Jazz Albums Every Man should know article

For many people jazz is an acquired taste.

Like your first sip of beer or coffee growing up, jazz may not immediately suit your tastes. But after awhile you start to savor the richness of the rhythms, the textures, the dissonance and the gracefulness that is jazz.

I’ve often wondered how music that can seem so frenetic and chaotic can also be so relaxing. My theory–backed by absolutely no evidence–is this: the crazy energy in jazz somehow mirrors the chaotic thought patterns that exist on some level within all of us. And through audio alchemy a kind of “phase cancellation” happens, bringing calm. (Sounds crazy, I know…)

Regardless, jazz is something every aspiring gentleman should experience for his own personal and cultural development.

But with all the great jazz records out there, where do you start? What are the best jazz albums for beginners?

In no particular order, here are 10 classic jazz albums every man should own:

Kind of Blue

One of the first jazz albums I ever bought. For me, this is contemplative Sunday afternoon music. It’s impossible not to feel a sense of relaxed reflection after a few minutes of listening to this classic Miles Davis album.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Ellington at Newport

Classic Jazz album Ellington at Newport Album Cover
Some consider this concert to the best performance of Duke Ellington’s career. And hearing it, you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the live show.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

A Love Supreme

Classic Jazz album A Love Supreme John Coltrane album cover
Meditative yet frenetic, John Coltrane’s sax playing is like a lightening bolt to your heart and your senses. Coltrane said it was meant to be a musical offering to God. For the listener, it is nothing short of a religious experience.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Monk’s Dream

Listening to Thelonious Monk’s distinctive piano playing gives you a new appreciation for the phrase “tickling the keys.” This great mix of songs serves up all kinds of moods, from playful to thoughtful to excited.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings

Classic Jazz album The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings Louis Armstrong album cover
While the audio quality is not great, this three-volume set of classic recordings features Louis Armstrong’s quintessential voice and trumpet work. The bright mix of dixieland, blues and the New Orleans sound recall a sense of innocence and optimism of the early 20th century.

Get Volume 1 Now: iTunes (full version) | Spotify | Amazon
Get Volume 2 Now: Spotify | Amazon
Get Volume 3 Now: Spotify | Amazon

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook

Classic jazz album Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porters Songbook album cover
The depth and richness of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is amazing as she interprets these classic Cole Porter standards.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Night Train

Classic Jazz album Night Train Oscar Peterson Trio album cover
Listening to this Oscar Peterson Trio classic without a cocktail in your hand almost seems wrong. Along with partners Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, Peterson explores a range of different moods with this album. Some songs are slow and brooding, others will amaze you that notes played so fast can be so calming.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Watch Oscar and his band absolutely SHRED in the video below:

Bird & Diz

classic jazz album Bird and Diz Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie album cover
This is billed as a Charlie Parker (Bird) and Dizzy Gillespie (Diz) album, but it also includes Thelonious Monk on keys and Max Roach on drums. The energy of the collaboration between these greats comes right through the speakers. Note: the first 6 songs represent the original studio album, and the rest are outtakes that are worth hearing but not essential.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959

classic jazz album The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve album cover
Lady in Satin is often considered Billie Holiday’s most famous album, but I think it’s a little sleepy and melodramatic. This collection of songs from her years at Verve records does a better job capturing the haunting and magical quality of Holiday’s voice.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Portrait in Jazz

Classic jazz album Portrait in Jazz Bill Evans album cover
Miles Davis, who worked with Bill Evans on Kind of Blue, said Evans had a “quiet fire” on the piano, “…like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.” You can hear what he means in these inspired recordings with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian.

Get the Album Now: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon

Choosing Your Own Top 10 Essential Jazz Albums

Deciding on “essential” jazz artists and albums is pretty subjective. To pull together this list, I used research on popular jazz artists, best selling jazz albums, and of course my own personal taste, to decide what made the final cut.

But I encourage you to form your own opinions. There’s no right answer when it comes to enjoying jazz music. If you want to do further exploration, here are some other lists on top jazz albums to check out:

100 Essential Jazz Albums | The New Yorker
10 Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die | Village Voice
Top 25 Jazz Albums of All Time | The Jazz Resource
30 Jazz Albums Every Gentleman Should Hear | Gentleman’s Gazette

Got any other favorite jazz albums to add to the list? Leave them below in the comments!

Note: This post contains some affiliate links, meaning if you buy one of the songs or albums I may get a small commission (at no extra cost to you). But I would recommend this great music regardless.

Credit: The Distilled Man


  1. I have listened to most of these albums – I used to play bass guitar in a band,also studied piano.
    The thing is that everybody I know around me is a jackass and a moron,they only care about cars and drinking.,
    I live in that Godforsaken backwards city of Toronto, Canada
    where life is boring, and I go to bed at 7- 8 PM.
    Thanks for the list.

  2. Csaba, I hear you man…I left Toronto a dozen years ago, and I always cringe when I come to Toronto to visit family. Family is great, but the vibe of the city…well, let me say, I cannot tolerate it for more that a week. I live in the Tropics and am immensely glad that I made the move. Point is – Toronto, or anyplace that you’re not happy about (for whatever reason), does not have shackles on you. I encourage you to make the decision to uproot and move somewhere else, preferably to a place ‘outside’ your comfort zone. You will be amazed at the level of diversity, and the amount of personal growth that awaits with a change of environment, people, customs etc. My only regret is not having moved out of Toronto earlier.
    I highly recommend it!

  3. Keith Harris

    Kyle thanks a lot for this list. Here is a Spotify Playlist that you might want to share.https://open.spotify.com/user/1282523577/playlist/67xRiSN4p5KYrdxCUW2AvQ

  4. Thanks Keith! Appreciate you sharing the playlist!

  5. Mason Emerson

    I might add Harry Connick Jr. and his Lofty’s Roach Soufflé album. That has always been one of my favorite instrumental jazz/trio albums.

  6. Thanks for the addition, Mason!

  7. Great list man. Excellent essentials for those new to Jazz.
    I’m into “Free Jazz” and Avant-Garde. For those interested in going deeper and seeking something to cancel out that real chaos deep in your subconcious, here are my picks. Beware: this stuff is challenging.
    The Shape of Jazz to Come- Ornette Coleman
    Free Jazz- Ornette Coleman
    Ascension- John Coltrane
    John Tchicai’s Infinitesimal Flash (Tchicai played on Coltrane’s Ascension, and I had the honor of studying under him briefly in Davis).
    David S. Ware- Surrendered
    Ronald Shannon Jackson- Red Warrior
    Sonny Sharrock- Ask the Ages
    Chicago Underground Trio- Flamethrower
    Charles Mingus- Oh Yeah
    And this isn’t avant-garde, but you gotta include The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery and Bing! Bing! Bing! by Charlie Hunter Trio

  8. Thanks for all the great additions, Danny!

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