25 best jazz songs from the beginnings to today
As the National Museum of African American Music opens, reporters from the USA TODAY Network explore the stories, places and people who have helped make music what it is today in our world. extensive series, Hallowed Sound.
Jazz is a kind of performance, not a song. Created in the moment by improvisation, every time a song is played it is different. These 25 recordings retrace the century-old history of this quintessential American art: from the beginnings of New Orleans to the era of swing, through the heady period of bebop, the controlled chaos of free jazz, the fusion of jazz with rock and R&B and finally to today’s stars.
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The New Orleans pianist would claim he invented jazz. Without a doubt, he helped create the sound of jazz piano. Benny Goodman and his band later had success with their recording of this Morton song.
Armstrong’s recording shows the trumpeter’s prowess in the intro and solo. Although recorded in Chicago, King Oliver’s song references the entertainment district on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
Fitzgerald was 17, just a child, when she joined the Chick Webb Orchestra. On this updated nursery rhyme, which she co-wrote, she displays the mature and agile vocal delivery that made her a star for half a century and earned her the title of “First Lady of Song.” .
Basie’s tight and lively orchestra included star players including Lester Young. The epitome of cool, Young had a major influence on the saxophonists who followed him, including Charlie Parker.
The legend of Holiday’s short life, which ended with her voice ravaged by drugs and alcohol, sometimes overshadows her talent. On “Strange Fruit,” a searing lynching tale, she shows how restraint can make a message more powerful.
Hawkins made the saxophone the flagship instrument of jazz. His play during the swing period paved the way for bebop. When the bebop arrived, Hawkins didn’t miss a beat, playing with John Coltrane, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins.
The song became a theme for Ellington, one of the swing era’s most important band leaders and one of the great composers in American history.
For most of jazz history, few musicians other than female singers have received the attention they deserve. Williams, whose long and ever-evolving career has included writing for Duke Ellington and mentoring bebop players such as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, deserves to be better known. On the album “Zodiac Suite”, she dedicated each song to one of the signs and to a fellow musician who embodied it.
With his puffy cheeks and his beret, the unmissable trumpeter Gillespie was another founder of bebop. He also merged Cuban rhythms with jazz on songs such as “Manteca”.
With lightning speed and endless ideas, alto saxophonist Parker helped create bebop, which transformed jazz from dance music to a more cerebral art form.
Pianist Powell adopted the innovations of bebop, matching the speed and ferocity of horn players on the keyboard. He forever changed the way the piano was played in jazz.
Drummer Blakey helped forge hard bop, a style that took bebop and incorporated R&B, blues and gospel. During his long life, the Jazz Messengers also launched the careers of many star players, including Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis.
Angular, quirky and often dissonant, no one played the piano like Monk. Despite being a singular performer, his compositions, such as “Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Chaser” and “Ruby, My Dear”, have become standards of the genre.
Davis, who is constantly innovating, opens a space for his musicians on “Kind of Blue”, refocusing on the melody after the athletic frenzy of the bebop. The album is considered one of the milestones of jazz.
Standing 6 “6 ‘, Gordon was a literal jazz giant. His deep and lyrical tenor saxophone playing made him a favorite with critics and audiences throughout his long career. In 1987, he was nominated for an Oscar du best actor in a leading role for his work in the film “Round Midnight”, but lost to Paul Newman.
Powerful bassist and composer with a relentless research spirit, Mingus’ music ranged from the heart-wrenching magnificent ballad “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” to stimulating atmospheric works such as “Solo Dancer” from his masterpiece “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady ”.
Tenor saxophonist Coltrane has grown from a master of bebop to an artist pushing the limits of form with free jazz. “A Love Supreme”, his masterpiece, captures him between these two poles. The four-part album, which opens with “Acknowledgment”, tells a story of struggle and redemption through jazz.
Trumpeter Morgan stepped out of Blakey’s Jazz Messenger. His album “The Sidewinder”, which includes “Totem Pole”, is a hard bop classic that brings back a dancing rhythm to jazz.
Free jazz, which took root in the 1960s, took improvisation to the extreme. From now on, whole songs, often dissonant, would be composed on the spot, instead of simple solos.
New York was the center of the jazz world, or at least the jazz media. The thunderous pianist Tapscott, who stayed close to Los Angeles and was deeply involved in his community, never caught the critical attention of East Coast players. His deep influence on contemporary star Kamasi Washington, however, raised his profile in jazz history.
Davis never stopped. On this 1969 album he fused jazz and rock, much to the shock of many in the jazz world.
Marsalis, born into a large musical family in New Orleans, rejected pop influences and experimentation with free jazz. Rather, he defended a conservative approach rooted in swing and bebop. As Director of New York Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis continues to strongly influence the course of jazz.
Pianist Moran grew up dedicating himself to hip hop, until he heard Thelonious Monk interested him in jazz. His restless creativity has made Moran one of the best jazz players today.
After recording “To Pimp a Butterfly” with rapper Kendrick Lamar, Washington released the aptly named “The Epic,” a three-hour album that pairs its big band with chorus and strings. The first track, “Change of the Guard,” clarifies Washington’s intentions and ambitions.
The Californian trumpeter was commissioned to create his craziest ideas on the 2018 album “Origami Harvest”. The result mixes jazz, chamber music and hip-hop, as on this track with rapper Kool AD