Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die

Categories: Jazz

4. The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time Out
This 1959 album was the soundtrack for parties in New York City and the staple in any bachelor pad.  Without it juicing the sophisticated and artsy minds of New Yorkers and beatniks alike, many of us probably wouldn't have been born.  At the time, it was considered an artsy piece, but today, the deviation from standard time and the hip swing might just feel traditional. Songs like "Take Five" have been ubiquitous in our culture -- movies, television, and (sadly) malls.  It's an album that screams Don Draper and nightcaps.  Check it out and find yourself whisked away to another time and place.

3.Charles Mingus
Ah Um
Charles Mingus is the godfather of the upright bass, and in 1959, he put out Ah Um, which many consider to be a masterpiece and cemented his status as a legendary composer.  He combined elements of gospel and blues.  The opening track, "Better Get It Into Your Soul," is not just a ruckus jubilation; it's a command -- the driving brass, the dixie-land rapture and the voice calling out in joy -- to stop doing whatever you're doing and take into your heart and body this music. It's a roller coaster ride through fast and slow tempos, cacophony and perfect harmony, and a touch of madness.

2. John Coltrane
Blue Train
John Coltrane is clearly one of the leaders of the jazz identity.  If you think about the course of hip-hop, then can you really imagine groups like Tribe Called Quest or even someone like Tupac without a cultural and musical prophet like Coltrane?  Of course, A Love Supreme is an incredible album, but Blue Train just has so much life and color that it's impossible to ignore.  Recorded in 1957 on Blue Note, Blue Train was Coltrane's favorite album. It will likely become one of yours soon, too.

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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