In a previous post on my other website, I walked through the history of jazz music, from its origins in New Orleans ragtime and blues music to Louis Armstrong’s solo trumpet performances. While musicians like Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton were incredibly influential to the formation of jazz, others have stepped into the spotlight in more recent decades to help define jazz as a fluid, changing, adapting and always-moving genre of music.
While jazz still lives on today, it seems as though appreciation has dropped recently as fewer and fewer artists are defining themselves as jazz-centric. Here are four of my favorite jazz musicians and a little bit of background on each.
It was when John Coltrane was enlisted as a sailor in the US Navy that he made his first musical recordings. He never looked back.
Coltrane performed both as a solo act as well as parts of larger groups (including collaborating with Miles Davis, the next person on this list). The upbeat tempo and quick chord progressions that Coltrane regularly used in his music gave him an electric vibe on the saxophone. Later in his career, he helped to pioneer freeform jazz.
John Coltrane’s intense, upbeat and electric form of jazz is still being emulated to this day. Recently, American rapper Kendrick Lamar was referred to as “the John Coltrane of hip-hop” due to the way he approached putting together his album with the feel and vibes of intensity and jazz-influences.
Active 1944-1975; 1980-1991
Some people attribute the collaboration between Miles Davis and John Coltrane as helping to form jazz into what it is today, as the two formed an almost rivalry-like relationship with their differing styles of play. Coltrane’s high energy, up-tempo solos contrasted with Davis’ longer, smoother style of play in a way that lent them both credibility as incredibly talented–yet very different and independant–artists.
One of the most influential facets of Davis’ style was the fact that it continually evolved during his years playing the trumpet and composing music. He shifted from hard-bop to a more blues-inspired style before forming some of the greatest jazz quintets the world has ever (and will ever!) seen with the likes of Coltrane and Bill Evans.
Called the “King of modern jazz pianists,” Bill Evans helped to define an era of jazz with his style in the 1950s, continuing to develop it until the 80s.
After graduating college in 1950, Evans bounced around before deciding on jazz piano and settling down in New York, where he’d join his first group. In 1958, Evans joined Miles Davis’ group, contributing heavily to the release of “Kind of Blue.”
Evans was known for his versatility when playing and ability to adapt and transform his own style to fit the needs of the group. Evans is perhaps most well known for his ability to play modal jazz (particular during his collaboration with Davis), defined by Britannica as style that eschews complex chords in favour of free melody.”