15 Jazz Albums For People Not Sure They Like Jazz

jazz albums

These 15 jazz albums for people not sure they like jazz provide a gateway to a style or artist – an invitation to enter and hopefully emerge wanting more.

Jazz is more than a musical genre. It’s an entire universe of sound. From its inception in early 20th-century New Orleans, jazz shifted in form and complexity, making it a tough nut to crack for some listeners. Bebop, post-bop, hard bop, cool jazz, soul jazz, free jazz, third stream, and fusion – where to begin?

Below are 15 jazz albums that exemplify different periods and subgenres in jazz while remaining relatively accessible to non-aficionados. Think of each jazz album as a gateway to a certain style or artist – an invitation to enter a world and hopefully emerge wanting more.

Each jazz album is a recognized classic by a major jazz figure, with a few recent releases included for listeners looking to update their collections. In most cases, these jazz albums contain links with other musical genres, establishing various bridges between jazz and other forms.

Each jazz album pick is currently available for digital streaming on major platforms (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, etc.). Most are available on compact disc, and all but the Pharoah Sanders and John Scofield jazz albums have been reissued on 180-gram vinyl (source: Discogs). The jazz albums are presented chronologically by year of original release.

Louis Armstrong – Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Columbia, 1954)

It made total sense for “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy to get a refresher at the hands of jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Handy was the first composer and bandleader to popularize the blues in the early decades of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Armstrong had taken jazz from the club scene of New Orleans to America’s concert halls and gramophones. Both men’s rise to fame coincided with the advent of 78-rpm discs, which were fast becoming obsolete by the early 1950s as vinyl took over.

Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy improves the fidelity of such Handy standards as “Memphis Blues”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “Loveless Love”. Armstrong’s gravelly voice and iconic trumpet solos highlight the poignancy and humor in the material, with able support from trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Barney Bigard, and singer Velma Middleton.

Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings (Pacific Jazz, 1954)

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