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With vinyl records more popular now than ever, it can be challenging to narrow down the options out there. It isn’t easy to make decisions when it comes to purchasing albums on vinyl because there are just so many albums to choose from- especially in the jazz genre. That’s why I’ve created a list of the best jazz albums that you need to hear on vinyl.
Here are the 13 best jazz vinyl records that you need to hear:
- Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
- Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits by Dave Brubeck
- Duke Ellington and John Coltrane by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
- A Go Go by John Scofield
- Chet Baker Sings by Chet Baker
- Shadow Work by Mammal Hands
- Green by Robohands
- Stay a While by The Cactus Channel
- End of the World Party (Just in Case) by Medeski, Martin & Wood
- Memphis Underground by Herbie Mann
- A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
- The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
- The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall
Now let’s discuss why these jazz albums are so great- and why they will make an excellent addition to your collection of vinyl records.
You can’t have a jazz collection on vinyl without owning a copy of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
In April of 1959, Miles Davis and his trumpet collaborated with a handful of other jazz artists to create the worldwide phenomenon known as Kind of Blue.
Some regard Miles Davis as the best jazz musician of all time. No other jazz album has sold as well as the quadruple-platinum masterpiece Kind of Blue, which has sold nearly 5 million copies in its 62-year reign as a favorite to many. Davis’ music is still popular to this day, with “So What” having been streamed over 67 million times on Spotify alone.
“Kind Of Blue not only changed the way people regarded Miles,” says a review by BBC, “it changed the very face of music itself… It never falters, despite its meandering pace.”
Kind of Blue is classy, effortless, and kinetic. Davis’ trumpet is crisp and clean, and his solos are an extraordinary kind of genius that you can’t help but drop your jaw to the sound of. So why not add it to your vinyl collection?
You’ve likely heard “Take Five” at least once in your life- and Dave Brubeck is to thank for that.
Dave Brubeck was an American jazz artist who started creating his music in the 1940s. Time Out was initially released in December of 1949 and features some of Brubeck’s best work, including “Take Five.”
“Take Five” is one of the most famous and influential jazz songs in the world. It currently has over 154 million streams on Spotify, and for a good reason.
The song is bouncy, elevating, and the audible embodiment of cheer. The saxophone is glossy and effortless, supported by comforting bass notes and sturdy piano lines. Though the track is simple in theory, the genius behind its complex simplicity is far from elementary. It flows beautifully and leaves you harboring this feeling that has understandably warmed the hearts of millions.
“It’s hypnotic, stabilizing, and inviting,” says a review by jazz enthusiast Allen Michie.
Time Out also features other well-known songs, like “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” which features a more complex and fast-paced kind of excitement that is described as “an ingenious construction” and an “interlocking jigsaw puzzle” by Michie.
“The album seems to roll out of the loudspeakers with a fresh, joyous burst of melody and swing, no matter how complex the meters or pungently polytonal the harmonies,” says San Francisco Classical Voice. “It sounds so spontaneous, so easy.”
Time Out is flawless, and if you have the desire to add a jazz masterpiece to your vinyl record collection, it will surely be an addition that meets the criteria.
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane was released in 1963 by- you guessed it- Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
Duke Ellington was an award-winning pianist and composer who collaborated with the talented saxophonist (and fellow composer) John Coltrane to record the album in 1962. Its first track “In a Sentimental Mood” still remains popular in a day of digital streaming, with over 162 million plays on Spotify.
“In a Sentimental Mood” is a beautiful kind of melancholy. Cleanly sophisticated piano played by Ellington and Coltrane’s heartfelt saxophone work together to create deceptive effortlessness that really does put you in a sentimental mood.
According to a review by On Stage Magazine, the song has an “ability to create an emotional connection between the mood, the music, and the listener.”
“‘In a Sentimental Mood’ is a stroke of brilliance,” says On Stage Magazine about the work of Ellington and Coltrane. “These are two of the giants of jazz, and the music they make together is sublime… [and] not only music, but also a piece of history.”
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane also feature other popular tracks, including more complex and rhythmically outgoing songs like “Take The Coltrane” and “Angelica” that still remain thoroughly-listened to today.
This collaborative album is an authentic piece of art, and if you don’t already have it in your collection of jazz vinyl records, you’re surely missing out on something beautiful.
A Go Go is a 1997 album written and performed by jazz guitarist John Scofield in collaboration with Medeski, Martin & Wood. It was nominated for the Soul Train Music Award for Best Jazz Album and features tracks with notes of funk, smooth jazz, and the unconventional electric bliss of Scofield’s guitar.
The album is upbeat and uplifting, and though each track is unique, the album has an overall flow that’s satisfyingly cohesive. Songs like “A Go Go” and “Green Tea” utilize silky bass, soft percussion, and crisp electric guitar to create a sound that’s far from ordinary and near perfection.
A review by Tim DiGravina describes the tracks in ‘A Go Go’ as “mostly breezy, sometimes tense, jam-based grooves” that embrace a “warm, vibrant sound” that’s almost impossible not to dance along to.
“A Go Go is far more than four cool cats jamming together and enjoying each other’s company,” says DiGravina. “It’s an immensely entertaining, enlightening ride.”
With a copy of A Go Go on vinyl, your collection will be blessed with an innovatively unique album that’s sure to appeal to the ear of any jazz enthusiast.
Chet Baker Sings is an album by trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. It was launched by Pacific Jazz Records and won a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2001, and is one of the most well-loved albums in jazz and 20th-century music as a whole.
Chet Baker Sings is the first album that includes vocals by Baker in addition to his usual cool jazz. The track “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is known and adored by many, and remains popular to this day with almost 70 million streams on Spotify.
The love for Baker’s songs is so understandable. His voice is velvety and calming, and his trumpet is no different. The musician’s work draws you in and hypnotizes you, especially “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” It’s the kind of song that changes you; you’re different after listening to Baker’s songs, almost fundamentally.
“Besides being the poster boy of West Coast Jazz,” says Haluk Dumar in an article about the musician’s life, “Baker is also credited as one of the legendary trumpet players of jazz history.”
Baker’s influence and magic come to life in Chet Baker Sings, and it’s an album that will sound amazing on a record player.
Shadow Work by Mammal Hands is an excellent example of modern jazz, and happens to be my personal favorite.
Released in October of 2017 by a newer jazz trio from Norwich, Shadow Work is an intricately surreal and ambient album with saxophone that seems to flow like water and piano that sounds like the fluttering of butterflies- if you could assign music to such a thing.
“Boreal Forest” is a prime example of Mammal Hands’ musical genius. At nearly 4 million plays on Spotify, this song exceeds its worth in terms of popularity. The colorful saxophone, warming piano, and soft percussion come together to create something extraordinary. Its brilliance is the musical embodiment of a true boreal forest.
Though “Boreal Forest” is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of 21st-century jazz, Shadow Work is filled with other outstanding tracks like “Black Sails” and “Being Here.”
A review by Nextbop claims that “there is something tantric, meditative and deeply moving with European jazz [that is] more focused on patterns and vibes” as opposed to maintaining American jazz traditions.
“The band says that they take inspiration from North Indian Folk and the spiritual places it takes you, and that dance is clearly on show here,” says a review by Higher Plain Music. “It sounds like sanctuary… [and] I feel like I’ve been cleansed or gone through a catharsis each time I listen to it – and each time I grow more connected to it.”
Shadow Work is undoubtedly a masterpiece and a true example of artistic jazz that maintains personality, style, and a deep-rooted passion for the beauty that can be found in the natural world around us. It’s something that needs to be in everyone’s vinyl collection.
Green by Robohands was released in May of 2018 and is yet another charming example of lesser-known modern jazz.
Bandcamp describes Robohands as “the experimental solo/collaborative project of London based composer/multi instrumentalist Andy Baxter.” Like Mammal Hands, Robohands is another example of European jazz that strays from orthodox jazz traditions but still maintains bits and pieces of American influence.
Green is an album that’s calming, inquisitive, and melancholy all at once. Tracks like “Green” and “Lament” seem to draw their inspiration from soft funk with quirky electric guitar lines and notes of delightfully smooth keyboard that almost makes you float.
“With almost zero effort to promote the album, Robohands has grown in underground popularity getting over a million views on his album and songs on YouTube and gaining gig requests left, right and centre from all over the world,” says a review by Content Catnip, which also describes Robohands as “a great example of a musician who is just making his art and doing it superbly on a shoe-string budget. And now he is emerging and achieving success due to his raw talent.”
Robohands is undoubtedly an up-and-coming artist. Adding Baxter’s album Green to your vinyl collection would definitely be an educated decision.
Stay a While is an album by the eclectic group The Cactus Channel.
Released in November of 2017, Stay a While has since grown in popularity, with their top track “Stay a While” currently at over 2 million streams on Spotify alone.
The album derives influence from jazz, soul futurism, and alternative trends that make it not only a collection of songs, but a collection of genres and styles as well. “Stay a While” features entrancing bass, electric guitar, percussion, and hypnotic saxophones to produce a track that I cannot stop listening to- and I’m sure you won’t either.
The Cactus Channel is a truly innovative band. According to their About page, their shared “love of soul music and the kind of hip-hop, jazz, and alternative releases that spring from it, meant that from the beginning The Cactus Channel have prided themselves not just on eclecticism, but on the constant sharing of influences among their members; exploring new influences and sonic territories.”
According to a review by Stereonet, the “vintage tone of the dual guitars, the warm, talkative bass style, the jazzy organ, the funky drummer and the fat horn section” all create “a combined effect of harkening back to a classic era of soul music.”
“The bass and horns often help to keep the songs grounded in terms of key,” says Stereonet, “while the keys and guitar parts seem to be pushing against our expectations, whether that be with unexpected counter melodies, or knowing just the right notes to play to create suspense.”
Their music really is remarkable, and you won’t be disappointed by Stay a While. The album is similar to The Cactus Channel itself- creatively unlike any other. It will indeed feel at home in your vinyl collection.
End of the World Party (Just in Case) is a jazz-funk album released in September of 2004 by Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Medeski, Martin & Wood is an American jazz band that was formed in 1991 and consists of John Medeski (keyboardist), Billy Martin (drummer), and Chris Wood (bassist). The group is known and praised for their often unusual takes on jazz-funk, and their talent for producing the irregular is clear in End of the World Party (Just in Case).
The album features upbeat and fast-paced funk with influence from more conventional jazz traditions as well. The electric mood of the group’s creative instrumentals provides the listener with a fresh perspective on both jazz and funk genres.
All About Jazz describes the group as “an underground jazz legend” and claims that listeners “will marvel at the mood and flow of this studio creation that certainly contains, apart from the physical presence of the band and an audience, all the best qualities of this trio on stage.”
“The development of momentum is imperceptible,” says All About Jazz, “until you find yourself in the midst of the sharp funk of something like ‘Ice’ and realize how much ground you and the threesome have covered in terms of textures and beats.”
There’s something so special about Medeski, Martin & Wood. They seem to lack any fear of the often-present pressure to stick to what is known rather than unknown. But this group has undoubtedly ventured into the unknown, and within its depths produced something remarkable that would, without a doubt, be a great album to own on vinyl.
Herbert Jay Soloman- known by the moniker Herbie Mann and for his jazz-flute innovations- created Memphis Underground in 1969.
The album is a colorful blend of jazz, blues, and a touch of funk. Mann is known for being one of the first-ever jazz musicians to have utilized the flute in the genre, and his work has served well-known and influential roles ever since it first made its way to the public ear.
“Herbie Mann was one of the most prolific jazz artists ever and was never one to shy away from trying out the latest trends and styles so that he could record yet one more album,” says a review by Music Archives.
This drive to do something new and unheard of made Mann the star that he was. Mann and Memphis Underground undoubtedly had an influence on the jazz genre as a whole, and I’d like to believe that the album will serve you well in your vinyl record collection.
A Love Supreme was created in December of 1964 by acclaimed saxophonist John Coltrane.
The album consists of four tracks, each one more unique than the last. Coltrane’s raw talent and master of the art of jazz truly shines through in A Love Supreme. His magic with the saxophone is unlike any other, and it makes the album excellent.
“A Love Supreme is John Coltrane’s defining album,” says Pitchfork. “Structured as a suite and delivered in praise of God, everything about it is designed for maximum emotional impact.”
The album was recorded after Coltrane was fired from the band of Miles Davis for problems involving an addiction to drugs and alcohol. But luckily for Coltrane (and the rest of the world), he recovered from his addictions and felt inspired to let creation bloom in places that were once infected with pain and hardships.
“He wasn’t just covering ground,” says Pitchfork, “he was accelerating.”
Now, A Love Supreme is regarded by some to be the finest collection of jazz works in history. With a masterful expression of love and overcoming adversity, Coltrane’s most famous album has touched the lives of millions throughout the world- and still continues to do so to this day.
A Love Supreme is excellent; it needs to be on your shelf as soon as possible.
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is an album released in April of 1960 by acclaimed jazz guitarist John Leslie Montgomery.
Montgomery picked up the guitar at age 19 and never seemed to put it back down. He learned how to play the instrument by copying songs by Charlie Christian and figuring out how to play them all on his own. The guitarist had an excellent ear for music, which is beautifully apparent in this album.
Being a self-taught guitarist, Montgomery was known for his unorthodox approach to playing the guitar. He developed a technique that was often seen as unusual, but it gave him a unique sound that helped him rise to fame as a solo artist in the 50’s. One of the noted peculiarities of his technique is that he preferred to use his right thumb instead of a traditional guitar pick.
“Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest guitarists in the history of jazz, Wes Montgomery virtually defined modern jazz guitar during the 1950s and ’60s,” says the official Wes Montgomery website. “His unique idiomatic conception to the instrument and the power of his soloing influenced generations of players who followed him.”
Montgomery’s work as a jazz musician— especially his work in The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery— created a legacy that has lasted to this day. If you’re looking to add a piece of that legacy to your own collection, this album is the way to go.
Jazz At Massey Hall is a live bebop jazz album created in 1953 by “The Quintet.” Known for being Charlie Parker’s last collaborative work, it is considered one of the best live jazz performances to have been recorded.
“The Quintet” was a group of renowned jazz musicians, consisting of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus. This album features their performance in Massey Hall, a well-known event venue in Toronto.
Parker’s work is loved by essentially everyone, even to this day. Jazz At Massey Hall is considered by some to be a must-have for any collection of vinyl records, and it certainly lives up to its expectations.
Why Listen to Jazz?
Jazz is a genre of such massive historical and cultural influence. It’s a beautiful method of expression, and without it, our world- especially the modern music industry- would surely be something incomprehensibly different from the one we’re familiar with today.
Hopefully, this list of the best jazz albums to own on vinyl has helped you appreciate jazz and the act of vinyl collecting a bit more. This genre is genuinely remarkable, and these albums are great examples of that.
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