How Jazz Works

By: Cameron Lawrence

Jazz Albums

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Photo courtesy Amazon

Starting a jazz collection is at once an exciting and overwhelming prospect. Everyone has different tastes -- some of us are more drawn to rhythm and swing, others to melody and complex arrangements. Beginning a jazz collection of your own starts with research of the best variety: listening. Pick up one of several anthologies of jazz (Ken Burns "Jazz" series, is one worth your time) from your local library, and begin to assess each style with an open mind. Take note of what you like or don't like, and what musicians play on the recording. Once you start to identify artists you enjoy, sites like can provide you with a guide to the vast web of jazz musicians and the recordings they're connected to. And remember one thing: Always listen before you buy.

All Music Guide recommends the following 15 albums to get you started:


  • Louis Armstrong, "Plays W.C. Handy" (Columbia - 1997 version)
  • Benny Goodman, "Sing, Sing, Sing" (Bluebird)
  • Billie Holiday, "The Quintessential, Vol. 5" (Columbia)
  • Count Basie, "The Atomic Mr. Basie" (Roulette)
  • Duke Ellington, "Uptown" (Columbia)
  • Charlie Parker, "Yardbird Suite" (Rhino)
  • Dizzy Gillespie, "At Newport" (Verve)
  • Dave Brubeck, "Time Out" (Columbia)
  • Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue" (Columbia)
  • John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things" (Atlantic)
  • Stan Getz, "Getz/Gilberto" (Verve)
  • Wes Montgomery, "The Incredible Jazz Guitar" (Original Jazz Classics)
  • Lee Morgan, "The Sidewinder" (Blue Note)
  • Weather Report, "Heavy Weather" (Columbia)
  • Wynton Marsalis, "Blue Interlude" (Columbia)

­ ­Happy listening!

For more information about jazz, follow the links below.

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More Great Links


  • All Music Guide. "New Orleans," "Dixieland," "Swing," "Bop," "Cool," "Hard Bop," "Fusion."
  • "Blues Glossary -- 'Spirituals.'" The Blues, Georgia Public Broadcasting.
  • Burns, Ken. "Jazz -- A Film by Ken Burns." "Episode 2: The Gift." Paramount Pictures, 2001.
  • Gioia, Ted. "The History of Jazz." Oxford University Press, New York. 1997.
  • Hughes, Langston. "The First Book of Jazz." The Ecco Press, New Jersey. 1982.
  • Schuller, Gunther. "Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development." Oxford University Press, New York. 1968.
  • Shipton, Alyn. "A New History of Jazz." Continuum, New York. 2001.
  • "Smithsonian Jazz Class." Smithsonian Jazz.
  • "The Styles of Jazz." The Jazz Web, Northwestern University.
  • "What is Jazz? Good Question." All About Jazz.
  • "What is Jazz? Round Two." All About Jazz.