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The Most Important Jazz Albums of All Time

Normally, I would go ahead and list for you a handful of jazz records that historically have been noted as “the most important” time and time again; the ones everyone can agree upon.

But I want to do something different today.

This time I want to hear from you.

Which jazz albums do you think are the most important?

Your answer could be albums that you believe were the most innovative, or even changed the course of jazz music. Your answer could be albums that defined a particular era of jazz. It could be albums that most jazz historians would agree are the most important.

But your answer could also be albums that are the most important to you. Ultimately, the most important jazz albums of all time are the ones that have inspired you, changed your playing, and continue to guide you through your musical journey. This is a subjective topic.

So instead of me telling you what the most important jazz albums are, You tell me! Let’s make a big list of albums we all need to be checking out.

I’ll go ahead and start by leaving my most important albums in the comments below.

Let’s start a discussion. Tell us which jazz albums you think are the most important in the comments below!

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. In no particular order…
    Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
    Song for My Father by Horace Silver
    Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock
    Moanin’ by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messenger
    Epitaph by Charles Mingus
    Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington
    Quintessence by Quincy Jones

    These are just a handful that have been important to me. KDY

  2. I am a relative newcomer to the world of jazz but have already found a lot of amazing albums, some known by most and others under appreciated. I will give you 10 of my favourite jazz albums.
    P.S I am a little biased towards piano players as I am one myself:
    1. Erroll Garner, Concert By the Sea
    2. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Ella and Louis
    3. McCoy Tyner, Nights of Ballads and Blues
    4. Count Basie Orchestra, the Atomic Mr. Basie
    5. Joe Williams, A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry
    6. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
    7. Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue
    8. Oscar Peterson, Night Train
    9. Count Basie, Kansas City Suite
    10. Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool

  3. I appreciate all the great modern names, but a truly inclusive list of the greatest recordings has to go back to the roots of jazz, where it all started—– Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, the New Orleans legends and others. In jazz guitar, Eddie Lang's recordings are as essential as Charlie Christian and Wes. I particularly love his duets with Lonnie Johnson. if you play jazz guitar and haven't studied Eddie, you're missing a huge part of the story.

  4. No aesthetic/historical case to be made here – just a handful of albums that I've loved over the last 50+ years!

    Charlie Mingus: Mingus Ah Um
    Clifford Brown: Memorial Album
    John Coltrane: Africa Brass
    Miles Davis: In a Silent Way
    Kenny Burrell: Midnight Blue
    Cannonball Adderley: Something Else
    Keith Jarrett: Koln Concert
    Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High
    Pat Metheny: Travels

  5. Miles davis -Kind of blue, Flamenco sketches
    Randy brecker – night in calisia , heavy metal bebop
    Herbie hancock – head hunters , maiden voyage

    *actually there's a lot!

  6. Hi
    My favourites (guitar oriented) are:
    In flight George Benson
    East to West Emily Remler
    Elegant gypsy Al Di Meola
    There and back Jeff Beck
    Best regards
    J Erik

  7. Miles Davis – Some Day My Prince Will Come
    Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
    John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
    Weather Report – Heavy Weather
    Tony Williams – Foreign Intrige
    Basie – Atomic Basie

  8. As for most jazz listeners, Kind of Blue was monumental when I was getting into jazz, and I still
    never tire of it.
    A Love Supreme also has a special place in my heart, it just moves me in a totally unique way that I really just can't explain.

    Other than those two I wanna mention a few never albums that have been and still are very imprtant to me:

    Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio 2
    Pretty far from the traditional jazz sound but I would argue it's one of the most important jazz albums of the last few years, it sure is for me.

    Ari Hoenig – Lines of Oppression
    Just a really great example of some stellar modern jazz, played at an amazingly high level by exceptional musicians. In my opinion, Ari Hoenig is one of the greatest jazz drummers alive – and a great composer too.

    Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
    An album of great songs played by a great band, you really don't need a lot more than that. But what makes this album so special to me is that it's how I discovered Gregory Porter. He has the loveliest voice I have ever heard and I think he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other great jazz singers.

    Neil Cowley Trio – The Face of Mount Molehill
    One of the first albums I discovered completely on my own and something about it just resonated with me. Beautiful beautiful music.

    And a bunch of other albums, old and new:

    Oscar Peterson Trio + One with Clark Terry
    The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
    Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
    Jamie Cullum – Interlude
    Bobby McFerrin – Beyond Words
    The Bad Plus Joshua Redman
    John Scofield – Past Present
    Avishai Cohen Trio – From Darkness
    Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana – Mehliana: Taming The Dragon
    Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society
    Lionel Loueke – GAÏA
    José James – Yesterday I Had The Blues – The Music Of Billie Holiday

  9. Hank Mobley – SOUL STATION
    Herbie Hancock – MAIDEN VOYAGE ( for "Dolphin Dance")
    Duke Ellington – THE BLANTON YEARS
    George Coleman- AT YOSHI'S

  10. Great idea, Brent! Here's a few that favorites that come to mind:

    Oscar Peterson Night Train
    Miles Davis Kind of Blue
    Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus
    John Coltrane Dear Old Stockholm (different choice I know!)
    Benny Green Testifyin'

    A couple of semi-recent albums I really dig:
    Terrance Blanchard Flow
    John Scofield Bump, also 54, also EnRoute

  11. It was a film that sucked me into jazz. The soundtrack was written and played by Miles Davis: "Ascenseur pour l'echafaud".

  12. Miles Davis : Kind of Blue
    Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong : Ella & Louis – Ella & Louis again
    Ella Fitzgerald : Ella Fitzgerald sings Duke ellington's songbook
    Duke Ellington : Money jungle
    Bill Evans : Ilve at village vanguard
    Oscar Peterson : We get requests

  13. There are so many albums I love, here are just a few I guess that are the best. so hard to list all of them im to lazy to write all of them down sorry. some great ones are:
    stan gets" bossas and ballads" this band is just sweet, the late stan getz killing it
    art blakey and the jazz messengers "moanin" just a classic album every song is great on this album
    bill evans "live at the village vanguard" this trio works together so beautifully love them
    john coltrane" blue trane" listen from beginning to end great album
    eric dolphy" out to lunch" love the weird stuff dolphy did this band is made up of heavy hitters check it out

  14. For me, single songs are most important than albums. My favorite songs are Budo, Move, CTA, Two bass Hit, Dr Jeckyll. These are the kind of songs which I quickly recognize, and become something living into my mind. In that era, is frequent to find different aestethics in the same album, and I don't always like it, because sudden changes along the album sometimes suggest certain lack of coherence. Also I like specially the records that Miles and Coltrane made together. On the albums side my favs are Miles Davis Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series; and Miles Davis: the Capitol Blue Note Years; albums that spontaneously come to my mind when in think in jazz.

  15. Kenny Burrell Quintet – Weaver of Dreams (1961)
    in my loving-jazz journey is the most important. Just try to listen why.

  16. Far East Suite, Duke Ellington
    When I was first trying to get into jazz, I stumbled across this album and it was the first one that really grabbed me. I've always been surprised that it is not listed higher in the great jazz albums lists.

    Hot Fives and Elevens, Louis Armstrong
    Fantastic traditional jazz. Sold me on Armstrong being the King. Has some of my all-time favourite tunes, including Potatohead Blues.

    Sonnyside Up, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt
    I absolutely love their version of On the Sunny Side of the Street. Made me appreciate and find out more about all three artists.

    Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis
    I've heard this sneered at for being white, middle-class jazz, but I don't care. I think this is a great album, and more upbeat than Kind of Blue.

    Body and Soul, Coleman Hawkins
    At his best, and has another of my all-time faves, When Day is Done.

    Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins
    Pretty much every track is immense, and another personal favourite in You Don't Know What Love Is

    Complete Studio Recordings, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins & Max Roach
    Really was a genius who died too young.

    My Favourite Things, John Coltrane
    Not his most acclaimed, but I love what he does with these tunes, particularly the title track.

    The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever/Jazz at Massey Hall, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach
    Fantastic live performance

  17. Sonny Rollins "The Bridge"- An incredible album on all levels, but especially important for me as a guitarist. Jim Hall guitar playing as the accompanist of the band is profound.

    Miles Davis "Kind of Blue"- A classic of course. But this album really did leave a big mark on the jazz world. Incredible band, introduction into modal jazz, a must listen for all jazz musicians.

    Stan Getz and Kenny Barron "People Time"- an incredible duo record. Amazing to hear how these two interact and play with each other. One of Stan Getz last recordings before he passed away. This is a record I used to put on repeat all the time and really impacted me.


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