was only overshadowed by his even larger musical presence, had crafted an opus that spoke volumes about his command of the instrument and his innate sense of swing.

The opening notes of “Cheese Cake” instantly set the stage. Gordon’s sax offered that rich, full-bodied tone that became his signature.

Each note was deliberate and fluid, every phrase reflecting his deep understanding of the jazz tradition and his desire to push it forward.

Backed by a heavyweight ensemble featuring Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, Go was more than just a showcase of Gordon’s prowess—it was a cohesive unit of artists weaving a tapestry of sonic brilliance.

Clark’s shimmering piano lines provided the perfect foil to Gordon’s sax.

At the same time, Warren and Higgins laid down rhythms that made the tracks compelling and endlessly groovy.

Tracks like “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” illustrated Gordon’s ability to convey profound emotion, turning a ballad into a heartfelt narrative, whereas “Second Balcony Jump” captured the lively essence of a seasoned musician in his prime.

Reflecting on Go today, it’s evident that the album was not just a highlight in Dexter Gordon’s illustrious career but a pivotal moment in jazz history.

To dive into Go is to experience Dexter Gordon at his finest—a journey of musical mastery, legacy, and the undying spirit of jazz.

18. 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!

17. Roy Hargrove’s The RH Factor – Hard Groove (2003)

Roy Hargrove's The RH Factor Hard Groove album cover

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Roy Hargrove – trumpet
Maurice Brown – trumpet, vocals
Keith Anderson – saxophones
Jacques Schwarz-Bart- saxophones, flute, guitar
Steve Coleman – saxophone
Keith Loftis – saxophone
Karl Denson – flute
Marc Cary – keyboard
James Poyser – keyboard, vocals
Bernard Wright – keyboard, vocals
Bobby Sparks – keyboards
Tony Suggs – organ
Chalmers Alford – guitar
Cornell Dupree – guitar
John Arthur Lee – bass
Pino Palladino – bass
Reggie Washington – bass
Meshell Ndegeocello – bass
G. Craig “Butter” Glanville – drums, vocals
Jason Thomas – drums, vocals
Willie Jones III – drums
Gene Lake – drums
Craig Glanville – drum machine
Donte Winslow – drum machine, vocals
Daniel Moreno – percussion
Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng – percussion
Erykah Badu – vocals
D’Angelo – vocals
Common – vocals
Anthony Hamilton – vocals
Shelly Johnson – vocals
Stephanie McKay- vocals
Renee Neufville – vocals
Q-Tip – vocals

Track Listing:
1. Hardgroove
2. Common Free Style
3. I’ll Stay
4. Interlude
5. Pastor ‘T’
6. Poetry
7. The Joint
8. Forget Regret
9. Out of Town
10. Liquid Streets
11. Kwah/Home
12. How I Know
13. juicy
14. The Stroke

Label: Verve

When Hard Groove by Roy Hargrove‘s The RH Factor came onto the scene in 2003, it was an audacious exploration, a boundary-pushing endeavor that shattered conventions and rewrote the playbook on what jazz could be in the new millennium.

Roy Hargrove, renowned for his exceptional trumpet work and deep jazz roots, showcased his versatility with this project.

He took a daring plunge, melding the world of traditional jazz with elements of R&B, funk, soul, and hip-hop.

The result? A sonic tapestry that was both familiar and thrillingly novel.

With tracks like “Common Free Style” and “Forget Regret,” listeners were treated to lush harmonies, gripping grooves, and infectious hooks that beckoned for repeated listens.

But more than the irresistible rhythms, the seamless blending of genres made Hard Groove a standout.

The ensemble Hargrove assembled for The RH Factor was nothing short of a musical dream team.

Collaborations with luminaries such as Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Common added depth and diversity to the record, each bringing their unique flair to the melting pot.

Reflecting on Hard Groove today, it’s clear that Roy Hargrove wasn’t just producing another album—he was making a statement.

A statement about the evolution of jazz, its adaptability, and its timeless essence that could meld with contemporary sounds without losing its core spirit.

16. 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 was inspired by a trip to Brazil, and 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!

15. 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!

14. 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‘ monumental 1957 creation, Saxophone Colossus, not only lives up to its grandiose title but stands as a testament to Rollins’ formidable prowess on the tenor saxophone.

Opening with the irresistible rhythms of “St. Thomas,” a calypso-tinged jewel, the album immediately immerses listeners in Rollins’ world of innovative improvisation, marked by audacious solos that zigzag between fervent runs and contemplative pauses.

This track has undoubtedly become synonymous with Rollins, an emblematic representation of his craft.

But the musical journey is far from over.

The deep emotional reservoir accessed in “You Don’t Know What Love Is” showcases Rollins’ ability to convey intense vulnerability and raw emotion through his horn.

At the same time, “Strode Rode” catapults listeners into a whirlwind of agile, frenetic energy, highlighting Rollins’ impeccable technique.

Rounding out the album are “Moritat” and “Blue 7,” compositions that evoke the timeless ambiance of a bygone era, replete with the gentle clinking of cocktail glasses and hazy atmospheres of vintage jazz clubs.

In its entirety, Saxophone Colossus is a monumental milestone in Rollins’ illustrious career, a musical venture that beckons listeners to return, uncovering new layers with each listening.

It is a testament to Rollins’ technical mastery and a panoramic view of a genius at work, making it an album deserving of perpetual reverence and enjoyment.

13. 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

In 1959, amidst a cascade of legendary jazz releases, Charles Mingus unveiled his Columbia Records debut: Mingus Ah Um.

The album doesn’t just signify a remarkable work; it’s a veritable tapestry of jazz, weaving between powerful drives of rhythm and contemplative, soulful melodies.

More than just a collection of compositions, Mingus Ah Um is a heartfelt nod to a history replete with jazz giants.

Tracks like “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” beautifully tip their hat to saxophonist Lester Young, while both “Open Letter to Duke” and “Jelly Roll” leave no doubts about their dedications.

Each piece is a testament to Mingus’ reverence for the trailblazers who came before him.

But to describe the album solely in the context of tribute would be an oversight.

Mingus’ ensemble brings forth a sound that is not only rooted in tradition but also pushes the boundaries, marked by its intricacy, inventiveness, and that characteristic Mingus edge—bold, occasionally brash, but always captivating.

Mingus Ah Um is more than an album; it’s a journey that chronicles the spirit and transformation of jazz during its most pivotal moments.

It stands as an indispensable bridge between the revered past and the exciting innovations of its time.

Every listen is an exploration, making it a must-have for both the seasoned jazz enthusiast and the curious newcomer.

12. Chick Corea – Return to Forever (1972)

Chick Corea Return to Forever album cover

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Chick Corea – Fender Rhodes electric piano
Stanley Clarke – bass
Joe Farrell – flute, soprano saxophone
Airto Moreira – drums, percussion
Flora Purim – vocals, percussion

Track Listing:
1. Return to Forever
2. Crystal Silence
3. What Game Shall We Play Today
4. Sometime Ago – La Fiesta

Label: ECM

In the swirling vortex of 1970s jazz, Chick Corea‘s Return to Forever emerged as a beacon, redefining the trajectory of the fusion movement. 

The album was not merely a collection of tracks but a musical manifesto, signaling a bold new direction.

With Corea’s virtuosity on the keys taking center stage, he was brilliantly complemented by an ensemble of prodigies: Stanley Clarke‘s resonant basslines, Joe Farrell‘s multifaceted talents on saxophone and flute, Airto Moreira‘s pulsating percussion, and the otherworldly vocals of Flora Purim.

Across the album’s quartet of compositions, one encounters a melange of jazz underpinned with Latin rhythms and Brazilian zest. 

The title track alone is a testament to this fusion. 

Still, the sprawling, immersive experience of “Sometime Ago – La Fiesta” truly embodies the album’s ethos. 

This 23-minute odyssey encapsulates the ensemble’s collective genius, pushing musical boundaries with every note.

Flora Purim’s ethereal voice floats atop the music, weaving an intricate tapestry with Moreira’s dynamic percussion and grounding the experimental sounds with a touch of the familiar.

More than just a musical work, Return to Forever became a movement unto itself, catalyzing a fusion renaissance, inspiring legions of musicians, and gifting audiences with a sound that, despite the passage of decades, remains as fresh and evocative as its first release.

In the annals of jazz, Return to Forever is not just an album; it’s an era, a statement, and a legacy.

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

Stepping into the vibrant landscape of 1973, Herbie Hancock‘s Head Hunters was not just an album—it was a seismic shift in the musical terrain.

Where jazz once sauntered, Hancock introduced a fierce stride, an electric, daring, and unmistakably groovy fusion.

Herbie, already celebrated for his traditional jazz prowess and role in the acclaimed Miles Davis’ Second Quintet, was about to redraw the map.

With Head Hunters, he ventured into funk and electronic music territories, offering listeners an auditory experience that was both novel and deeply rooted in jazz ethos.

From the iconic opening notes of “Chameleon” to the spellbinding beats of “Watermelon Man,” the album is a masterclass in reinvention.

Each track pulses with innovative synths, electric pianos, and rhythms that feel like they’re from another galaxy.

Yet, there’s an undeniable jazz undercurrent that grounds the entire adventure.

Backed by a legendary ensemble that included Paul Jackson on bass, Harvey Mason on drums, and Bill Summers on percussion, Head Hunters was as much about collaboration as it was about individual brilliance.

Together, the group forged an intricately layered sound, rhythmically complex and sonically pioneering.

Looking back, it’s evident that Head Hunters wasn’t just a high point in Hancock’s illustrious career but a transformative moment in jazz history.

The album didn’t just break boundaries—it exploded them, setting the stage for future fusion projects.

Today, Head Hunters stands as a beacon for musical innovation, a testament to the limitless possibilities when genres meld.

It’s not just music—it’s an evolution, a revolution, a timeless wonder in the vast cosmos of sound.

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

There are moments in music history that transcend traditional categorization, breaking through to touch the very soul of listeners.

Keith Jarrett‘s The Köln Concert, recorded in 1975, is precisely one of those luminous instances.

More than just a performance, it became a spiritual exploration of musical spontaneity and raw emotion.

Jarrett, a pianist renowned for his expansive range and technical prowess, took to the stage of the Cologne Opera House with no preconceived notions, only a commitment to the moment.

The result was an uninterrupted flow of improvisation, a journey that spanned over an hour, encapsulating both the profound and the ephemeral.

From the delicate arpeggios that open “Part I” to the resonant chords that punctuate “Part IIc”, the concert is a testament to Jarrett’s unrivaled ability to meld classical, jazz, gospel, and folk influences into a cohesive auditory narrative.

It’s not just about technique; it’s about feeling every note, every pause, every crescendo as if the piano were an extension of his very being.

The context further elevates the performance.

Battling physical discomfort and initially disappointed with the condition of the piano, Jarrett’s ability to transcend these challenges and deliver such a captivating performance speaks volumes about his dedication and artistry.

Listening to The Köln Concert today, one is transported to that hallowed hall, enveloped by the sheer magic of Jarrett’s improvisations.

The album stands not just as a pivotal moment in Jarrett’s illustrious career but as a beacon in the realm of solo piano performances.

Dive into this musical voyage and encounter more than just notes and melodies; you experience a raw, unfiltered connection, a dialogue between artist and instrument.

Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert isn’t just a recording—it’s a living, breathing testament to the boundless possibilities of music and the profound depths of human expression.

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

Few albums ripple with the audacity and innovation of Miles Davis‘ 1970 opus, Bitches Brew.

Not merely a recording but a veritable revolution, this double album shattered preconceptions, opening doors to a universe where jazz intertwined with rock, funk, and avant-garde experimentalism.

Miles, already an iconic figure for his role in shaping bebop, cool, and modal jazz, was on the cusp of another metamorphosis.

With Bitches Brew, he veered into electric territory, merging his signature trumpet sounds with electric pianos, guitars, and a dynamic rhythm section oscillating between the structured and the abstract.

From the haunting ebbs and flows of “Pharaoh’s Dance” to the frenetic energy of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” the album is a sprawling mosaic of soundscapes.

Each track dives deep, meandering through complex rhythms, electrifying solos, and ethereal atmospheres that often seem to teeter on the edge of chaos, only to be reined in by moments of melodic brilliance.

What makes Bitches Brew particularly impactful is its ensemble cast. Collaborators like Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, and Chick Corea contributed their distinct voices, making the album a cauldron of creative synergy.

More than four decades since its release, the album’s influence is still palpable.

Bitches Brew wasn’t just a foray into fusion—it was the very blueprint, inspiring a whole generation of musicians to challenge conventions and cross-pollinate genres.

Today, this masterwork is a testament to Miles Davis’ unyielding spirit of exploration.

Bitches Brew is more than an album; it’s a statement, a challenge, an invitation to journey into the unknown.

It beckons listeners to delve deep, to challenge their own perceptions, and to revel in the sheer audacity of music unbound by genre.

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

Amidst the tumultuous creativity of the 1960s jazz scene, a young Herbie Hancock emerged, wielding a masterwork that would forever be etched into the annals of jazz history: Maiden Voyage.

A magnum opus recorded in the famed chambers of Rudy Van Gelder‘s Englewood Cliffs studio, the album was a testament to Hancock’s genius and the incredible synergy of his ensemble.

Alfred Lion, the visionary producer behind Blue Note Records, curated a band for Hancock that was nothing short of stellar.

Freddie Hubbard‘s trumpet pierced with precision, George Coleman‘s tenor saxophone sang with elegance, Ron Carter‘s bass pulsated with resonance, and the prodigious 19-year-old Tony Williams danced on drums with a ferocity beyond his years.

Evoking the grandeur of sea voyages and exploration, Maiden Voyage sails through the highs and lows of human emotion.

This nautical odyssey wasn’t merely an album but a narrative, an auditory tale of adventure that would earn its rightful place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Hancock’s compositions, an intoxicating mix of intricate arrangements and spontaneous brilliance, form the backbone of this journey.

With its slow-burning ascent, the title track encapsulates the spirit of discovery, of setting sail into the unknown — a piece Hancock himself cherishes above all.

From the brisk tempos that get the heart racing to the serene ballads that soothe the soul, Maiden Voyage captures the zeitgeist of its era while transcending time.

It invites listeners across generations to embark on this musical sojourn — urging them to immerse, reflect, and drift in its profound depth.

Every note is a call to listen, every chord a beckoning horizon.

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

Dave Brubeck‘s Time Out is not just an album; it’s a rhythmic revolution.

While the iconic refrains of “Take Five” and the infectious groove of “Blue Rondo à la Turk” might first come to mind, the album’s depth extends far beyond these standout tracks.

1959 saw Time Out defying conventional musical wisdom in jazz and the broader spectrum of music.

It was audacious, earning a remarkable #2 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and breaking records as the first jazz oeuvre to hit a million sales.

But the magic of Time Out wasn’t solely in its commercial triumphs.

Its genius lay in Brubeck’s audacious embrace of uncharted rhythmic territories.

It wasn’t just jazz; it was an exploration of time itself.

A voyage to Turkey provided a serendipitous spark.

Entranced by a folk song pulsating in a mesmerizing 9/8, Brubeck didn’t just listen; he was inspired.

The result? “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” an exhilarating synthesis of American jazz and Turkish rhythm.

Yet, amidst the album’s sea of innovation, the crown jewel remains “Take Five.”

Crafted by the brilliant Paul Desmond, its 5/4 time signature gracefully challenges and delights, showcasing a synergy between the quartet that’s simply electric.

More than a track, it’s an anthem that transcended the confines of its genre.

Given its monumental impact and enduring appeal, it’s no wonder Time Out clinches a top spot on our list of the greatest jazz albums.

It’s not merely an album; it’s an epoch, a rhythmic tour de force that continues to inspire, challenge, and enthrall.

In jazz, Time Out isn’t just music; it’s legend.

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 A Love Supreme is not just an album but a profound testament to the transcendent power of music.

Often heralded as a pinnacle achievement in jazz, its frequent appearance on top jazz album lists isn’t just respect—it’s reverence.

While newcomers to Coltrane’s oeuvre might first encounter the accessible rhythms of Blue Train or the intricate melodies of Giant Steps, delving deeper unveils A Love Supreme as an exploration not just of music but of the soul.

It isn’t merely Coltrane playing the saxophone; it’s a spiritual journey laid bare, note by evocative note.

Structured in four transformative movements, the album resonates with the depth of Coltrane’s own spiritual renaissance.

It’s more than a collection of tracks—it’s an odyssey, guiding listeners through the peaks and troughs of spiritual enlightenment.

Each movement is a chapter, progressing from acknowledgment and resolution to pursuance and psalm.

It’s challenging to articulate the profundity of A Love Supreme in mere words.

Beyond its technical mastery is an earnestness, a raw vulnerability, that draws listeners into Coltrane’s communion with the divine.

Few albums, if any, match its deeply rooted passion and spiritual resonance.

In the vast tapestry of jazz, A Love Supreme isn’t just another piece—it’s the thread that binds the fabric together, defining, challenging, and elevating the genre in a way only Coltrane could.

1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album cover

Stream: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal
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

Miles DavisKind of Blue shines unparalleled in the vast cosmos of jazz, consistently clinching the top rank in myriad “Best Jazz Albums of All Time” compilations.

It’s not just another jazz record; it embodies a paradigm shift in the genre’s trajectory.

Kind of Blue, unveiled in 1959 by Columbia Records, was not just an artistic pivot for Davis but a seismic transformation for jazz.

Veering away from the frenetic pathways of Hard Bop, the album waded into the ethereal realms of modal jazz—a transition deeply influenced by the brilliant pianist Bill Evans, who melded with Davis’ ensemble a year prior.

What Kind of Blue introduced was not just a novel sound but a liberated approach to improvisation.

Instead of being trapped by rapidly shifting chords, musicians could wander freely within scales spanning several bars.

This framework broadened the canvases on which artists painted their solos and rendered each composition with an airy, meditative ambiance.

It wasn’t just music; it was an auditory experience.

Tunes from the album, now canonical jazz standards, still resonate in clubs, stages, and quiet evening listens, enchanting generations.

Miles Davis did not just release another album with Kind of Blue.

He unfurled a tapestry, interwoven with innovation, that would drape and redefine the walls of the jazz pantheon.

An opus that didn’t just reflect the zeitgeist but shaped the sonorous future of jazz.

Read Other Articles in Our ‘Best of Jazz’ Series!

Sebastien Helary

Written by Sebastien Helary

Sebastien Helary is the founder and principal writer for Nextbop.com, a premier destination for contemporary jazz enthusiasts. His insightful contributions have also graced the pages of Time Out Montreal and Cult Montreal. Outside the realm of music and food journalism, Sebastien’s personal musings and artistry are showcased at Helaryous.com.

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