If listing the great composers of classical music isn’t easy, then listing the great jazz artists is even more difficult. Everyone has their own opinion about who is great. And some of these opinions can be very different.
I think one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to say who the great jazz artists are, is that jazz is quite new compared with classical music. Jazz has only been around about 100 years and has developed very quickly. There have been many excellent jazz artists in this short time. This makes it hard to pick out just a few great ones. Also, to see whether a musician is truly great you often have to wait a long time. A person can often seem great when they are alive, but is forgotten soon afterwards. I think a great musician is someone whose music speaks to a lot of people, no matter when they are born.
But I know you still want me to choose, so I’ll try. If I just had to choose two names, then I would choose
Miles Davis made the album Kind of Blue which has probably sold more copies than any other jazz album. You can hear some music from this album on the Miles Davis page. As for Louis Armstrong, he was simply everywhere. He played many different types of jazz, performed with many different people, and played jazz that was very popular for about fifty years.
If I were asked to choose just one more name to add to the list it would be
- Duke Ellington (1899–1974).
And if I were to make a bigger list, then I would choose
- All the names at the bottom of the Jazz page, as well as
- Billie Holiday (1915–1957),
- Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996),
- Herbie Hancock (1940– ).
Notice that, unlike my list for the great composers of classical music, there are some women on this list! Hurray!!!
By the way, there is a woman jazz artist alive now who I like very much. She is Diana Krall (1964– ). She might deserve to be on the list of really good jazz artists in years to come.
So that’s my list of ‘great jazz artists’. But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to jazz youself and come up with your own list!
I’ll leave you with something to chill out with. It’s a video of Louis Armstrong playing (and singing) the folk song, St James Infirmary.
Louis Armstrong playing (and singing) ‘St James Infirmary’
- The best selling jazz album of all time: ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis. This is the cover image to the 1959 album ‘Kind of Blue’. The image is copyright. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information. I believe I have used the image here in a similar fair manner as the source.
- Louis Armstrong – St. James Infirmary. John Armstrong’s version of a classic popular piece. Enjoy. There is more information about this one, including the words of the song, on the video’s YouTube page.