Jazz is often called the one truly American artform. Unfortunately, for a generation reared on pop music; R&B, rock, dance pop and hip-hop may be a lot more ubiquitous. Nevertheless, jazz remains the genre of refined style, the genre of unfiltered expression, the genre of defiant artistry; and names like Miles Davis, Max Roach, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker continue to resonate generations after their music was recorded and released because fans often turn to jazz when looking for an alternative to more commercially-driven musical spheres.
But many have no idea where to start.
Jazz, even more than other, more commercially-oriented genres, has a wide range of variations. Big band, vocal jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, smooth jazz, jazz fusion–all have added to the musical lexicon over the last several decades. Some are derided by purists for deviating too far from the sound, style and approach of the genre’s earlier days, but all have been embraced to varying degrees by jazz audiences and artists alike.
But for a genre that can be notoriously restless, there tends to be something for everyone–if you’re willing to look.
With that in mind, and for those musically-curious fans, here is a list of twenty of the most essential jazz albums from some of the genre’s most indelible artists.