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Updated by Jabbi Delahaye on Apr 15, 2015
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100 Greatest Jazz Artists

Our collection of 100 Greatest Jazz Artists

1

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971) nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter, singer, and an influential figure in jazz music. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).

Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong's influence extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to "cross over", whose skin color was secondary to his music in an America that was severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for men of color.

2

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist and bandleader of jazz orchestras. He led his orchestra from 1923 until his death, his career spanning over 50 years.

Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onward, and gained a national profile through his orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured in Europe. Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington embraced the phrase "beyond category" as a "liberating principle", and referred to his music as part of the more

3

Miles Davis

Miles Davis

Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis was, together with his musical groups, at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.

4

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

Charles Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), also known as "Yardbird" and "Bird", was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.

Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and improvisation. Parker introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Many Parker recordings inserted his virtuoso playing style and complex melodic lines, sometimes combining jazz with other musical genres, including blues, Latin and classical.[citation needed]

Parker acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career; this and its shortened form, "Bird", which continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspired the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as "Yardbird Suite", "Ornithology", "Bird Gets the Worm", and "Bird of Paradise". Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual rather than just an entertainer.

5

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

John William Coltrane, also known as "Trane" (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967), was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He organized at least fifty recording sessions as a leader during his career, and appeared as a sideman on many other albums, notably with trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

6

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie ** (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. **Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser, building on the virtuoso style of Roy Eldridge[3] but adding layers of harmonic complexity previously unheard in jazz. His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, pouched cheeks and his light-hearted personality were essential in popularizing bebop

7

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan;[ April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959)[3] was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.

8

Thelonious Sphere Monk

Thelonious Sphere Monk

Thelonious Sphere Monk (October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982) was an American jazz pianist and composer. Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "'Round Midnight," "Blue Monk," "Ruby, My Dear," "In Walked Bud," and "Well, You Needn't". Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than 1,000 pieces, whereas Monk wrote about 70.

9

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus Jr. (April 22, 1922 – January 5, 1979) was a highly influential American jazz double bassist, composer and bandleader. Mingus's compositions retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop and drew heavily from black gospel music while sometimes drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz, and classical music. Yet Mingus avoided categorization, forging his own brand of music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz. He once cited Duke Ellington and church as his main influences.

10

Lester Young

Lester Young

Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959),[1] nicknamed "Pres" or "Prez", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and occasional clarinetist.

Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie's orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrument. In contrast to many of his hard-driving peers, Young played with a relaxed, cool tone and used sophisticated harmonies, using "a free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs that pleased dancers and listeners alike". Known for his hip, introverted style,[3] he invented or popularized much of the hipster jargon which came to be associated with the music

11

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz singer often referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing is a difficult technique that requires singers with the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium.

12

Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Randolph Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969), nicknamed Hawk and sometimes "Bean", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. One of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument, as Joachim E. Berendt explained: "there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn".[2] While Hawkins is strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s. Fellow saxophonist Lester Young, known as "Pres", commented in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review: "As far as I'm concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I'm the second one."[2] Miles Davis once said: "When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads."

13

Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins

Theodore Walter Rollins was born on September 7, 1930 in New York City. He grew up in Harlem not far from the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theatre, and the doorstep of his idol, Coleman Hawkins. After early discovery of Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, he started out on alto saxophone, inspired by Louis Jordan. At the age of sixteen, he switched to tenor, trying to emulate Hawkins. He also fell under the spell of the musical revolution that surrounded him, Bebop. Learn more www.sonnyrollins.com

14

Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet (May 14, 1897 – May 14, 1959) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. He was one of the first important soloists in jazz (beating cornetist and trumpeter Louis Armstrong to the recording studio by several months[3] and later playing duets with Armstrong), and was perhaps the first notable jazz saxophonist. Forceful delivery, well-constructed improvisations, and a distinctive, wide vibrato characterized Bechet's playing. Bechet's erratic temperament hampered his career, however, and not until the late 1940s did he earn wide acclaim. Learn more www.sidneybechet.org.

15

Art Blakey

Art Blakey

Art Blakey (Arthur Blakey; October 11, 1919 – October 16, 1990) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He was known as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina after he became a Muslim. Blakey made a name for himself in the 1940s in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. He worked with bebop musicians Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In the mid-1950s Horace Silver and Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers, a group that the drummer was associated with for the next 35 years. The Messengers were formed as a collective of contemporaries, but over the years the band became known as an incubator for young talent, including Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz calls the Jazz Messengers "the archetypal hard-bop group of the late 50s".

16

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (born March 9, 1930) is an American saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer. He was one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s, having also invented the term "free jazz" by naming his album so. Coleman's timbre is easily recognized: his keening, crying sound draws heavily on blues music. His album Sound Grammar received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for music. Learn more www.ornettecoleman.com.

17

Bill Evans

Bill Evans

William John Evans, known as Bill Evans (pronunciation: /ˈɛvəns/, August 16, 1929 – September 15, 1980), was an American jazz pianist and composer who mostly worked in a trio setting. He is considered by some to have been the most influential post-World War II jazz pianist. Evans's use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, block chords, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines continue to influence jazz pianists today. Unlike many other jazz musicians of his time, Evans never embraced new movements like jazz fusion or free jazz.

18

Art Tatum

Art Tatum

Arthur "Art" Tatum, Jr. (/ˈteɪtəm/, October 13, 1909 – November 5, 1956) was an American jazz pianist. Tatum is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, and was a major influence on later generations of jazz pianists. He was hailed for the technical proficiency of his performances, which set a new standard for jazz piano virtuosity. Critic Scott Yanow wrote, "Tatum's quick reflexes and boundless imagination kept his improvisations filled with fresh (and sometimes futuristic) ideas that put him way ahead of his contemporaries."

19

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

Benjamin David "Benny" Goodman (May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986) was an American jazz and swing musician, clarinetist and bandleader, known as the "King of Swing". In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in America. His January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music." Goodman's bands launched the careers of many major names in jazz. During an era of segregation he also led one of the first well-known integrated jazz groups. Goodman continued to perform to nearly the end of his life, while exploring an interest in classical music. Learn more www.bennygoodman.com

20

Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown (October 30, 1930 – June 26, 1956), aka "Brownie", was an American jazz trumpeter. He died at the age of 25 in a car accident,[1] leaving behind only four years' worth of recordings. Nonetheless, he had a considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, and Freddie Hubbard.[citation needed] He was also a composer of note: two of his compositions, "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud", have become jazz standards.Brown won the Down Beat critics' poll for the "New Star of the Year" in 1954; he was inducted into the Down Beat "Jazz Hall of Fame" in 1972 in the critics' poll. Learn more www.cliffordbrown.net

21

Stan Getz

Stan Getz

Stanley Getz **(February 2, 1927 – June 6, 1991) was an American jazz saxophonist. Playing primarily the tenor saxophone, Getz was known as "The Sound" because of his warm, lyrical tone, his prime influence being the wispy, mellow timbre of his idol, Lester Young. Coming to prominence in the late 1940s with Woody Herman's big band, Getz is described by critic Scott Yanow as "one of the all-time great tenor saxophonists". Getz went on to perform in bebop, cool jazz and third stream, but is perhaps best known for popularizing bossa nova, as in the worldwide hit single "The Girl from Ipanema**" (1964). Learn more www.stangetz.net

22

Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton

Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (October 20, 1890 – July 10, 1941), known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer who started his career in New Orleans, Louisiana. Widely recognized as a pivotal figure in early jazz, Morton is perhaps most notable as jazz's first arranger, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential spirit and characteristics when notated.[2] His composition "Jelly Roll Blues" was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. Morton is also notable for naming and popularizing the "Spanish Tinge" (habanera rhythm and tresillo), and for writing such standards as "King Porter Stomp", "Wolverine Blues", "Black Bottom Stomp", and "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say", the latter a tribute to New Orleans musicians from the turn of the 19th century to 20th century.

23

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Lois Vaughan (March 27, 1924 – April 3, 1990) was an American jazz singer, described by music critic Scott Yanow as having "one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century." Nicknamed "Sassy", "The Divine One" and "Sailor" (for her salty speech), Sarah Vaughan was a Grammy Award winner.[3] The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed upon her its "highest honor in jazz", the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989.

24

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is a true icon of modern music. Throughout his explorations, he has transcended limitations and genres while maintaining his unmistakable voice. With an illustrious career spanning five decades and 14 Grammy® Awards, including Album of the Year for River: The Joni Letters, he continues to amaze audiences across the globe. There are few artists in the music industry who have had more influence on acoustic and electronic jazz and R&B than Herbie Hancock. As the immortal Miles Davis said in his autobiography, "Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven't heard anybody yet who has come after him." Born in Chicago in 1940, Herbie was a child piano prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. He began playing jazz in high school, initially influenced by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. He also developed a passion for electronics and science, and double-majored in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College. Learn more www.herbiehancock.com

25

Bud Powell

Bud Powell

Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell (September 27, 1924 – July 31, 1966) was a jazz pianist who was born and raised in Harlem, New York City. While Thelonious Monk became his close friend, his greatest influence was Art Tatum. Along with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the pianist was a leading figure in the development of bebop, and his virtuosity led many to call him the Charlie Parker of the piano. Powell was also a composer, and he "greatly extended the range of jazz harmony."