A Beginner's Guide To Jazz: 10 Tracks You Need To Hear

Jazz couldn't be further from the stigma of being boring old people's music. Here's a selection of tracks which continue to influence popular culture...
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Jazz is likely the most eclectic and intimidating genre of music to break down. I've been listening to it for around 6 years now, and I still don't feel I have the grounds to advise anyone with sheer competency. However, I'm here to branch out to the masses in an attempt to relinquish the stigma that jazz is for boring, old men. It's not. From its early beginnings until the present day, jazz has incorporated many characteristics from popular music styles. So here's why you can appreciate it in all its glory, because most of the modern-day music you listen to now couldn't possibly exist if it wasn't for these inspirational artists.

Especially important to African-American culture, jazz itself is a success story told through its own invention. It's authentic because all true masters have dedicated their lives to musical evolution, while contemporary artists today are only interested in commercial success. For jazz musicians, playing music is a process that is intrinsic to their own growth as a person. True musicians play the music that they do as a necessity to themselves.

10. Ella Fitzgerald – 'Round Midnight

Also known as the 'Queen of Jazz', Ella's embellishment of 'Round Midnight is undeniably beautiful. She has a sweeping vocal range and a tonality that's pure. If you think you can't stand scat singing, think again. Ella loves be-bop, and her improvisational skills are incredible.

9. Duke Ellington – Take The “A” Train

Arguably the most famous composition from Ellington. A 1940s swing classic written in the head of Billy Strayhorn for Duke's band, using some subway instructions given to him to get to a party.

8. Pat Metheny Group – Have You Heard

What you have right here is a band of seriously accomplished musicians. Pat Metheny Group looks to infuse South American elements into jazz with this 'Letters from Home' record, and if you're not enjoying Pedro Aznar's superbly, comprehensive voice on this track, then you are the Devil.

7. Miles Davis – The Duke

Miles Davis, who spent his whole career evolving his sound and style, became a staple in the invention of fusion and acid jazz, which ultimately unfolded into rock, funk and R&B. This is a rendition of a Dave Brubeck classic.

6. Wes Montgomery – Four On Six

What makes Wes Montgomery so great is the fact that his right-hand, guitar technique was actually pretty terrible. Who cares, right? Wes learnt to play at the relatively late age of 20, by listening to and learning recordings from his idols. This guy is one of the biggest innovators on the guitar ever.


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5. George Benson – The World Is A Ghetto

A mix of soul, funk and the harmonic intelligence of jazz, George Benson is another guitar pioneer and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame to prove it.

4. John Lewis – Afternoon In Paris

Feast your ears on a 'jazz standard' recorded in 1949. The original LP came out in 1956. A great record led by John Lewis and Sacha Distel, a French guitarist who never became well-known in the US.

3. Robert Glasper – Downtime

Robert Glasper developed his sound in church, inspired to mix gospel harmonies with jazz harmonies. As well as being a genius composer, Glasper has collaborated with J Dilla, Erykah Badu and Maxwell. His piano playing is smooth as butter on this track, coupled with the gentle feather beat of the snare.

2. John Coltrane – My Favourite Things

Everybody knows this classic pop standard from 'The Sound of Music'. This is Coltrane's exquisite version played on a soprano sax, which he'd only been using for the best part of a year. It's over 13 minutes long, but you shouldn't care. This is his most requested song, and a bridge to broad public acceptance.

1. Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me

Nina Simone has been cited as important to their musical career by artists such as Alicia Keys, John Legend, Mos Def and David Bowie. Despite unfortunately selling her rights to the album on which this particular song graces for a mere $3000, she went on to record a multitude of albums thereafter. Her stage presence earned her the title 'High Priestess of Soul'.