Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die

Categories: Jazz
By Joseph Lapin

Because there are multiple decades of jazz, it's almost impossible to pick the top ten albums of all time; the hip cats with their canes and cool shades will throw their used saxophone reeds in my direction and call me a young whippersnapper.

But so many people out there, young or even a bit older, are curious about jazz, and they're not exactly sure where to start. Think of this as a jazz bucket list, filled with masterpieces of a true American music. Let's go!

See Also:
- Top Ten Jazz Shows in NYC This Month

10. Ornette Coleman
The Shape of Jazz to Come
The title of this album, when it came out in 1959, was the equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the fences or Muhammad Ali proclaiming he was the greatest.  It was an album that said, you hear this sound, you hear what I'm laying down, everything is about to change. Ornette Coleman went from playing the sax to the trumpet, and he received scorn from Miles Davis who publicly questioned Coleman's sanity and technical ability.  And because the album is often credited as being the anchor to avant-garde jazz albums, it might just sound a bit strange to the newbie's ear.  But Coleman was trying to move away from tradition, shattering conventional ideas of harmony and axing the piano, to create a new dimension of sound.  Give it a shot -- free of expectations.

9. Sonny Rollins
The Bridge
When you put on The Bridge, take a tumbler of whiskey and imagine you're staring out at New York City.  After a sabbatical from music, Sonny Rollins returned triumphantly in 1962 with this work, whose title track was named after the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan to Brooklyn. It's where Rollins used to head to practice.  He's a sax player who wanted to be his own man, an individual.  This album is accessible to the novice.

8. Herbie Hancock
Head Hunters
Herbie Hancock helped bring the synthesizer and the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano to mass appeal. This 1973 album was influenced by Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone.  Even if you don't like jazz but you love funk and soul, you'll likely enjoy this one. At one point, Head Hunters was the best selling jazz album of all time.  Be warned though, there is experimentation happening here. Still, the funky drums should keep you driving forward.

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