Jazz is one of the world’s most loved music genres. Whether enjoying one of many classic jazz standards or embracing the sounds of a local jazz musician, the melodies and improvisations originating with this style of music have forever changed the world. Today we’re taking a look at some of the most influential jazz legends in the world to see how their work changed the way music is played.
Louis Armstrong was a great deal many things including a composer, singer, American trumpeter, and of course one of the most famous jazz legends of them all. His career lasted some five decades, clear from the 1920s to the 1960s, and captured the attention and interest of many different genres of jazz. He was born August 4, 1901 and passed away on July 6, 1971.
The 1920s were a breakout year for jazz, and gave life to an up-in-coming jazz musician named Louis. Known as an inventive cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong had an incredible influence over the genre. Eventually, Armstrong would shift his attention to solo performance, after spending years in collaborative work. Not unlike many other musicians in his genre, Armstrong was also an amazing singer and could easily improvise, blending and composing lyrics to the melodies in a perfectly expressive manner.
Armstrong was probably most well-known for his onstage charisma and exceptionally strong voice, even though his trumpet playing was phenomenal. Towards the end of his career in the 60s, Armstrong had not only won over the jazz genre, but also had a surprising impact over pop music. He also led the way for African-American entertainers into cross genre positions, and made his race of secondary importance. His incredible talent and likeable personality made him a favorite in the top tiers of society during those racially charged years.
Top Tracks from Louis Armstrong:
- What a Wonderful World
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside
- Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
- Georgia On My Mind
- Hello Dolly
Born on May 26, 1926, Sir Miles Dewey Davis III was one of America’s most influential jazz legends. His work as a jazz musician included trumpeter, composer, and bandleader. The 20th century was wonderfully marked by his incredible abilities and talent. Interestingly, Davis was diverse when it came to his music career. He also found himself on the front lines of several of the greatest developments in jazz music throughout his over 50-year career.
Davis started performing for crowds in the 1940s when he would collaborate with saxophonist Charlie Parker. Directly following that, Davis went on to record Birth of the Cool sessions for Capitol Records. This played a pivotal role in the production of cool jazz. Later, he would go on to create and record some of the first hard bop music. In 1955, after a stint with heroin addiction, he came back to play the Newport Jazz Festival, and began once again collaborating with incredible talent ranging from Paul Chambers to John Coltrane. Later on, he recorded Kind of Blue, which featured harmonies crafted by pianist Bill Evans. This turned out to be one of the most influential jazz albums of the era, particularly for modal jazz style. As all good fans of jazz know, this album is quite possibly the most popular one ever released.
Miles Davis passed away on September 28, 1991. His work created several popular jazz standards we know and love today.
- Autumn Leaves
- Freddie Freeloader
- Blue in Green
- Bye Bye Blackbird
Wes Montgomery was born on March 6, 1923, is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest jazz legends. He was an American jazz guitarist and considered to be one of the most influential figures in the genre following only a handful of other musicians such as Charlie Christian. He was highly acclaimed for his unusual technique wherein he plucked the strings of his guitar with his thumb, giving it a very unique sound.
Montgomery played frequently with organist Jimmy Smith, and also paired up with his brothers Buddy and Monk. Most of his music was geared towards soul jazz and post-bop, but in 1965 he took a turn towards pop-themed music and featured less of his improvisation. He would, however, go on to enjoy mainstream success as a result of this change in tune. Known for his crossover jazz or even smooth jazz, his music spawned many jazz standards, and he is still to this day known as a great musician who has influenced players around the globe.
Wes Montgomery passed away on June 15, 1968.
- California Nights
- I Say a Little Prayer for You
Cab Calloway was born on December 25, 1907 and was an American jazz singer and bandleader. His work is often paired with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City. A master of scat singing, Calloway was widely regarded as one of the leaders of big band and scat music in the 1930s and 1940s. His band had a regularly rotating group of performers including Dizzy Gillespie, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and too many more to count. His talent in combination with those of his band, made him a huge success as a jazz musician.
Calloway passed away in November 1994, but performed until his death.
- Saint Louis Blues
- Nobody’s Sweethearts
- Minnie the Moocher
- Saint James Infirmary
- I’ve Got the World on a Swing
These jazz legends may no longer be with us, but what they left behind was legacy of jazz standards and incredible music that will undoubtedly be the joy of many a jazz musician for years to come.