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4 Influential Jazz Musicians of All Time

Introduction


Jazz Musician

When you start learning a new language, you have to begin with learning the alphabets. Similarly, for beginners in jazz, it's essential to familiarize themselves with these iconic musicians. Jazz, often referred to as "American classical music," has a rich history. Due to its long and profound history, we can't cover all the best jazz musicians. While it's impossible to encompass all the great jazz musicians, we propose these iconic figures as a starting point for exploration. We'll discuss why each of these jazz icons was so influential and provide ample listening recommendations!


Louis Armstrong:

Is there anybody who hasn't heard of the wonderful jazz musician Louis Armstrong? Even if his name is unfamiliar, you'd likely recognize his most influential song, "What a Wonderful World." Armstrong's music is heartwarming and vibrant, establishing him as one of the most important American musical figures of all time. His influence isn't confined to jazz; his music transcends time and space, making him a universal figure.

Before Armstrong, the jazz scene was obsessed with improvisation. What makes Louis Armstrong special is that he brought the importance of the solo into the jazz scene. He emphasized individual expression, contributing to the development of a new musical language. For example, he created swing rhythm, a crucial foundation of jazz and beyond. Armstrong's revolutionary contributions throughout his musical career shaped him into a jazz figure in American music history. Without him, contemporary jazz music would be somewhat different!


"Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy," recorded in 1954, pays tribute to W.C. Handy, often referred to as the "Father of the Blues." The album features Armstrong's iconic trumpet playing and soulful vocals, including well-known tracks like "St. Louis Blues," "Beale Street Blues," and "Loveless Love."


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Duke Ellington:

Do you know how much music Beethoven composed? He created approximately 700 pieces. What about Duke Ellington? He composed over 2000 pieces! His amazing output is surprising not only due to its quantity but also because of his innovative and brilliant musical talent. One of his compositions, “Creole Rhapsody,” is known for blurring the gap between classical music and jazz. Not only George Gershwin, but also Duke Ellington was the one who stretched the boundaries of jazz with his composition "Creole Rhapsody." Moreover, Ellington, a pioneer who reinvented Swing jazz, consistently experimented with new sounds. His contributions extend beyond musical boundaries; his music had a significant social impact on American history. He conveyed the black experience through jazz music, expressing the deepest human emotions, often played during the Great Depression era.


Imagine yourself attending the in-person concert of Duke Ellington’s. Sadly, we cannot do that because he passed away in 1974. However, if there is anyone who wants to feel the live concert of his, we would like to highly recommend one of his many albums: "Duke Ellington at Newport 1956." It is not a studio recorded album. This live recording captures a historic performance by Ellington and his orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. The standout track, "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," features an iconic tenor saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves. You will be able to feel the energy and excitement of this live performance of Duke Ellington! It played a significant role in Ellington's career, helping him being recognized as a jazz giant. Free ticket of Duke Ellington’s concert is here!


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John Coltrane:

As an innovator, John Coltrane is known for pushing the boundaries of jazz music. He started with bebop and then moved to different forms of jazz. More importantly, he was a pioneer of new jazz genres such as hard bop and free jazz. In addition, Coltrane was obsessed with spirituality associated with his idea of freedom sought through music. Not only as a composer but also as a brilliant saxophonist, Coltrane’s unique use of chord progressions is still praised and studied by jazz students today. His unique chord progressions, often called "Giant Steps" or "Coltrane changes," prove that he was a jazz innovator. His spirituality and musicality have influenced musicians beyond jazz artists.


If you want to delve into Coltrane's spirituality, a highly recommended jazz album "A Love Supreme." Released in 1965, this album is widely regarded as a masterpiece."A Love Supreme" is a spiritual jazz suite divided into four parts: "Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm."




Mary Lou Williams:

For those wondering about female jazz musicians, let's introduce Mary Lou Williams, hailed as "The Lady Who Swings the Band." In an era where female musicians faced challenges, Williams stood out, treated equally alongside male musicians. This was a rare case where other female musicians were discriminated against for being women because her musical talents were thought to exceed male gifts. Her presence in the jazz scene has been inspiring and motivating for other female musicians.


Isn’t it interesting that Mary Lou Williams was fascinated with Zodiac sign? I want to introduce one of her notable albums by Mary Lou Williams, "Zodiac Suite," recorded in 1945. This album features Williams' unique interests in astrological signs. "Zodiac Suite" is a series of twelve movements, each representing a different zodiac sign. It is significant not only because it showcases Mary Lou William’s unique interests but also it shows her amazing musical virtuosity as a composer and performer. It is not easy for musicians to blend many genres at once but still be heard harmoniously. However, her special musicality enabled her to blend swing, blues, and even classical elements, making this album a captivating listening experience. The suite has moments of elegance, energy, and creativity, displaying Williams' mastery of various musical styles. Exploring "Zodiac Suite" is a great way to appreciate Mary Lou Williams' inventive approach to composition and her significant impact on jazz during a time when female jazz instrumentalists were less common.



Conclusion

Starting to listen to jazz music can be challenging without knowing and appreciating legendary jazz musicians. Why not immerse yourself in this fascinating, wonderful, and rich musical genre? By delving into their masterpieces, you'll unravel the intricacies of improvisation, unique rhythms, and the emotive power of jazz. The beauty lies in its ability to transcend boundaries, influencing not only other musical genres but also shaping the cultural landscape. As you navigate the captivating melodies and dynamic improvisations, you'll discover a profound connection between jazz and the evolution of modern music. It's a genre that invites exploration and promises a rewarding musical experience.




 
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