Louis Armstrong once said, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know," and the man was right. Getting to know jazz is much more about listening and experiencing than defining the genre and all its subgenres. These 20 jazz albums were handpicked from only the very best to get you get acquainted to jazz. From classic to acid, and avant garde to Latin, it's all here!
Handful of Keys by Fats Waller is considered an essential jazz album. Waller is a forerunner of modern jazz, writing some of the most famous jazz standards of all time. This album is a compendium of his best live performances.
Count Basie, a renowned musician and bandleader, is considered one of the fathers of modern jazz and is always listed on the top. His talented band accompanied the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan. Complete Live at the Crescendo offers a glimpse of the master at work.
Ella & Louis by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis was the first of three albums that beautifully merged the vocal charms of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This essential jazz album offers gorgeous ballads sung by two of the most influential jazz artists and vocalists of all time.
Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk was the first album to include his compositions. It considered the epitome of modern jazz and a must have in any jazz collection. This album's complex compositions are a testament of Monk's genius.
Getz / Gilberto is considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim concocted a delightful album that perfectly combined jazz and bossa nova. This album was both critically acclaimed and a commercial success.
Sarah Vaughan Sings Mancini Songbook by Sarah Vaughan
Bobby McFerrin has won multiple Grammy awards for his fabulous vocal jazz renditions. McFerrin's music is a must for those interested in contemporary vocal jazz. Try Grammy award-winning Vocabularies, or the Best of Bobby McFerrin to get started.
Although avant garde or free jazz might not be for everyone, if you want a taste, try the best. Out to Lunch! by Eric Dolphy is widely acclaimed as the best in this subgenre. Included in all kinds of best of jazz lists, Out to Lunch! showcases great musical dexterity and unparalleled creative genius.
Tito Puente, also known as "The King of Latin Music" and "The Musical Pope," had a successful career spanning over 50 years composing and playing Latin jazz and music. Dance Mania is considered one of Latin jazz most emblematic albums.
Cal Tjader's vast work is rich in Latin and Afro-Cuban flavor. He is considered one of the most successful non-latino, Latin musician. His Soul Sauce is an all time Latin jazz favorite, ideal for adding a little spice to your jazz collection.
One Armed Bandit by Jaga Jazzist is future jazz party for the ears. Offering a fusion of progressive rock with jazz, this album is constantly recommended by nu jazz enthusiasts. It is an album rich in flavors, that while innovative, maintains a strong jazz identity.
Although Jamiroquai may be more recently known for funky disco beats, their first few albums were decidedly acid jazz. Their album Emergency on Planet Earth tops the best in acid jazz lists. Just one listen, and it's clear to see why: it features cool acid jazz beats with fabulous funk flavors.
Take Your Pick and Enjoy!
The jazz albums listed here offer a comprehensive journey from the beginnings of jazz to the most current exponents, with ample variety, and all top ranking among jazz enthusiasts. If you want to know more about jazz, take the time and offer them a listen. You might end up with a favorite album... or two!