The Best Classic Jazz Artists of All Time

Jazz music is an art form that has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until the early 20th century that it truly began to take shape. The birthplace of jazz music is New Orleans, and it was here that some of the most iconic jazz musicians were born. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, Ray Brown and Coleman Hawkins are just some of the classic jazz artists who have shaped the genre and made it what it is today. Louis Armstrong, also known as “Satchmo”, was born in 1901 in New Orleans and was raised by his grandmother in poverty.

He is considered by many to be the “founder” of jazz itself. Charlie Parker, nicknamed “Bird” and “Yardbird”, was an American jazz saxophonist who created the jazz style known as “bebop”. He moved to New York in 1939 to pursue music. Miles Davis was born in Illinois in 1926 and moved to New York City to study at Juilliard School.

He left Juilliard to play in Charlie Parker's group and went on to write his own music and record solo records. John Coltrane helped establish modal harmonies in jazz music and directed many recording sessions that are now classic records in jazz recording literature. Duke Ellington was famous for leading great jazz bands and orchestras and one of his best-known pieces of music was “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)”. Wynton Marsalis is a famous name in the trumpet world and he has talent in both classical and jazz music. He was born in New Orleans in 1961 and is best known for his jazz music.

Ella Fitzgerald was a legendary female jazz singer who people deservedly call the “Queen of Jazz”. Dave Brubeck was a jazz composer and pianist who became famous for hits such as “In Your Own Sweet Way”, “Take Five” and “Unsquare Dance”. The success of “Take Five” made it the best-selling jazz-single of all time. Dizzy Gillespie was a trumpet player, singer, songwriter, bandleader and educator who had a huge influence on Miles Davis. Thelonious Monk was an inventive piano performer who used dissonant harmonies and unexpected twists in his improvisational melodies.

He was recorded almost as much as Duke Ellington and was well known for his iconic look of a suit, hat and sunglasses. Billie Holiday moved to Harlem when she was a teenager in 1929 and started singing in nightclubs. She collaborated with pianist Teddy Wilson and became well known for her ability to improvise deeply and emotionally. Chet Baker was equally skilled at singing and playing the trumpet and had the nickname “prince of cool” due to his influence on the cool jazz movement. After leaving the army in 1951 he began to dedicate himself to music and played many concerts with Charlie Parker.

Count Basie moved to Harlem in the 1920s to be closer to some of the best jazz performers of the time. He conducted his orchestra for more than 50 years and helped start many younger careers in the process. Mary Lou Williams began learning piano at age 3 and by her teens she was playing in theaters with musicians like Duke Ellington. Ray Brown was a legendary jazz double bass player who regularly played with jazz icons Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. After becoming known in the Pittsburgh jazz community he moved to New York City in his twenties and began playing with big names such as Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker.

In 1951 he became a member of the famous trio of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Jimmy Johnson established himself more as a soloist by leading small jazz combos across the country. Benny Goodman is credited with helping jazz become a popular genre that is respected as legitimate music in the United States. One concert, his concert at Carnegie Hall in January 1938, was described by critics as one of the most important moments for jazz in the United States. Django Reinhardt recorded with many famous American jazz musicians when they visited France including Benny Carter and Duke Ellington.

Coleman Hawkins, nicknamed “Hawk”, was born in Missouri in 1904 and was one of the first people to popularize the tenor saxophone in the jazz world.

Morris Ferranti
Morris Ferranti

Lifelong tv scholar. Certified web fan. Web evangelist. Friendly zombie nerd. Extreme twitter aficionado.

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