The Greatest Jazz Albums through the Decades

By Alexa Donakowski, Ferris State University student

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of blog posts for GRandJazzFest written by Ferris State University public relations students. Thank you, Ferris, for helping to build awareness of jazz, the great American music art form! 

Since its inception in the early 1900s, jazz has evolved and moved forward leaving behind a legacy of great jazz albums. In each decade, one album seems to stand out from the rest.

Decade #1- The Nifty ‘50s:

Miles Davis’s album “Kind of Blue” is said to be one of the most influential albums of all time and a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Rolling Stone rates it as No. 12 on its top 500 Greatest Albums of all Time list. Released on August 17, 1959, the album was a revolution because Davis shied away from the standard chord progressions and broke new ground with warmth and understatement.

Decade #2- The Swinging ‘60s:

John Coltrane is a saxophone legend. In 1964, he recorded the album “A Love Supreme,” which is considered as one of the masterworks in the canon of jazz. Most musicians know it and most have performed portions of it. The album featured hymns of praise and reflected the high point of the civil rights movement perfectly.

Decade #3- The Psychedelic ‘70s:

Paul Bley was well known for his style of jazz. He created a combination of bop and modern jazz that was new to this era. This approach places him in league with artists as diverse as Red Garland, Elmo Hope, Mal Waldron, Jaki Byard, Stanley Cowell, Keith Jarrett, Andrew Hill, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Ran Blake, Sun Ra, and Marilyn Crispell. His album “Improvisie” came out in 1971 and was an immediate top seller.

Decade#4- The Rockin ‘80s:

Anthony Davis is best known for his operas. He likes to blend multiple genres of music to create unique songs. His album “Lady of the Mirrors” was released in 1980 and immediately became one of his bestselling albums. Some say this album is a compilation of his best piano recordings.

Decade #5- The Radical ‘90s:

Franz Koglmann is an award-winning Austrian jazz composer who has performed and recorded with a variety of musicians. His album “The Use of Memory” came out at a time when critics were arguing over what is or isn’t jazz music. Koglmann’s combination of new jazz music with western classical music made this album fly to the top of the charts. The critics may not have embraced, it but millions of people did.

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