Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die

Categories: Jazz

7. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Ella and Louis
Imagine it's a Friday morning, and you have the day off.  It's you and your significant other. You have nowhere to go, and it's raining.  Well, this is the album you need to be playing to create that perfect atmosphere -- an album with so much space, soaring trumpet solos, and a duet so unique and soulful even a jazz newbie can't ignore its grip on their heartstrings. It's a 1956 album dripping with nostalgia.  Plus, the band features Oscar Peterson (piano) and Buddy "Freaking" Rich (drums). Best to listen to an album with such a dreamy atmosphere to ensure, at least once, that you feel romantic and drenched in "Moonlight in Vermont."

6. Miles Davis
Bitches Brew
I'm not saying that you have to like this album.  But it's one you just have to listen to before you die; it's kind of like looking at Abstract Expressionism or listening to Morton Feldman -- it just might not jive with you.  Bitches Brew was released in 1970.  The first time I heard this album, I thought it was a joke.  In fact, I was kind of pissed.  Where was the melody?  Where was the catchy rhythm?  Well, it's so shocking the first time you hear it that it forces you to question what jazz and music can be.  It makes you think about structure and limitations of our current music.  The prison of the human ear.  Ah, enough of that.  Just listen to the album.  Chaos and cacophony defined.

5. The Thelonious Monk Quartet
Monk's Dream
Probably one of the hippest figures in jazz, Thelonious Monk was a genius who was able to see notes on the piano that didn't even exist in Western music. When he would sit down on the piano, he would strike two half notes (notes next to each other that sound awful when played together) to simulate the imaginary notes between the two piano keys.  He was so out there and amazing, and Monk's Dream (1963) is just one example, an imprint of strange and beautiful blaps and boops that were being electrified in his mind. The work is about color; it's a visual experience as much as an auditory one.

My Voice Nation Help

Sigh... I expected more from the Village Voice. This is a very unimaginative list. It has more or less the same "top 10 greatest jazz albums of all time" vibe that we've all seen a millions times. This list could have been published in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s, and as such suffers from the same tunnel vision as seen from other sources like the Ken Burns documentary, ie. jazz died in the 1960s (or early 70s).

Not only have a TON of cool, fun, and interesting albums come out since the 1970s, but I feel that some journalists could step out of their comfort-zone a bit and recommend OTHER ALBUMS in the 50-60s.

Taken together, I feel like this article is uninspired and simply recycles the same list we seen before, and does not help new listeners explore contemporary artists. This is the kind of piece I would expect to read in MAXIM Magazine, not The Village Voice.


I came up with a dozen, but I find these lists very unfair because you could easily have dozens of these lists and would still leave out great recordings.

Sketches of Spain – Miles Davis
Giant Steps- John Coltrane
A Love Supreme- John Coltrane
My Favorite Things – John Coltrane
ESP – Miles Davis
John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman – same
Mysterious Traveler – Weather Report
Getz Gilberto – same
Elis & Tom – same
Verve Jazz Masters 17 – Nina Simone
Live at Mister Kelly’s – Sarah Vaughn
At the Sands – Nat King Cole

For Jazz, there are many categories. The best advice I would give a casual listener is to find a “great” that you like and study their musical career. Any great Jazz artist worth anything has studied under someone and with others before they became the artist you know. There is also The Blues, which is critical for any serious understanding of this music. NYU offers an excellent introductory course on The Blues taught by Howard Mandel.


It's impossible to argue that people should not hear this music before they die --  but indeed, this is all canonical work. Anyone who presumes to be a literate, acculturated person should have heard most of this, and a whole lot more. I think it would be a benefit to provide a list of the 10 lesser-known jazz albums one should hear during one's life (hopefully, LONG before death, so the listener can take full advantage of being exposed to wisdom and beauty). Toss off your first 50 or even 100 albums, and then give us a list of 10 we might not have though of, that are really vital, too. And oh yeah, it would be ok to come up with some recordings that are younger than 40 years old, or older than 65.


Wow, thank you for the great introduction to this music called "Jazz."  Miles Davis, huh, I will have to check that guy out. Glad the Voice is still around to shine a light on the hidden corners of the music world.


No Bird! That seems inconceivable to me. For someone that isn't deeply into jazz, or even for someone that is, I would recommend "Charlie Parker with Strings". Lushly arranged, and Bird's sound was never cleaner and more together.  And it is definitely a baby making album if there ever was one. And if you are trying to sell Miles to non-jazz listeners (And why wouldn't you?) you need to throw "A Tribute to Jack Johnson" in there. I agree with LetItBeBop that this list is sorely lacking in variety and might as well have been posted on a site for jazz aficionados. 


Why on EARTH is this divided into four pages that I have to click through?


Wow... where to begin.


No Latin / Brazilian? No big band? No solo piano / guitar?


No Frank, Chet, Wes, Clifford, Joe, Jaco, Duke, Count, Cannonball... ?


No offense, dude, but this is like a five-minute "best-seller-on-Amazon" list at best.


The world does not need one single additional copy of Kind Of Blue pressed into existence.


Even Miles would agree.





couldn't agree more! I'm glad I posted before I read your comments. 

This is akin to Sarah Palin attempting to learn about foreign policy a few weeks before the GOP national convention, starting with world geography. We know how that worked out.

 I’m sure she hasn't looked at a world map since.


@JPMcMahon I absolutely agree — I expected to come up with Charlie Parker as no. 1, although it's also certain that Kind of Blue & Bitches Brew would be on list. I remember hearing Bitches Brew for first time...doesn't fit into any category, but yeah, it's definitely one to remember. But ALL roads lead to and from Bird...


@LetItBeBop Sometimes my friend, the best sellers are the best sellers for a reason. Not knocking your suggestions. They deserve credit, but Kind of Blue is iconic and there simply isn't anything from Brazil, or Latin america, or anywhere else for that matter, that can come close to what this album has accomplished in the Jazz canon.  These albums deserve to be mentioned at the top because they are the most influential jazz albums in history. Jazz aficionados like us take them for granted, but for someone who hasn't been exposed to Jazz, this is where to start. Are some of these debatable? Sure, but to insinuate that Kind of Blue doesn't need more fans, is just silly.

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