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Famous jazz musicians

Jazz has been present in the music world since the early 20th century and inspires people all over the world. To this day, jazz music is naturally integrated into electronic music and pop hits, but above all stands for itself. Here you can find out which 10 important jazz musicians you should definitely know.

Here are 10 essential jazz musicians you should know

By Daniel Weber

Famous jazz musicians - you must have heard it

When people ask “Which jazz musicians should I listen to?” Or “Who are the most important jazz musicians?” I shake. In jazz in particular, there are so many influences from jazz musicians that it hardly seems possible to name just a few of them. It wouldn't be fair. Jazz is a genre of music that is difficult to describe and summarize. There are countless periods in its history, many different jazz styles and currents.

And of course jazz also has the kind of musician who advanced the whole genre - be it musically or in terms of general notoriety and popularity.

Here it is: My subjective list of the 10 jazz musicians you need to know - from New Orleans jazz to postmodernism. A click on the pictures leads to an exciting album by the famous jazz musician (affiliate link).

1. Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

He is a jazz legend from the very beginning and to this day one of the most influential and popular famous jazz musicians. His recordings “West End Blues” (1928), “Hello, Dolly!” (1964) and especially of course “What A Wonderful World” (1968) are among the evergreens of jazz.

The icon, born in New Orleans in 1901, made his way as a musician in the city's red-light district in 1918 and appeared regularly in the band of Fate Marable on a Mississippi steamer. In 1922 Armstrong joined King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago as the second trumpeter.

The first recordings (including the "Chimes Blues" from 1923) are from this time. With two-part break improvisations, the duo Oliver and Armstrong is said to have already made music history according to contemporary witness reports. By switching to Fletcher Henderson's band, Armstrong broke out of the shadow of his teacher Oliver. He quickly became a star soloist himself.

On the advice of his second wife Lilian "Lil" Hardin, he now tried his own combo. From 1925 onwards, Lil and Louis made numerous recordings, mainly with quintet and septet formations. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five and Hot Seven produced an extraordinary sound that combined the traditional styles from New Orleans with the freer ideas of the Chicago School.

The recordings are considered to be the real beginning of jazz on record. At the same time, they are the starting point for Armstrong's unique career, which developed on Broadway in New York from 1929 onwards.

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2. Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller was one of the most successful and famous jazz musicians in the United States during World War II. With his Glenn Miller Orchestra he shaped the style of swing with world-famous titles such as "In the Mood", "Moonlight Serenade" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo".

Miller was born on March 1, 1904 in Clarida, Iowa. When he was 13 he bought a trombone with the money he had earned. He had his first engagement in 1926 in Ben Pollack's band, for which he also wrote arrangements. In 1937 he founded his own combo, which two years later received appearances on live broadcasts on the radio.

The commercial breakthrough came with various high-ranking guest performances in New York, during which the visitor records of the respective locations were broken. As a result, record sales also exploded with the titles that made Miller immortal.

Rumor has it that the typical Miller sound came about by chance: due to a lip injury on the first trumpeter, the clarinet took over the leading trumpet part in one of the concerts. From then on, this idiosyncratic sound characteristic shaped Miller's characteristic swing.

3. Count Basie

Another unforgettable pioneer of swing was the African-American jazz pianist and band leader "Count" Basie (actually William Allen Basie), who was born in New Jersey in 1904 and received piano lessons from his mother as a young boy. In the 1920s Williams' piano playing was influenced by Thomas "Fats" Waller, whom he attended regularly at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, where Waller accompanied silent films.

At the Palace Theater in Red Bank, the young William started out playing silent films on the piano and was involved in several bands until he founded his own combo, the Barons of Rhythm, in 1935. Here he recorded his own first successes.

In radio recordings he was already being announced as "Count". With "One O'Clock Jump" the band stormed the charts for the first time in 1938. From then on, Basie and his big band toured the States tirelessly. By the beginning of the Second World War, quite a few chart toppers were included.

The minimalist piano playing Basies, limited to the essentials, became his characteristic trademark. Even after the war, Basie's success story continued unabated, with the result that the swing musician became an absolute luminary in the 1960s, won en masse Grammy Awards and - unusual for the time - toured internationally.

There was a fruitful collaboration with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sammy Davis Junior, among others. However, the list of celebrities who were honored with the "Count" is long.

4. Duke Ellington

The pianist, composer and band leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as Duke Ellington because of his cosmopolitan charisma, is one of the most influential artists of the swing era. Musically, he developed into a famous jazz musician as a late bloomer. As a teenager he was fascinated by pianists like Harvey Brooks, so that he immersed himself in the piano.

At the age of 17 he made his first public appearances. Ellington moved to New York with some musician friends and singer Ada Smith. There he founded the formation The Washingtonians, which appeared in various clubs.

When the famous King Oliver left the Cotton Club, Ellington was offered the job of house band in New York's most prestigious nightclub at the time. Little by little, the Washingtonians became the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which first achieved national and later international fame through radio broadcasts.

During this time, Ellington had the opportunity to compose music in a variety of styles and developed his unmistakable "jungle style" through sonic effects, which was supposed to make the world of the jungle sound onomatopoeic.

5. Benny Goodman

The "King of Swing" was born in Chicago in 1909. He received classical clarinet lessons from an early age. His jazz teachers were the artists of the 1920s, including Louis Armstrong. In 1926 Goodman made his first recordings with the Ben Pollack Orchestra. Two years later he moved to New York City, where he worked for the radio, as a studio musician and on Broadway.

The clarinetist formed his first big band in 1934 for the radio series Let’s Dance. For the first time in the history of jazz, the formation united white and black musicians. Because of her perfection, she achieved a high reputation across all genres within a few years.

From that point on, success never left Benny Goodman. He experienced one of the greatest highlights of his artistic career on January 16, 1938 at his famous concert in Carnegie Hall, which until then had only been reserved for classical performances. Besides Louis Armstrong, there is no other musician who has done so much for the acceptance of jazz as Benny Goodman.

6. Miles Davis

Miles Davis was and is known for his improvisations with few, long-lasting notes and conceptually laid new foundations by experimenting with young musicians. Many jazz greats owe their breakthrough to the collaboration with Davis.

The composer and bandleader was born in Alton, Illinois in 1926 to a wealthy black family. He spent his youth in East St. Louis on the east bank of the Mississippi in a non-segregated neighborhood. At the age of 13 he received his own trumpet. During high school he befriended Clark Terry, whose trumpet style influenced him greatly.

Under the pretext of attending the Juilliard School of Music, Davis moved to New York City in 1944 with his parents' blessing, but spent most of his time in jazz clubs there. The night jams were much more important to the young trumpeter than his classical music education, which he soon finished to play with the famous jazz musicians Charly Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the Billy Eckstine Band.

From 1945 he went on tour with Eckstine and played the trumpet in the Charly Parker Quintet, where he developed into a terrific improviser. He also took part in his first recording in the band of Herbie Fields.

His trumpet style was already well developed at that time, but Davis still lacked the self-confidence and the technical virtuosity of his bebop models. By 1948 he gained increasing fame and founded the Miles Davis Capitol Orchestra in New York with the Capitol Band. His style changed from bebop to cool jazz. A number of important albums were created.

Despite being temporarily addicted to heroin, Davis continued to write jazz history well into the 1990s. He shaped various styles in the second epoch of jazz from bebop to cool jazz to free jazz.

7. Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman is considered to be the most important pioneer of free jazz. He was born in Texas in March 1930. At the age of 14 he got his first saxophone. He taught himself to read notes and play.

In order to escape poverty and racial discrimination in the southern United States, he left home at the age of 19 to get by with auxiliary jobs in Los Angeles and to expand his musical knowledge with harmony and music theory.

He met supporters in Paul Bley's band, so that after Bley's departure the Ornette Coleman Quartet could emerge, together with Don Cherry (trumpet), Billy Higgins (drums) and Charly Haden (bass). The band initially played in small clubs in Los Angeles. She also got her first record deal.

In May 1959, Coleman moved to Atlantic Records through the agency of John Lewis. This was followed by an engagement in the New York jazz club Five Spot, which secured the quartet's attention in the jazz scene.

Coleman's most famous album was created in 1960 and acted as the initial spark of atonal avant-garde jazz: With "Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation" Coleman founded the genre of the same name with largely free improvisation in a double quartet.

8. James Carter

James Carter is the driving force behind the contemporary jazz scene. He is also considered one of the top saxophonists of our time.

Born in Detroit in 1969, the artist became known in the 1990s for his unorthodox approach to jazz. He was a student of Marcus Belgrave. His professional career began at the age of 17 in the band of Wynton Marsalis.

The debut album "JC On The Set", recorded in 1993, caused a sensation in the scene. Likewise, its successor "Jurassic Classics" made him a famous jazz musician.

9. Keith Jarrett

The American pianist Keith Jarrett has been a style-defining jazz musician of the past decades. Born in Pennsylvania in 1945, he began taking piano lessons at the age of three and was on stage for the first time at the age of seven.

His career as a live musician began in the early 1960s. By the end of this decade, the musically gifted Jarrett was already known beyond insider circles.

The real breakthrough came as a member of Miles Davis' jazz rock formation, and later as a solo artist. By 1975 Jarrett played around 50 solo concerts around the world, with which he developed and cultivated improvisations with a strong motif. At the beginning of the 80s he revived the then frowned upon Broadway and Tin-Pan-Alley repertoire.

After numerous trio and solo recordings, Keith Jarrett surprised his international fans again when he recorded the ballad-like duo album "Jasmine" in 2010 with bassist Charlie Haden.

10. David Murray

David Murray's work is one of the most extensive in modern jazz. Born in February 1955 in California, the saxophonist and clarinetist learned the alto saxophone at the age of eight, played in a rhythm and blues band at 12 and led a trio of organ, saxophone and drums at 15.

In 1975 Murray moved to New York, where he made contact with the loft jazz scene. In 1976 he recorded his debut album. In the same year the exceptional talent founded his “World Saxophone Quartet”, with which he toured internationally.

David Murray is a musician of the contemporary jazz avant-garde who draws from all styles and has a very characteristic saxophone and bass clarinet playing.

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Conclusion on famous jazz musicians

As mentioned above, this list can only represent a subjective assessment of famous jazz musicians. There are a whole host of other artists who have also advanced jazz or have been particularly important to the genre.

What are your personal jazz favorites? Write us in the comments!