Jazz is a music genre developed in the earlier part of the 20th century in New Orleans. This music had originated from a mixture of African-American folk musical traditions that reflect their unique cultural environment. Jazz gradually emerged from a blend of ragtime, marches, blues, and other music. It has a forceful but flexible rhythm.
This kind of music is the American classic art form. It is an extemporization that emphasizes free expressions. The sounds and melodies of jazz convey emotions ranging from pain to absolute bliss. Jazz tunes are generally created using brass and woodwind instruments and piano.
Jazz musicians turn familiar tunes into something new or fresh, which is why they love to play the songs in their versions and promote their style.
The rapid spread and development of different jazz styles like traditional jazz, swing, bebop, and cool jazz are due to the musicians who made their names in this field. They have made this music a global phenomenon. Many of these brilliant jazz artists emerged as the most iconic of all time. Here are the top 10 of them.
1. Miles Davis
This American iconic trumpeter was one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Davis is an innovator known for his unique style of playing his trumpet in a lyrical, contemplative way. His music imitates human voice and tone that is free of vibrato. It is more emphatic and expresses melancholy and assertiveness.
Davis has influenced artists across various musical genres. His 12-bar blues to full-length concerto-like pieces of music suit every known human emotion and mood.
His haunting tone and constantly changing ways of musically and emotionally connecting to his audience earned him the nickname “Prince of Darkness.” He was honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He is remarkably remembered through his classic albums like Kind of Blue and On the Corner.
2. Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong was an American trumpeter and vocalist. He was among the greatest artists in the history of jazz. He was nicknamed as satchel mouth, which was shortened to Satchmo or Satch. His instinctive understanding of his instrument and distinct way of combining his musicianship with his vocals made millions of people love him.
Armstrong pioneered the scat singing. He also transformed the collectively improvised folk music to a soloist’s serious art form and turned even the mediocre musical pieces into great jazz music. As a bandleader and vocalist, he is known for songs like What a Wonderful World and Hello Dolly.
This superstar was the first person honored in the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1972, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
3. Duke Ellington
This Renaissance man of jazz is also one of the most renowned composers of the 20th century. He wrote sensational and popular music, songs, jazz works, suites as well as sacred music. Ellington, known for his versatility, was the first American composer who caught in his music the true jazz spirit. As the real pioneer in jazz concerts, he composed thousands of scores and created unique ensemble sounds in all of Western music.
He received the Medal of Freedom at the White House in 1969. This is the highest civilian honor given to Ellington, for he carried the message of freedom to all the nations through music.
Creole Rhapsody is one of Ellington’s ambitious records. Caravan is among his biggest-selling hits. He also wrote great popular songs like Sophisticated Lady, Rocks in my Bed, and Satin Doll.
4. John Coltrane
Anyone who claims not to be a jazz fan can even name this legendary saxophonist. John William Coltrane was one of the greatest jazz artists who helped make modern or free jazz popular around the world. He pioneered the use of modes in creating musical piece and recorded new versions of iconic songs.
Coltrane’s masterpieces are beautifully controlled ballad and avant-garde music that are unparalleled and deserve vast audiences. His compositions took a spiritual dimension like his acclaimed albums A Love Supreme and Ascencion.
In 2007, Coltrane was awarded with a posthumous special citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board. This was to honor his influential work and supreme musicianship.
5. Ella Fitzgerald
After being discovered in an amateur contest, Ella Fitzgerald became a famous female American jazz singer. She made history as the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. The exceptional degree of her vocal quality, lucid intonation, and broad range made her an iconic artist.
Dubbed as the First Lady of Song, Fitzgerald won 13 Grammys in total. She recorded more than 200 albums and some 2,000 songs with total record sales that exceeded more than 40 million. Her multi-volume songbooks on Verve Records are among America’s recording treasures.
The songs like Love and Kisses and Dream, A Little Dream of Me are among the legacy of Fitzgerald.
6. Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker, known as Bird, was a legendary Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist and composer who developed a musical style called bop or bebop-a form of jazz with fast tempos, virtuosic technic, and advanced harmonies.
Along with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis, Parker commenced a new era of jazz music in the form of experimentation that changed the curse of jazz history. His recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Among his best-known compositions are Oop Bob Sh’ Bam, Salt Peanuts, and A Night in Tunisia.
7. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday, known as Lady Day, was a brilliant singer and a great lyrical interpreter. She was one of the greatest jazz vocalists loved for her distinctive phrasing and expressive, melancholic voice.
One of Billie’s biggest hits was Lover Man released through Decca Records. This song echoed among many servicemen overseas and their wives and lovers back home. Also, two of her most famous songs are God bless the Child and Strange Fruit.
Lady Day received two posthumous nominations into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1962 and 1974.
8. Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk was one of the most celebrated composers and pianists in jazz. His improvisational style used complex and dissonant harmonies and unusual intervals and rhythms. He is also among the first creators of modern jazz and bebop.
Monk’s music was known for its humorous and almost playful, quality. His compositions, written in the 12-bar blues or the 32-bar ballad form, became jazz standards.
People remember Monk with his distinct style when performing. He flattened his fingers when he played the piano and used his elbows and forearms to get the sound he wanted.
His Round Midnight and Blue Monk are among his numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire.
9. Bill Evans
William John Evans, known as Bill Evans, was an American jazz pianist of all time. He is a composer who chiefly worked as the leader of a trio. His music was influenced by impressionism. This brought classical sensibility into jazz and continuously inspire younger pianists.
The filmmaker Bruce Spiegel commended Evans for his compositions and music that will take you to a different place than most normal piano players would go.
Evans recorded over fifty albums as a leader and received five Grammy awards. His compositions are mostly dedicated to people close to him as Waltz for Debby, Letter to Evan, and We Will Meet Again.
10. Oscar Peterson
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was a Canadian Grammy-winning jazz pianist. He is referred to as the Maharaja of the Keyboard by Duke Ellington. The jazz community dubbed him as the King of Inside Swing.
Peterson was among the iconic jazz artists known for his dazzling solo technique. He commanded his piano with incredible dexterity, drive, and precision. His abilities, both as a bandleader and an accompanist, helped in creating his momentous recorded legacy. He released over 200 recordings and won seven Grammy Awards.
When you listen to You Make Me Feel So Young, you will remember Peterson, for this is one of his very popular hits.