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Best Jazz Musicians Of All Time

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Last Updated: 16 November 2020

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Jazz is a true reflection of the cultural diversity and individualism of the US and has been classified as one of the world's most popular musical genres. Jazz was initially performed in bars but is now played live in New York Jazz clubs, concert halls, and festivals. Jazz history can be traced back to New Orleans, Louisiana, and was largely popular towards the end of the 20th century. Here are some of the best Jazz artists to grace the US with their talent: Nat King Cole is one of America's most identifiable Jazz musicians. His voice and elegant piano playing helped Jazz gain its widespread popularity. He helped popularize the Jazz Trio, which at first had no drums! The original Nat King Cole Trio had Eddie Cole on bass, Oscar Moore on Guitar and Nat on Piano. His playing demonstrates rhythm and harmonic advancements that set him apart from pianists during his time. Nat King Coles Trio rose to fame through radio with hits such as Straighten up and Fly Right which eventually became fan favorite. He peaked in his career as a jazz pianist and vocalist in the late 1950s, and eventually, his piano playing took a back seat as he focussed on his singing. Grammy Award Winner Miles Davis was considered one of the top musicians in his era, not only as a trumpet player but as a bandleader as well. Miles Davis dropped out of Juilliard to become a full-time Jazz musician, constantly recording songs with Charlie Parker Quintet. During this time, he developed improvisations to his trumpet playing and eventually formed a nine-piece band with instruments that included trombone and tuba. He recorded an album with his sextet called Kind of Blue. According to Billboard, this album is considered the largest selling Jazz album, with over two million copies sold worldwide. Miles Davis transformed over time and incorporated changes to his music style. The transition was not welcomed by his traditional fans, but the change only exemplified his ability to experiment and create new styles of music. John Coltrane was a renowned saxophonist, bandleader, and composer. He is well known for his albums like Giant Steps and Love Supreme. The North Carolina native was known to have composed songs with Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. His compositions were technical and innovative, yet thrilling and virtuous, as seen in his albums. In Coltrane's debut album Giant Steps, he created distinct melodies that were described to start mid-sentence and move in all directions at same time. Thelonius Monk is one of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time. He was one of the first creators of modern Jazz and Bebop. Although he spent much of his career playing in house band Mintons Playhouse put together by Teddy Hill, and his piano compositions have become one of jazzs most celebrated pieces. Thelonius Monk started recording with Coleman Hawkins in 1947 for the Blue Note label. He went undetected for the first half of his career and was often considered recluse by the media.

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Louis Armstrong

Armstrong, Honore Dutrey, Edward Kid Ory, JC Higginbotham, Jack Teagarden, Johnny Dodds, Don Redman, Jimmie Noone, Barney Bigard, Happy Caldwell, Lonnie Johnson, Johnny Cyr, Lil Hardin, Earl Hines, Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton and others. Rec. 1925-1930 if Jelly Roll Morton represents the high water of New Orleans polyphony through his Red Hot Peppers Recordings of around this same time, Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens reach out into music's future by allowing the incredible improvisatory genius of Armstrong to reach its first outrageous flowering. This music is bursting at seams with vitality, Armstrongs every solo seeming to overflow with uncontrollable invention delivered with urgency that is never manic, always confident, forever breathtaking in its conception. Within this admirably packaged 4-CD set from 2000, Armstrongs accompanying groups expand to meet his conception as years go by while Louis himself keeps making that big picture bigger.

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Django Reinhardt

Before the invention of the amplifier, Jazz guitarists largely played accompanying role within groups, as their solos could not be heard clearly by the rest of the ensemble. But Django Reinhardt, Belgian-born Romani-French Gypsy, changed all that with his Jazz group Quintette du Hot Club de France, which he leads with violinist Stephane Grapelli. With instrumentation that only features string instruments, bands ' softer sound allows Djangos virtuosic acoustic soloing to be heard clearly. He is considered one of most influential Jazz musicians of all time, despite the fact that he plays without using of third and fourth fingers on his left hand after they were badly damaged in a caravan fire while he was still a teenager. Greatest Gypsy Jazz musician: Check out Django Reinhardts Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order. Most of Django's output came before LP, but this compilation includes much of his Classic work with Grapelli as well as transatlantic Recordings with big-name Americans like Coleman Hawkins. Swing Era standards make up most of the repertoire, plus a few of Djangos original compositions, including future Gypsy Jazz standards Swing 39 and Hungaria.

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Charlie Parker

Few people have changed the vocabulary of Jazz as drastically as Parker, and few have proven so influential. The Kansas-born alto saxophonist was at the forefront of the bebop movement in New York in the mid-1940s and created a new way of playing over chord changes, with chromatic passing notes linking chord tones together, and fresh rhythmic vocabulary. Music was also a resolutely intellectual affair, partially in response to the more populist Swing era that had dominated American Music since the 1930s. Parkers ' playing was complex and virtuosic, yet bluesy and fabulously swinging. A number of his compositions-often new melodies written over chord sequences of existing songs-have become part of standard repertoire. Sadly, he struggled with substance addiction, and was just 34 when he died in 1955. Much of Birds ' output Come before the LP era, and live recordings are the place to go to hear him really stretch Out. But this album, with Parker accompanied by the classical string section and Jazz rhythm section, is essential. Solo on Just Friends is one of his most acclaimed.

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Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian brought the Electric Guitar to the forefront of jazz. Today, when Electric Guitar is so commonplace with distortion, synthesizers and other effects, it is challenging to imagine the great strides he make. Passing away at the age of 25, Christian left an impression that has lasted through the present day. His contributions to the development of the BeBop style, place him among the most important innovators in jazz. Prior to Charlie Christian, it was instructive to briefly discuss the role of guitar in jazz and American music to that point: Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson had provided rhythm and harmony lines behind their vocals, Lonnie Johnson traded phrases with Louis Armstrong on groundbreaking recordings of trumpeters Hot Fives and Sevens groups, and Freddie Green provide steady quarter note Rhythm work behind Count Basie. Eldon Shamblin, Eddie Durham and Floyd Smith used the invention of the Electric Guitar on recordings, but no one made breakthroughs in application of instrument and musical vocabulary the way Charlie Christian would. Born on July 29 1916 in Bonham, Texas, Charlie was raised by his parents in Oklahoma City, OK. Charlie and his two brothers were taught music by their father, Clarence Henry, himself a guitarist and vocalist. In order to provide for his family after being robbed of his sight by fever, elder Christian had his sons perform as buskers. At the age of 12, Charlie learned to guitar, and was intrigued by tenor saxophone during his studies at Douglass School. He was encouraged to learn the trumpet, but for fear of lip damage, he temporarily gave up music, and pursued sports. In 1931, Charlies brother Edward asked guitarist Ralph Hamilton to tutor his blues hone brother on the intricacies of jazz. He learn to improvise on Sweet Georgia Brown, Tea For Two and Rise Room, and jam on those tunes at Oklahomas Deuces Wild club. Not long after, word was spread of his prowess. He began building up steady work in the Midwest in 1932, and by 1936 his playing generated strong interest. Three years later, Columbia record John Hammond convinced initially disinterested Benny Goodman to allow Christian to audition for his group. The clarinetist, underwhelmed by electric guitarists he had heard to that point, was startled by what he had heard Christian play evening of August 16 1939 at Los Angeles ' Victor Hugo restaurant. Various accounts have observed that the afternoon studio session had not gone as hoped, and Goodman asked him to sit in on rise Room. Goodman called composition in hope that Christian didnt know it, and the guitarist reportedly unleashed 20 choruses on the forty-minute version of the tune. Goodman hired him afterwards as a member of his Sextet, which also includes Lionel Hampton on vibraphone, Fletcher Henderson on piano, bassist Artie Bernstein and drummer Nick Fatool. Famous side record with Goodman Sextet, showcased Christian gifts as soloist.S


Bill Frisell

Frisell has an instantly recognisable sound, with a spindly tone that is steep in Americana and country music. He first came to prominence during the 1980s and has had a long association with ECM Records. His own bands have often had unusual instrumental lineups, as exemplified by his use of cellist Hank Roberts in his quartet during the 1980s. He was a long-time member of the Paul Motian bass-less trio along with Joe Lovano, which explored leaders ' compositions alongside standard songs, and he also worked as sideman with John Zorn and Jan Garbarek. His own albums have take on an array of themes, ranging from film music, music by John Lennon, standards, bluegrass and original composition.


Django Reinhardt

Before the invention of the amplifier, jazz guitarists largely played accompanying role within groups, as their solos could not be heard clearly over rest of the ensemble. Django Reinhardt, Belgian-born Romani-French gypsy, changed all that with his band Quintette du Hot Club de France, which he fronts with violinist Stephane Grapelli. With instrumentation that only features string instruments, quintets softer sound allow Djangos virtuosic acoustic soloing to be heard clearly. He is considered one of most influential European jazz musicians of all time, despite the fact that he plays without the use of third and fourth fingers on his left hand after they were badly damaged in a caravan fire while he was still a teenager.


Jim Hall

Like a number of players on this list, Jim Hall was initially inspired to take up guitar after hearing recordings by Charlie Christian. He first received attention as a member of interactive, thoughtful Cool jazz groups such as Chico Hamiltons quintet and Jimmy Giuffres ' forward-thinking trio, before sideman working with Ella Fitzgerald, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan and other big names. Some of highlights of his incredibly rich, long and varied career include: his early drummer-less trio sessions with Carl Perkins and Red Mitchell; his work in Sonny Rollins ' early 60s quartet on Bridge and Whats New?; Live albums in duo with Ron Carter; Art Farmers ' influential quartet with Hall, Steve Swallow and Walter Perkins or Pete Laroca; Paul Desmonds Cool quartet on records like Take Ten. Hall, also a prolific composer, continued recording until 2010, often joined in his later years by top younger sidemen like Bill Stewart, Larry Goldings, Scott Colley and Greg Osby.


Kenny Burrell

Burrell is still active, leading the Jazz Studies programme at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music in Los Angeles and continuing a remarkable career-having made his recording debut with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie back in 1951. Hailing from Detroit, city that has produced an astonishing number of famous Jazz musicians, he was one of the most in-demand sidemen of the 1950s and 60s, recording with Kenny Dorham, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Blossom Dearie, Donald Byrd and many others. He also made plenty of well-receive albums as leader, perhaps most notably for Blue Note Records and Prestige. In the late 1950s, he held the guitar chair in Benny Goodmans band that had previously been Charlie Christians, and Duke Ellington famously described him as his favourite Jazz guitarist.


Pat Metheny

Metheny burst onto the scene as a prodigious talent in the mid-1970s, with a three-year stint in vibraphonist Gary Burtons band and, at 19, becoming the youngest teacher in the history of Berklee College of Music. In an extremely wide-ranging career, he has collaborated with musicians as vary as minimalist classical composer Steve Reich; jazz legends Ornette Coleman, Jim Hall and Herbie Hancock; Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, and even pop star David Bowie. His Pat Metheny Group, featuring long-time collaborator Lyle Mays on keyboards, has generally been his main outlet for jazz fusion music, but he has also released more traditional jazz albums, like 1991s Question and Answer, with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes. He has reached a level of mainstream popularity that few jazz musicians attain, winning 20 Grammy Awards and becoming the first person to win Grammys in 10 categories. Metheny was an early proponent of 12-string guitar in jazz, and has also used 42-string Pikasso guitar and guitar synthesiser. Pulling in influences from across the history of jazz, as well as fusion, Brazilian Music and folk from various cultures, he has created a progressive sound that revolutionise the way we view jazz guitar.


Wes Montgomery

Montgomery is known for his unusual technique of plucking guitar strings with his thumb, his distinctive way of playing in octaves and the fact that he uses very heavy strings as a jazz player. Self teach as guitarist, he was initially inspired by hearing Charlie Christian. Montgomery was famed for his stamina, working long hours as a welder before playing through the night at Indianapolis jazz clubs. He played hard bop and soul jazz until mid-1960s, when his albums began to take on more commercial hue, with the guitarist often backed by orchestral string sections. He recorded with his brothers during the late 1950s and early 60s: Buddy Montgomery played vibraphone and piano, and Monk Montgomery played double bass, later pioneering electric bass. Wes died suddenly of a heart attack in 1968, at the height of his popularity. Pat Metheny called him the greatest guitarist of all time.

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J.J. Johnson

Perhaps the best known Jazz Trombonist of all Time, JJ Johnson was first one of the earliest musicians on instrument to play in Bebop style. Born in 1924, his career started in the 40s swinging big bands and orchestras-most notably Benny Carter and Count Basie. However, in his mid-40s, he was spurred on by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to embrace the New Bebop style. He immediately decamped to New York to play in small group line ups with some of the best Jazz artists of time, including Max Roach, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell & Charlie Parker. The 1950s saw him make his first Blue Note albums-both as bandleader and with Miles Davis-follow by a highly successful double-Trombone project with Kai Windig, For Savoy Records. Following years saw him capitalise on his status as go-to Jazz Trombonist, appearing around the world with most of Jazz legends, including Clifford Jordan, Nat Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Elvin Jones, Paul Chambers and Max Roach-as well as stints with Jazz at the Philharmonic Show. After a hiatus from playing that started in the 1960s, he returned to touring and was turning out critically acclaimed recordings well into the mid-90s.

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Miles Davis

Davis, Orchestra and Gil Evans. Rec. 1960, Miles already had two bona-fide large-Group masterpieces for Columbia Down in plus column With Miles Ahead and Porgy & Bess by the time he and Gil Evans assembled these finely-drawn re-workings of classical pieces of music generally associated with Spain. At its core is the brooding central movement from Rodrigos Concierto de Aranjuez, but poignant lyricism and incandescent colours Miles and Gil invest other pieces, including rare Evans original, with a singularity of vision and intent that make this burningly bright and unified achievement. Once more, theyd broken mould, for themselves and everyone else. Review Miles Davis-Sketches Of Spain

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Ella Fitzgerald

Apologies to James Brown, but Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 100 on April 25, was the hardest working singer in show business. Fiercely career focus from her teens through her 70s, she maintained an exhausting tour schedule and amassed discography that run to more than four-dozen studio releases, hundreds of singles and one of jazzs widest, richest arrays of live albums. Never, even long past reaching pinnacle, do she cease honing her preternatural technical, interpretive and improvisational skills. It is an extraordinary legacyone, that has affected pretty much every Jazz singer who follows in her wake and still resonates strongly among today's foremost practitioners. To summing up her influence, Kurt Elling considers her one of the main ingredients. Her sense of swing, of timing and phrasing, is exemplary. Ella gives me courage, says Patti Austin, who released the excellent Fitzgerald project, For Ella, in 2002; recently completed sequel, due out in early 2018; and has given Ella tribute concerts throughout the year. She sings everything and I have always sing everything, which at times had a negative effect on my career. She handles that by just being brilliant at everything. As Diana Ross once said to Me, Darling, it nothing; all you have to be is perfect all the time. That why Ella wasperfect all the time. Thanks to her, I realized I could do that, and that is what sustains me: being true to my eclecticism. Lizz Wright, whose recently released Grace includes Stars Fell on Alabama, inspired by Fitzgeralds 1956 duet With Louis Armstrong, cites her as a great study in craftsmanship. I come from gospel and choral music traditions, where words are very importantnot just in clarity of understanding what youre singing but in trying to give reading that hopefully draws attention back to the writer and the intent of the piece. Ella always delivers that. Her technique is flawless. She understood the structure of the song; melody and changes were as embed in her mind as they would be for any instrumentalist. At the same time, she uses all that facilities to bring me to poetry songnot to make me feel smart or culture but I being taken care of. Rene Marie echoes Wrights ' sentiment: There are certain sounds Ella sings, and certain phrases she knows how to excavate depth of lyric, especially on ballads. Marie specifically cites Embraceable You, noting that there is this line, Dont Be naughty baby, and when she sings baby theres something so tender but also a little naughty. Marie has also found value in watching videos of Fitzgerald. Though she seems very self-conscious, she Get lost in music, she say. Theres something endearing about that, reminder that we do always have to have a swagger when we up there doing our thing. I have the same self-consciousness, and those videos help me.

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Duke Ellington

Best known as leader of his long-running Duke Ellington Orchestra, Ellington is the most recorded, and arguably the greatest, Jazz composer in history, with tunes like Satin Doll, Dont Get Around Much Anymore, Mood Indigo, and hundreds of other Jazz standards to his name. However, although he doesnt offer the same kind obvious instrumental pyrotechnics of someone like Art Tatum, he was also a highly important Jazz pianist whose percussive, minimal playing influenced Thelonious Monk and others. In addition to his dozens of Famous Orchestra recordings-Ellington at Newport, Sacred Concerts, Far East Suite, etc.-He makes a number of great small group recordings, highlighting his folkloric yet surprisingly modern-sounding piano playing. Placing Ellington in a trio setting with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, Money Jungle is an intriguing, cross-generational meeting of three gigantic personalities, who were all great bandleaders in their own right. Ellington was 63 years old, while Mingus was 40 and Roach 38, when this was recorded in 1962. Famously, there was tension between three players during recording, and some reviews have claimed that this is audible in music. Still, Money Jungle has proven highly influential, and many consider it to contain some of Ellington's most advanced Jazz piano playing. Other brilliant Ellington small group recordings include Piano Reflections, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane and Piano in Foreground. Money Jungle + 3 Bonus Tracks Piano Reflections Duke Ellington & John Coltrane Piano in Foreground Check Price Check Price Check Price Check Price Money Jungle + 3 Bonus Tracks Check Price Piano Reflections Check Price Duke Ellington & John Coltrane Check Price Piano in Foreground Check Price

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Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones was a highly acclaimed American Drummer and Jazz musician. Many industry critics regard him as the most impactful drummer in Jazz history, owing to his technique of combining multilayered and rhythmic drum style as well as dynamic interplay that blends well with soloist artists. Throughout his five-decade career, Jones ' innovative rhythmic performance become a motivating factor for upcoming drummers seeking more freedom with their instruments. His sense of timing, timbre, legato phrasing and dynamism emphasize the importance of Drum Set in Jazz music, plus his legend free-flowing technique also influenced the careers of several iconic drummers in later years, such as Mitch Mitchell, Janet Weiss, John Densmore, and Christian Vander among others.

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John Coltrane

John Coltrane is the most iconic and controversial figure in jazz history. Widely known as a saxophonist, bandleader and composer, Coltrane is a musical virtuoso that had developed the ability to play several notes at once. Later, it eventually entitled as his sheet of sound. Coltraines extreme intensity sound, smooth melodic sound was highly recognized and influenced musicians for years to come. During his career, Coltrane has produced 50 albums. He was awarded Grammy life time achievement award and best solo performance awards. He had played with several renowned musicians in his career, including Miles Davis. However, due to his heroine addiction, Coltrane had difficulty pursuing his career with Davis. In 1957, Davis fired Coltrane. He managed to get sober, Coltrane played for six months with Thelonious Mon and then peruse solo career.

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Charles Mingus

Mingus, Jimmy Knepper / Willie Dennis, John Handy, Shafi Hadi, booker Ervin, Horace Parlan and Dannie Richmond. Rec. 1959, just as with Monk at number six, this classic album also represents a career breakthrough. Record not long after his Blues and Roots, but Atlantic deliberately held that back for over a year because the bassist had signed his first contract with Columbia, major whose distribution, especially to white audience, was much more powerful. Ah Ums release comes in the same year as his first evening appearance at Newport Festival and the start of his record-breaking residency with Eric Dolphy. The present album, however, was a studio venture with a specially constituted group familiar with Mingus working quintets. Ervin contributions, for instance, Fables Of Faubus and gospelised opener Better Git It in Your Soul, are the definition of hot, while Knepper on deliberately old-fashion Jelly Roll makes it satirical and serious at same time. Similar things apply to Bird Calls and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, where Handy pays oblique homage to Parker and Lester Young respectively but does ignore the crucial reactions of crisply recorded Richmond. Novice producer Teo Maceros ' tight editing allows for more tunes and more user-friendly presentation than on Blues and Roots.

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Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk, Idrees Sulieman / George Taitt, Danny Quebec West / Sahib Shihab, Billy Smith, Gene Ramey / Bob Paige and Art Blakey. Rec. In 1947, these early Monk sides were almost sunken without trace when they were first issued as 78rpm singles, and it was only because of LP selection under this title in mid-1950s that more than a handful of punters took any notice. Blue Note, though, were so into Monk that they did these three sessions in little more than a month, just to get first small-group versions of Round Midnight, Ruby My Dear, Thelonious and in Walked Bud among others. With the possible exception of Idrees, soloists werent up to pianist level. Yet miraculous Blakey is at his early best.

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Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollinss Tenor Saxophone playing is marked by supreme swagger and incredible rhythmic confidence. A famed Jazz improviser, he is capable of developing simple melodic motifs through a seemingly limitless number of variations without well of ideas running dry. As early as 1949, aged just 19, he was recording with famed bebop pianist Bud Powell. The mid-to-late 50s saw him make a brilliant run of albums under his own name, including Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness, Sound of Sonny and Newks Time, among others. As a jazz musician, Rollins is famously self-critical and, between 1959 and 1961, feeling that his playing didnt live up to the hype he was receiving in the press, he took a sabbatical from recording and performance, practising for up to 16 hours a day under Williamsburg Bridge in New York. His comeback album, Bridge, is one of his finest. Through the 60s, he explored raucous free Jazz-inspired sounds on albums like Our Man in Jazz and East Broadway Rundown, while his later work often take on calypso flavour. Rollins has now retired from playing due to medical issues, but continues to give deeply insightful interviews. This 1956 set features Thomas, Rollins ' best-know composition. His performance on Blue 7 has been analyse extensively for its use of clever motivic development.

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Herbie Hancock

After beginning his career with trumpeter Donald Byrd in the early 1960s, Hancock released the 1962s Takin Off, which includes his famous hit Watermelon Man and is surely one of the most impressive debuts of any musician in jazz history. He made a whole host of great albums, mostly for Blue Note, during the 60s as both bandleader and sideman, as well as playing piano in Miles Davis ' Second Great Quintet. That band also includes jazz greats Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, and takes a freewheeling approach to traditional structures and harmony. Later, Hancock embraced fusion, funk and disco, with pioneering electric albums like Headhunters and Thrust. His 2007 Album of Joni Mitchell cover won Grammy Award for Album of Year, as his extremely varied career shows no sign of stopping. Hancock was still just 24 years old when he recorded this 1965 classic. The programme has a nautical theme and includes tunes like Dolphin Dance and Maiden Voyage, which have gone on to become jazz standards. Alongside Herbie on piano, superb band features George Coleman on saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums-so rhythm section here is the same as that of the Miles Davis Quintet era.

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Billie Holiday : At JATP (Clef/Verve)

Holiday, Howard McGhee, Buck Clayton, Trummy Young, Willie Smith, Illinois Jacquet, Wardell Gray, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Milt Raskin, Ken Kersey, Tommy Tucker, Charles Mingus, Al McKibbon, JC Heard and Jackie Mills. Rec. 1945-47, people call Billie Holiday the voice of jazz. However, her discography on vinyl is convolute: her 1930s 78rpm output, where she was normally featured singer rather than star, had to wait until the 1960s to appear in any ordered way and the 1990s to appear substantially on CD. Ditto her 1940s Deccas. By the time she settled with Verve in 1952, her voice had darkened and lost its suppleness. This set of live performances from mid-40s, however, find her in good musicianly company, vocally at peak and expressively in a mood to sweep all before her across classic selection of material, including Strange Fruit and Billies Blues. The CD configuration more than doubles the amount of material originally available on vinyl, though the sound quality on some of the new tracks is not exactly brilliant.

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Sources

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