Top Ten Jazz Artists of All Time
Jazz: The Greatest American Contribution to Music
Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, “Jazz” (2001), heralded the genre as the greatest contribution America offered the musical world. Finding its roots on the blues-filled banks of the Mississippi, jazz has become an art form prevalent across the world.
Still, many of the greatest jazz artists hail from the United States, as their works have filled out what people consider the canon of the genre. Here, then, is a top ten list of these great jazz artists.
10. Bill Evans
Throughout his early career, Evans accompanied other great jazz composers such as Charlie Mingus and Art Farmer. His most critically-acclaimed work, however, was with trumpeter great Miles Davis. Initially, Davis hired Evans in 1958. The collaboration only lasted for 8 months. Many observers, however, claimed that this was one of the most fruitful periods for both jazz artists. In 1959, Davis called Evans back to record the seminal, Kind of Blue. In this manner, Evans played a key role in introducing modals to the jazz scene.
9. Wes Montgomery
The work of Wes Montgomery sent out the message that great jazz music does not always come from the minds of conservatory graduates. Though unable to read notes, Montgomery had the acute ability to listen to intricate melodies and replicate them accurately.
8. Ella Fitzgerald
Many consider her scat singing the most flawless and horn-like of all jazz singers. Likewise, her round and soothing tone garnered her 13 Grammy Awards and the National Medal of Art awarded by Ronald Reagan.
7. John Coltrane
6. Charlie “Bird” Parker
Charlie Parker was known to play his saxophone at a pace and rhythm no other player could emulate. Still, his solos retained their melodic integrity while employing harmonies never used before.
5. Ornette Coleman
In the 1960s, Coleman was regarded as one of the frontrunners of the free jazz movement. He was actually uncomfortable with this distinction, but his record, “Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960),” is considered a classic in the genre.
4. Charles Mingus
As a bandleader, Mingus was known as a ruthless perfectionist, at times storming down from the stage when a performance did not go his way. Ironically, he emphasized free improvisation among his band members, letting their personalities and relationships have an effect on the resulting sound.
As a jazz composer, Mingus is sometimes regarded as one of the geniuses in the field. His distinctive, somewhat eccentric melodies mirrored his turbulent personality. He would go through brief periods of heightened creativity, but mostly, he was prone to depression.
3. Jelly Roll Morton
His illustrious career took him around major American cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Morton was notorious for his arrogance, since he constantly bragged about himself. Still, he had much to brag about as he was a virtuoso in such piano styles as stride playing, rag-time and swing.
2. Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was a very prolific composer, with many of his works considered American classics. While on tour, he never stopped writing music, always keeping handy a pen and some musical sheets.
Throughout his career, he churned out over 30 records, scored various films, and collaborated with such musicians as Louise Armstrong, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and John Coltrane. He garnered 12 Grammy awards, with 8 of his records inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
1. Miles Davis
Miles Davis – trumpeter, composer and band leader – is considered one of the most successful and, consequently, most influential jazz musicians of all time. In some way or another, he took part in every movement associated with jazz. Beginning with bebop, Davis is credited with starting modal jazz, cool jazz, and to some extent, jazz fusion.
Taking part in the different developments of jazz entails much focus. Imagine constantly breaking rules and conventions. Such dynamism speaks of Miles Davis’ talent to constantly use music as a means of expression.
The Beauty of Jazz
Certainly, some would disagree with what’s included on this list. Yet, that is the beauty of jazz. So wide is its scope and so exciting is its dynamism that people will always have their own conception of what constitutes true jazz artistry.
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