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What is Jazz? Here are some (attributed) answers from a few of the best and most influential jazz musicians of all time:

"Man, if you have to ask what it is, you'll never know."

"I'll play it first and tell you what it is later."

"Jazz is the type of music that can absorb so many things and still be jazz."
Sonny Rollins

"Jazz is freedom. You think about that."

"You can't explain jazz to anyone without losing the experience because it's feelings, not words."
Okay, so that probably didn't help much. But, in our defense, defining jazz really is hard. (Just look at what The Other Wiki has to say about that!) So maybe we can just stick with the following: At its heart, jazz is about spontaneity. That usually means improvising solos, the art of playing (to a greater or lesser extent) without written-out, arranged parts and being free to play whatever you like over a chord progression, sometimes without even confines of traditional music structure (which is what Free Jazz is all about).

Jazz started out in the United States in the beginning of the 20th century as 'black music' and is closely related to Blues, to the extent that many famous jazz compositions can be considered Blues pieces. Since then, there have been different forms of jazz, listed roughly in historical order: New Orleans/Dixieland, Swing/Big Band, Bebop, Cool, Modal, Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, jazz-rock Fusion, Nu Jazz... and this is a very incomplete list.

Jazz itself probably started out in a small band format in many different cities throughout the US, most famously New Orleans. It became the most popular type of music in the US in its Big Band format (10-30 musicians) during the Twenties to The '40s. Big bands had large horn section with saxophones, trumpets, and trombones, along with a rhythm section consisting of chordal instruments (piano, guitar, etc), double bass and drums, often along with vocalist and a string section (violins and violas). This large ensemble needed written arrangements and a bandleader, but the soloists still improvised their solos.

This evolved into a multitude of different styles, pretty much all of which were played by small bands (duos, trios, quartets, amd larger groups, such as octets), starting out with Bebop. The classic jazz quartet is a solo instrument (saxophone, trumpet, etc), piano, double bass and drums. The organ trio is a Hammond organ player, a guitarist (or other melodic instrument) and a drummer.

The emphasis also changed back to playing more in jazz clubs and having fewer concerts (with some important exceptions, such as the Newport Jazz Festival). The ascension of pop music and Rock & Roll in The '50s led to the fading of jazz's popularity. Jazz today has, for the most part, a relatively small, but enthusiastic audience, somewhat of a 'cult' following. Somewhat amusingly (and probably shockingly to the original founders of the genre), jazz has become "respectable" music thanks to the development of its technical artistry and a sophisticated pedagogical approach. Jazz is now taught alongside Classical Music in many university music departments across the US—unheard-of for any other popular music genre.

Jazz has made a deep impression in music. The extended improvised solos and complex harmonies of jazz are also seen in progressive rock. Jazz also contributed to the development of musical instruments, such as the modern drum set, which was largely developed by early jazz musicians. Jazz is a unique cultural contributions that the United States brought to the world, along with Rock & Roll.

Jazz Fusion and Jazz Rap, two associated genres that originated in the late 1960s and late 1980s, respectively, have their own pages. Jazz fusion melds the extended improvised solos of traditional jazz with heavily-amplified electric instruments such as electric guitar and electric bass and it also uses synthesizers.

Finally, a note on the name: there are many, many, many ideas for where and how the word originated.

Notable jazz artists includenote :

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    Big Band Era 
  • Jelly Roll Morton: New Orleans-style jazz pianist and the genre's first great composer. Also an inveterate braggart who claimed to have single-handedly invented jazz and a Boomerang Bigot who frequently insulted darker-skinned musicians while emphasizing the white portion of his mixed-race heritage.note 
  • Buddy Bolden: New Orleans cornet player, often regarded as one of the most important pioneers of jazz, but whose reputation is based entirely on verbal testimony because he never got to record anything: he suffered a psychotic breakdown in 1907 and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution, and the first jazz recordings weren't made until ten years later.
  • Dominic 'Nick' LaRocca: A highly controversial figure in jazz history, cornet player LaRocca was the leader of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. He's probably the first jazz musician who was ever recorded, and the first to outsell John Philip Sousa, who had the best-selling artist in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the same time, he was notorious for claiming that jazz was exclusively an invention of white musicians and trying to bribe other trumpeters to leave New Orleans so he could be the best in the city.
  • Paul Whiteman: Known to the public as the "King of Jazz" — mainly because that's what he called himself — Whiteman was one of the first white bandleaders, and helped to bring jazz to mainstream attention. Having been trained as a classical violinist, he received some criticism from other classical musicians for "playing below himself", while some black musicians felt he was becoming famous by copying their style. Nonetheless, he helped to introduce the style to white audiences and did his best to give credit to black musicians whenever he could. His influence on later jazz is negligible, mainly because he thought jazz would be a lot better if you took out all that pesky improvisation.note 
  • Louis Armstrong: The true king of jazz, if ever there was one. A trumpet and cornet player who had a fifty-year career. To say that Armstrong had an influence on later jazz is like saying that Moses had an influence on Judaism. He is considered the codifier of many basic elements of jazz, including scat singing but chiefly improvisation: he's the first great jazz soloist to have been recorded. His later records aren't really jazz but are still highly enjoyable; his recordings from the late 1920s, made when he was already a veteran musician in his own late twenties, are essential listening.
  • Duke Ellington: The greatest composer and bandleader in jazz, although he claimed to dislike the J-word and preferred to have his music described as "music". His outstanding compositions notwithstanding, he was equally influential as a bandleader for the way that he encouraged others (such as Billy Strayhorn) to write classic compositions for his band, and fostered more than one generation of great players (Jimmy Blanton, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves).note  Also a damn fine pianist who more than held his own on a trio session with bebop pioneers Charles Mingus and Max Roach, and possibly the only jazz musician who could have been equally at ease playing with both Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, although not on the same date, alas. Miles Davis, his only rival for the post of Greatest Bandleader Ever, said that jazz musicians should get down on their knees every day and thank Duke for what he did for music.
  • Johnny Hodges: Longtime Ellington band member and virtuoso saxophonist who may as well be the Trope Codifier for the Sexophone. Hodges had a long career both as part of Ellington's band, running his own big band, and as a solo artist.
  • Count Basie: Jazz composer and bandleader (and pianist as well) at the same time as Ellington, Basie's unique styles mark him solidly as a quintessential Big Band leader, along with Ellington. Developing his style with a number of orchestras, Basie specialised in riff-based jazz, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Benny Goodman: A classically trained clarinet player known as the "King of Swing", Goodman was responsible for helping to bring hot swing which focused on improvisation into the mainstream in the 1930s, and made an effort to employ black musicians at a time when the music industry was segregated; in so doing he kickstarted the careers of important musicians such as Lionel Hampton and Charlie Christian. Also a notorious martinet to his musicians, famous for his Death Glare when they did anything he didn't like, which was known as "The Ray".note 
  • Fats Waller: Fine pianist and singer but chiefly memorable for writing great songs, some of which ("Honeysuckle Rose", "Ain't Misbehavin'") are so standard it's almost ridiculous.
  • Coleman Hawkins (nicknamed "The Hawk" and "Bean"): Huge-toned tenor saxophonist from Missouri. The first great player of what's become perhaps the signature jazz instrument, the tenor sax; a player of amazing power and finesse, whose explorations in harmony are not just a precursor of bebop but also exciting in themselves. His 1939 recording of "Body and Soul" was notable in that he barely bothered to state the tune at all, but went straight into improvising; in 1948 he released "Picasso", an unaccompanied sax solo. Universally recognised as a grandfather of bebop; made recordings in later life with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Miles Davis said listening to the Hawk taught him how to play ballads.
  • Lester Young (nicknamed "Pres"note ): Tenor sax player from Mississippi who came to prominence in Count Basie's band. In many ways the Foil to Coleman Hawkins; his laid-back, intimate, waaaay-behind-the-beat style was the opposite of Hawkins's driving energy, and was so hugely influential that he is pretty much responsible for the trope of romantic saxophone music. A close friend and frequent collaborator of Billie Holiday. Shy and introverted, he was jazz's great Bunny-Ears Lawyer, inventing his own version of hipster slang.note  After a disastrous period of Army service during WW2 he went from being a heavy drinker to a problem drinker, and he died of liver disease aged only 49. Famed for his rumpled sense of style and hat, which gave its name to Charles Mingus's elegy for him, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".
  • Charlie Christian: Oklahoman guitarist, the first great electric guitarist in jazz, not just because of his fleetness as an improviser but because he recognised that amplification took the guitar from being a barely-audible part of the rhythm section and stuck it out front, making him one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Was the best thing in Benny Goodman's band, while he was in it; also helped create bebop by hanging out in clubs and jamming with musicians such as drummer Kenny Clarke. Died of TB aged 25.
  • Art Tatum: An almost completely blind jazz pianist, whose technique is something that, that, ... Just see for yourself. No wonder too, as (so legend goes) he learned to play by repeating the movements on a autopiano... which played pieces for four hands! Playing his material is a truly monumental achievement even to this day.
  • Chano Pozo: A short-lived but highly influential Afro-Cuban percussionist best known for his work in Dizzy Gillespie's various outfits, where he played a crucial role in the establishment of Latin jazz. A heavy drinker and brawler, he was shot dead at the age of 33; while there are multiple stories about why he was killed, the prevailing one is that he threatened a drug dealer who he thought had ripped him off.
  • Bix Beiderbecke: A celebrated cornetist whose playing foreshadowed cool jazz and bebop. He played with a number of groups, recorded prolifically and was said to be Louis Armstrong's only true equal as a horn player before dying at a young age.
  • Django Reinhardt: The first non-American jazz innovator, and one of the most influential guitar players of the 20th century. With the Quartette/Quintette du Hot Club du France, he replicated swing with an all-string ensemble, and, by combining this with some influences from Roma music (Reinhardt being Roma), created the sub-genre known as Gypsy Jazz (or Hot Club Jazz). He did all this in spite of the fact that his left hand (i.e. his fretting hand) had been badly burned in a caravan accident when he was a teenager, so that only two of his fingers on that hand worked properly. Most guitarists even today can't play like Django with four working fingers and a thumb, making him jazz's supreme Handicapped Badass.
  • The Andrews Sisters: While they were actually a singing trio, they worked with many bands during WWII.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: One of the most well-known jazz vocalists of all time, her range, accuracy, sense of swing, and the cheerful quality of her voice led many to consider her one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, period. Expect Vocal Dissonance (Sorry Ella). She was the singer in Chick Webb's orchestra and took over as leader after his death. After the swing era came to a close she remained popular and pioneered singing in a bop style.
  • Cab Calloway: One of the other Trope Codifiers of scat singing, like Louis Armstrong. He was one of the first African-American performers to make it big, performing alongside Al Jolson at one point. He was also known for his dance moves, and brought jazz to a wider audience by appearing in Betty Boop cartoons. In his seventies, he acquired a whole new bunch of fans with his performance as Curtis, the janitor/mentor figure in The Blues Brothers.
  • Glenn Miller: One of the most popular band leaders, he led his orchestra as one of the biggest record sellers from 1939 to his death in late 1944, when the plane carrying him and two other men to France was lost without trace over the English Channel. His greatest hit was "In The Mood", not counting his work with the Andrews Sisters. Expect one of his pieces in any WWII setting. Generally regarded by jazz fans as not really a jazz musician, because his signature style of arranging left very little room for improvisation, but he doesn't really belong anywhere else.
  • Billie Holiday: Also known as "Lady Day", probably the most famous jazz and blues vocalists of all time. Much emulated, her tragic life is as well known as her talent. Mostly known for her later work, when her voice had a hoarse and cracked quality that was very moving, although this is a pity, because her earlier work for Columbia (when her voice was in perfect shape) is as good if not better. She is often depicted in media, and even has a cult classic biopic starring Diana Ross. "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol, her signature song, brought attention to the lynchings of blacks in the Deep South, and was voted by Time Magazine as the greatest song of the 20th century.
  • Mildred Bailey. A popular jazz singer in the 1930s. She was one of the first Native American jazz musicians and one of the first woman to front a predominantly male-led orchestra. Some of the best-known songs in her repertoire included "For Sentimental Reasons", "It's So Peaceful in the Country", "Doin' The Uptown Lowdown", "Trust in Me", "Where Are You?", "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", "Small Fry", "Please Be Kind", "Darn That Dream" and "Rockin' Chair".
  • Buddy Rich: Billed as "The Greatest Drummer in the World", and most jazz aficionados will say that this was not hyperbole. Rich played as a sideman to Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie, among others, as well as leading his own successful big band, even through the 60's and 70's when the popularity of big bands had waned. His power, smooth playing technique and precision displayed a level of virtuosity that nobody had seen before, and he set the standard for jazz drummers for ever afterwards. Also notoriously hot-tempered, as can be seen in surviving recorded audio of him chewing out his band members (audio is NSFW).

    Bebop, Cool and Modal 
  • Chet Baker: cool jazz trumpeter, famously handsome as a young man, who was also a lovely singer; beloved for his intimate way with a ballad but also a notorious junkie whose addiction to heroin seriously messed with his career for most of his life.
  • Art Blakey: Brilliant drummer and bandleader whose band, the Jazz Messengers, created almost as many big names as Coltrane's various lineups. The Jazz Messengers' style of hard bop is one of the most important codifiers of mainstream jazz, but they were also one of the most sheerly exciting bands to listen to.
  • The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Redefined what could be done with bebop, bringing odd time signatures and classical influences with such oddly-timed instant classics as "Take Five," "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Unsquare Dance"; pianist Brubeck was the second jazzman, after Louis Armstrong, to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, although it's much to his credit that he would have preferred Duke Ellington to have that honor instead, and felt he himself was honored because he was white.note  They were also one of the first well-known integrated jazz bands — three white men and one black — and were known for refusing to play gigs in places where their bassist Eugene Wright would be discriminated against. The Brubeck quartet gained a sizable following in the late 1950s through their concerts at university campuses, and were one of the first musical acts in any genre to make college shows a regular part of their touring schedule.
  • John Coltrane: Master saxophonist and spiritual thinker who went from being a sideman for Miles Davis to leading his own quartet, in which he blew jazz open with a revolutionary approach to composition and improvisation: his compositions became more and more complex to the point that only he could play them absolutely fluently, at which point he drastically simplified them, helping to codify Modal Jazz in the process. Extremely divisive in his day, with some critics thinking he was just going too far: now universally acknowledged to be one of the greats. Went on to be one of the codifiers of free jazz.
  • Miles Davis: Jazz trumpeter and bandleader who started in bebop, went on to pioneer multiple styles of jazz (Modal Jazz, Cool Jazz, and Fusion, among others). His 1959 album Kind of Blue is the best selling jazz album in history, with 1970's Bitches Brew not far behind. Many great jazz musicians, from the 50's to the 70's and beyond went through his band for at least a short time. Famous for constantly reinventing his music, and for his signature style of slow, melancholy playing.
  • Ray Draper: A prodigious musician working as both a leader and a highly sought-out sideman when he was still high school aged. Anomalous in that he played tuba, an instrument already losing favor in jazz during the bop era, and could have brought it into the modern age. Unfortunately his career was sidelined for years by substance abuse problems and tragically shortened by his untimely murder, but he still left behind a significant body of work.
  • Bill Evans: Considered one of the most influential jazz pianists of all time. Eschewed Tatum-style soloing for a more collective approach, choosing languid, breezy sound colors. His short-lived trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian was one of the most influential bands in jazz, even though it only lasted from 1959 to 1961.note  The jazz ballad, "Waltz for Debby", became an international hit, and a jazz standard. Lyrics have been added to the piece in many different languages.
  • Art Farmer
  • John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie: Trumpet player and singer from North Carolina, probably the most virtuosic trumpeter in jazz history, known for his brilliant and powerful tone and terrifying speed; Miles Davis devised his own style of playing trumpet precisely because he couldn't play like Gillespie. One of the founding fathers of bebop, wrote many important compositions and also brought Afro-Cuban influences into jazznote . Famous for his ebullient and often comic onstage persona, which has harmed his reputation among people who think jazz musicians should never smile; also for his peculiar habit of inflating his cheeks while playing, and for his strangely-shaped trumpet (a result of it having been accidentally dropped before a performance- he played it because he didn't have the time or money to get a replacement and ended up liking the way it looked). His tireless gigging and infectious enthusiasm probably did more than anyone else to popularise bebop and establish it as the foundation of mainstream jazz.
  • Dexter Gordon: A Tenor Sax phenom who helped spread bebop to other instruments. Famously eccentric; his interviews are trainwrecks. At the end of his life, gave a lovely performance as an ailing jazzman (which he was at the time) in Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight.
  • Vince Guaraldi: A famous jazz pianist who is most famous for his scores for the early Peanuts animated specials. For instance, his A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack has become a perennial holiday classic and many kids' first introduction to jazz. Despite his fame for the Peanuts score, his style was heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban Jazz and Brazilian music. Before he died, his later Peanuts scores experimented with harpsichord, Hammond organ, hard bop, fusion, and funk.
  • Charles Mingus: Double bass player, composer and bandleader, the angry man of jazz, absolutely brilliant and over-opinionated in every place that counted. Known for taking pot shots at other jazz musicians, being an outspoken social activist, inspiring The Who to trash their instruments on stage, and writing a guide for how to toilet-train cats. Also one of the great jazz composers after Duke Ellington (who he cited as a major influence), writing longer, more complex compositions that seamlessly brought together blues and more avant-garde influences (as a teenager growing up in Watts, Los Angeles, he studied Schoenberg and Stravinsky alongside Ellington) in addition to more conventional jazz "tunes" based on 16- or 32-bar progressions. He was the first jazz musician to have his entire (gigantic) catalog acquired by the Library of Congress.
  • Thelonious Monk: Bebop's greatest composer and one of its founding geniuses; almost single-handedly defined its style with his jagged, quirky, exhilarating compositions, almost all of which have become standards. Became known for his odd onstage antics, his collection of unusual hats and his idiosyncratic style of piano playing — you have to be a really good musician to play so apparently haphazardly and still make it come out exactly right. One commentator said that Monk's compositions were like buildings which had been constructed, then decorated, and then everything had been taken away except the decoration, which was somehow still strong enough to keep the building up.
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The blind jazz multi-instrumentalist who played more instruments than one can count - often at the same time, which may be what he's most famous for. Also known for his virtuosic playing ability, improvisation, wild stage presence, DIY instruments, and outspoken politics.
  • Charlie Parker: Kansas City alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader whose virtuoso approaches to rhythm, harmony, and tempo laid the foundations of Bebop and revolutionized jazz (and music itself!) like few others. Famous for his blisteringly aggressive tone, which was the result of constant practice; playing in a KC jam session as a teenager, he lost his way during a solo and was publicly humiliated, making him vow that they'd never catch him out again.note  Friend and occasional co-leader with Dizzy Gillespie. A big eater, a big drinker and a big drug user, he was dead by 34 but jazz was never the same again. Clint Eastwood's Bird is a careful, reverential and misleadingly depressing biopic of Parker; he had his demons, to be sure, most of the time, he was swaggeringly confident, charming and mischievous, much like his music.
  • Joe Pass: one of the most influential guitarists of bebop.
  • Oscar Peterson: A Canadian jazz piano legend who was and still is often compared to Art Tatum in terms of virtuosity; indeed, Tatum was a major influence, but Oscar's style was more contemporary to the early bebop era of the mid 1940's (as opposed to the swing era of the 1930s) while maintaining some of the more melodic idioms of swing as well as incredible ballad and blues playing. Criticised occasionally for his slightly formulaic approach, but one of the giants of Canadian jazz.
  • Bud Powell: Pioneering bebop pianist and composer; with Parker and Gillespie, one of the great virtuosos of bebop. Liked to point out that, unlike horn players, pianists didn't need to take breaths, and so could play longer lines, which he did. Compositions tend to be high-energy and harmonically very sophisticated, requiring a high level of schooling to even understand, let alone play. Regarded by later players such as Barry Harris as one of the motherlodes of jazz piano. Unfortunately, a combination of drugs, alcohol and a police-inflicted head injury caused him to have a Creator Breakdown, and he was seldom the same afterwards.
  • Sonny Rollins: Pioneering saxophonist whose career is one of the longest and most influential in jazz history, starting from the late 40s to this very day. Helped codify hard bop when barely out of his teens; was a junkie and convicted armed robber by his mid-20s; then inspiringly cleaned himself up and released a string of albums that earn him the status as John Coltrane's main rival. Noted for his thoughtful, angular phrasing and interest in Afro-Caribbean music, as well as pioneering the sax/bass/drums trio format, and for his occasional sabbaticals in which he stops playing in public for a couple of years and rethinks everything (most famously, he disappeared from 1959-61, until a journalist discovered he was playing on the Williamsburg Bridge every night). Appeared on The Simpsons in 2013 (where he was the inspiration for Bleeding Gums Murphy's habit of playing on bridges). Still playing in his 90s.
  • Wayne Shorter: A master saxophonist and great composer who was a member of one of Miles Davis' most brilliant groups, the so-called Second Great Quintet (1964-68), whose Live at the Plugged Nickel is one of the foundational texts of mainstream jazz. Later went on to co-found the seminal jazz-rock band Weather Report and is still touring in his early 80s.
  • Jimmy Smith: A jazz organist with a half-century recording career, Smith helped popularize the Hammond B-3 electric organ.
  • Tony Williams: Drumming prodigy who joined Miles Davis's band at the age of 17, went on to play avant-garde jazz, and with guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young he helped to invent jazz-rock with his band the Tony Williams Lifetime.

    Free Jazz and Contemporary Jazz 
  • Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah
  • Ambrose Akinmusire
  • Dorothy Ashby: This black woman was the first artist to play the harp as a jazz instrument, playing professionally in the late 1950s and 1960s.
  • Herb Alpert: American trumpeter with a decades-long instrumentalist career, particularly for Jazz. Also known for The Tijuana Brass which also incorporates a mariachi sound.
  • Albert Ayler: A noted tenor and alto free jazz saxophonist, controversial in his time, now recognised as a pivotal figure in 1960s free and avant-garde jazz.
  • Derek Bailey: English guitarist, impresario, writer and record label owner. Born in Sheffield, arguably indirectly responsible for prompting more YouTube trolling than any other improvising musician. Was a Charlie Christian fan and Royal Navy bandsman who became a professional musician after leaving the service; worked as a top UK session man in the 1950s and 1960s before encountering free improvisation, whereupon he broke down his playing style and adopted a new one derived partly from his love of 20th-century classical music, especially Anton Webern: splintered, dissonant, lots of artificial harmonics and note clusters, all based in absolutely rock-solid technique, but creating the impression in the minds of some people unfamiliar with atonal music that he was just plinking and bashing at random, hence the trolling. Insisted that what he played was not jazz, but free improvisation. Played with everybody on the improv scene from the late 1960s to his death in 2005; wrote a brilliant book on improvisation (called Improvisation); a dry, sceptical, funny presence. In later years, revisited his roots with gorgeous albums of his unique, spiky takes on standard tunes. Could also shred.
  • Steve Bailey: South Carolinian bassist, and probably one of the most famous fretless players outside of Jaco Pastorius and Jack Bruce and certainly one of the most famous six-string bassists in any genre. Currently the Chair of the Bass Department at Berklee. No apparent relation to Derek.
  • Richard Bona: Cameroonian-born bassist known for his eclectic style that blends jazz fusion, funk, and various African musical traditions, who got his start in his native Cameroon before setting up shop in France (where he made a name for himself in the jazz clubs) and then the United States.
  • Carsie Blanton
  • Peter Brötzmann: German free jazz saxophonist best known for his blistering 1968 album Machine Gun, which remains one of the most formidable albums in the jazz canon to this day. Occasional collaborator with Derek Bailey.
  • Ornette Coleman: Texan saxophonist, composer and bandleader with a uniquely loose, exploratory approach to playing and composing. His third album The Shape of Jazz to Come rewrote the rules of jazz harmony and melody, but his 1960 album Free Jazz, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, pretty much tore the rules into shreds and flushed them down the drain. Coleman got heaped with more derision than almost any other musician of his generation, some of it coming from his own peers, but he persevered and became a beloved figure. One notable later album is his dizzying 1985 collaboration with guitarist Pat Metheny, Song X. Coleman tunes such as "Lonely Woman" and "Mob Job" have become standards. Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music.
  • Alice Coltrane: Widow of the late John Coltrane (see Bebop, Cool, and Modal above) who became a respected bandleader in her own right in the wake of her husband's death, recording a string of critically acclaimed albums in the late '60s and early '70s such as Ptah, the El Daoud, Journey in Satchidananda, and World Galaxy. One of the few jazz musicians to play the harp; also played the piano and organ. Also brought an extensive Indian music influence into her work (which John had already been starting to explore on his last few albums). Collaborated with Carlos Santana, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and others.
  • Klaus Doldinger: German saxophonist, founder of the ensembles Oscar's Trio and more famously Passport. Also composed film and television music outside of jazz (Tatort, Das Boot, The Neverending Story.
  • Eric Dolphy: Gifted multi-instrumentalist, playing alto sax, flute and bass clarinet with equal facility. Influenced by hard bop, free jazz and also 20th century classical music such as Bartok and Stravinsky; played with Mingus and Coltrane and was equally at home with both. His style was notable for its use of wide intervals; he used to listen to birdsong and try to imitate it. Beloved by everyone who worked with him, apparently. Died young of an undiagnosed diabetic condition after collapsing onstage in Germany.
  • Hadrien Feraud: French bassist who made waves in the jazz world as a promising young rising star when he was still a teenager. Known for his virtuosic playing and deep sense of groove, as well as his unorthodox and obscure cover choices when performing with bands.
  • Jim Hall: Widely regarded as one of the great guitarists in jazz; avoided the general tendency among 50s jazz guitarists to be super-fast show-offs and instead developed a subtle, thoughtful and highly musical approach which was very influential, especially on later players such as Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, both of whom he played duos with. Lived to the ripe old age of 83 and his later albums, from the 90s and 00s, show that he became more experimental and adventurous as he got older, even trying his hand at free improvisation.
  • Tigran Hamasyan: Armenian jazz pianist known for his fusion of Armenian folk and various American jazz traditions, and, depending on the album, Progressive Rock - while the folk/jazz/prog ratio tends to vary by album, he is nonetheless a jazz artist at the core.
  • Herbie Hancock: Seminal keyboardist who started in hard bop and has lasted through many shifts of style. Wrote three of modern jazz's standards — "Cantaloupe Island," "Dolphin Dance" and "Watermelon Man." His lineup on the Head Hunters album helped to create jazz fusion by adding funk influences into the mix. The first artist to have a jazz-hiphop crossover hit with "Rockit", memorable now for its Mind Screw of a video.
  • Mark Isham
  • Keith Jarrett: American pianist who started out playing with Art Blakey and who worked for a while with Miles Davis but who in the 1970s became famous for his extended, rapturous solo concerts in which he would improvise continually for over an hour, incorporating into jazz aspects of classical music, folk, blues, gospel and other genres. The most famous document of this is his classic 1975 album The Köln Concert, which has become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and deservedly so, as it's both inspired and enormously listenable (provided you're willing to listen to one guy play improvised piano for an hour.) Has gone on to make other solo albums, many of them equally great if not as celebrated, some incorporating more classical influences; has also recorded classical works, and played in a trio format. Has suffered from ill health for years, notably chronic fatigue syndrome, which almost prevented him from playing music at all for a while; is also notably intolerant of audience noise, the point that cough drops are issued to his audiences. His dark skin and Afro-style hair have caused him to be frequently mistaken for an African-American, even by other African-American musicians such as Ornette Coleman, but he's actually of Slovenian/German descent.
  • Bakithi Kumalo: South African bassist known for his great technical ability, exclusive use of fretlesses, and playing style that blends jazz fusion and soul with South African folk. His work on Paul Simon's Graceland (particularly his playing on "You Can Call Me Al") catapulted him to international fame and cemented his status as a legend, but he had been one of the top session musicians in South Africa and had been touring internationally with various artists well before then.
  • Takuya Kuroda
  • Wynton Marsalis: New Orleans trumpet prodigy, probably the most famous and popular living jazz musician (together with Sonny Rollins), who plays a more "traditional" jazz, with heavy influences from anything up to the Bebop and Cool jazz era. Has recorded both jazz and classical works. Respected for his immaculate technique and his longterm campaign to make jazz be treated as America's classical music, but controversial for his sometimes strident rejection, especially during the 1980s, of anything he regarded as anti-jazz, e.g. post-1965 avant-garde jazz and anything resembling jazz-rock or fusion.note 
    • His similarly acclaimed brother Branford is much more open to new styles and experimentation - he played on a Public Enemy track and performed with The Grateful Dead, for starters. As Wynton has got older, he too has become much more broad-minded: he was performing Ornette Coleman's music as recently as 2004.
    • The whole Marsalis family, really. Ellis, their father, is a pianist, and other brothers include Jason, a drummer and Delfeayo, a trombonist. They also play classical as well as jazz.
  • Brad Mehldau: Floridian pianist who started out as a sideman but soon developed his own polyrhythmic style and made a series of albums in the 90s called The Art of the Trio in which he blended classical-derived technique with improvisation. Particularly known for his interpretations of rock songs: he is a big fan of Radiohead and has covered several of their songs, but he's also done his own highly creative versions of tracks by The Kinks, Stone Temple Pilots, The Verve, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Nirvana and The Beatles — and that's just on one album (the admittedly four-disc 10 Years Solo Live, which also had room for standards, Mehldau's own compositions and pieces by Johannes Brahms). Rather than just solo over reharmonised versions of popular songs, he tends to break down the song structure and come up with new variations on the spot; has been acclaimed as the first jazz musician to successfully incorporate post-The Beatles popular music into jazz. Had a drug problem in the 90s but successfully cleaned up. Very brainy, interested in philosophy and literature, used to get mocked for his literate, ruminative liner notes but has now become a bit of a Living Master. Most recently collaborated with bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile.
  • Pat Metheny: Missourian guitarist, composer and bandleader. Started out as a massive Wes Montgomery fan, but his own early stuff was in a fusion vein, and became enormously popular; he's one of the few jazz musicians who can sell out big venues. Famous for his big hair, enormous toothy smile, spacious and accessible compositions and remarkable willingness to try anything: collaborated with David Bowie on the soundtrack to the film The Falcon and the Snowman, and with Ornette Coleman on 1985's blistering Song X in the 1990s, released an album of solo skronk guitar that his fans hated, but which was praised by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, and also collaborated with English avant-guitar legend Derek Bailey on the album The Sign of Four. Despite all this, still regularly sells albums by the truckload.
  • Wes Montgomery: One of the most influential jazz guitarists, on account of his exceptionally responsive and intelligent playing style: he never just plays long strings of notes but listens to himself, develops ideas and varies his phrasing constantly in a very cool way. Taught himself six-string guitar at the extremely late age of 20, although he'd played four-string guitar since 12; played with his thumb, a habit he picked up from practising late at night and not wanting to wake up his sleeping family, which gave him a huge warm tone. Released a string of excellent albums between 1958 and 1965 such as Boss Guitar, Full House and So Much Guitar!, but then largely abandoned jazz for pop-jazz, playing instrumental version of pop hits; loyal fans insist that these are just as worth listening to as his straightahead jazz albums. Died of a heart attack aged only 45. Revered by many guitarists, most notably Pat Metheny, who regards Montgomery's 1965 album Smokin' at the Half Note as the album that taught him how to play.
  • Milton Nascimento: While primarily MPB, he takes heavy influence from jazz and has collaborated with numerous jazz artists, namely Wayne Shorter (whose collaboration with Nascimento on 1974's Native Dancer served as Nascimento's international breakthrough), and is generally accepted as jazz-related.
  • The Rippingtons
  • Pharoah Sanders (yes, Pharoah, not Pharaoh): American jazz saxophonist who worked with John Coltrane in the 1960s, famed for his overblowing, harmonic, and multiphonic techniques on the instrument, plus his use of Coltrane's technique of "sheets of sound". No less a source than Ornette Coleman described him as "probably the best tenor [saxophone] player in the world". Has recorded some 30 albums as leader, of which the most famous and renowned is undoubtedly 1969's Karma, which centres around the 32-minute epic "The Creator Has a Master Plan"; as such, he is considered one of the central figures in "spiritual jazz" and a Spiritual Successor to Coltrane. Has collaborated extensively with other musicians such as Leon Thomas, Alice Coltrane, Tisziji Muñoz, and Sonny Sharrock, among others.
  • Sonny Sharrock: Jazz guitarist from Ossining, New York, who took jazz guitar in a completely different direction from the mainstream. Instead of turning down, rolling back the treble and playing intricate harmonies, he cranked up the volume, played mostly melody and experimented with pure noise and extended techniques, developing them independently of Jimi Hendrix, who was doing similar things but in a rock context. Said that he didn't consider himself a guitar player but a "horn player with a really fucked-up axe." Became visible in the 60s for his work as avant-guitarist in the band of jazz-fusion flautist Herbie Mann, and also played with one-time Coltrane sideman Pharoah Sanders; also did uncredited work on Miles Davis's Jack Johnson. Career slumped in the 70s, but bass player Bill Laswell coaxed him back into the scene and he released a series of increasingly brilliant, raging albums before dying in 1994 of a heart attack aged only 53.note  One of his last recording projects was the theme music for Space Ghost Coast to Coast. There is now a street in his home town named Sonny Sharrock Way.
  • Sun Ra: His birth certificate states that he was born Herman Blount in the early 20th century Birmingham, Alabama, but Sun Ra would maintain throughout much of his later life that he was in fact a native of a far away planet. As such, his eccentric worldview and lifestyle would often overshadowed his extremely extensive body of music, which ranges from bop, to free jazz, to doo-wop. His world view, a unique blend of black nationalism, science fiction, and magic realism, would prove to be extremely influential in both the musical and literary worlds.
    • Marshall Allen: The Arkestra's longtime alto saxophonist, who eventually stepped up as the bandleader after the deaths of Sun Ra and John Gilmore. He continues to perform to this day as both a leader and sideman at the age of ninety-nine.
    • 1961 - The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra
    • 1974 - Space Is the Place
  • Allen Toussaint
  • Hiromi Uehara: Japanese jazz pianist who originally studied classical piano before being exposed to jazz. Known for her great technical ability and musically eclectic yet cohesive compositions that seamlessly blend a wide variety of different genres.
  • James Blood Ulmer
  • Melvin Van Peebles
  • Kamasi Washington: A popular jazz saxophonist who rose to fame after being featured on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly.
  • John Zorn: Eclectic and highly prolific saxophonist and composer, best known as the bandleader for the avant-garde klezmer/jazz group Masada and the multi-genre band Naked City. Founded the experimental jazz and improv label Tzadik Records. Impossible to pigeonhole, mostly active in jazz, though his gigantic catalogue has tried out various genres and styles throughout the years.

    Latin Jazz 
A special subdivision of Latin American bandleaders who mixed jazz with influences from salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha, son and other genres. This also includes the Brazilian Bossa Nova, which is influenced by jazz and Samba.

A special subdivision of jazz are crooners. Sometimes they aren't seen as part of jazz at all, because they just sing jazz standards and don't play instruments themselves. But they are often categorized and closely associated with the genre as such. Crooning was very dominant from the 1920s until the early 1960s, but then lost popularity thanks to the emerging rock and roll scene. Nevertheless several several singer-songwriters from the rock, soul and pop world have emerged to keep crooning alive.

    Jazz rock/Jazz pop/Fusion/Nu jazz 
Some rock, pop and electronica musicians have created recordings that fuse this music together with jazz influences. The jazz fusion genre became popular in the early '70s, meshing bebop, cool, modal and free jazz with psychedelic rock. Miles Davis was a major pioneer in the style on his albums In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and many of the musicians who played on those records formed influential bands of their own. American jazz fusion bands were popular album and touring bands in the '70s, and acted as a sort of Transatlantic Equivalent of the mostly British Progressive Rock movement of the same decade. (Of course, several bands qualified as both, particularly Canterbury Scene bands.) Jazz fusion continued to be popular in jazz circles after its mainstream heyday, and other jazz subgenres emerged in the 1980s (and since), such as smooth jazz, jazz-rap (an offshoot of Alternative Hip Hop), jam bands (rock groups influenced by the Grateful Dead that emphasize jazz-style improvisation in concert), acid jazz, nu jazz, and jazz metal. Jazz Fusion and Jazz Rap have their own pages.

  • Caravan Palace, which mixes traditional gypsy-style jazz with Daft Punk-style house and techno.
  • Neneh Cherry
  • The Cinematic Orchestra: London-based collective that combine traditional jazz improvisation with elements of electronic music, particularly Trip Hop and downtempo. From Ma Fleur onwards, they also added elements of classical music into their sound.
  • Jonah Dempcy (and his various pseudonyms): similar to the aforementioned St Germain, combines jazz with the various types of electronic music, creating an alternatingly darker and lighter style. A word of warning: hip-hop, dubstep, and house are in his musical vocabulary, and he will use them.
  • Kenny G: He has to be mentioned to some extent. An American saxophonist, Kenny G is probably the most successful jazz musician worldwide in terms of record sales, but he's probably the most controversial musician on this list. He's the best known exponent of "smooth jazz", a sub-genre which has been criticized by jazz critics and fans for being barely one step above Easy Listening lounge music in lacking improv and 'swing'. He defines his own music as "instrumental pop" rather than jazz, but his critics (most memorably, Pat Metheny) have pointed out that since he is an improvising musician working within an instrumental framework, he deserves be treated as a jazz musician.
  • Gang Starr: A pioneering jazz-rap act, and rapper Guru had his Jazzmatazz series of solo albums, which he recorded with live jazz ensembles.
  • Jaga Jazzist
  • Mr Scruff: A Manchester-based producer and art graduate from Sheffield Hallam University, notable for his childish, cartoonish art style. His music combines jazz and swing with Trip Hop beats, and is sometimes seen as an Ur-Example of electro swing.
  • The Nutty Squirrels: Bebop meets Alvin and the Chipmunks. Seriously.
  • Snarky Puppy: A University of North Texas-formed jazz collective/supergroup lead by Michael League, they are easily one of the most popular jazz ensembles in America today. Their music consists of fusions of jazz, funk, rock, and EDM elements, with a jam band sensibility. You probably know them for 2014's "Lingus," in no small part due to Cory Henry's legendary solo.
  • Squarepusher: Highly eclectic electronic artist, known for his fusions of IDM and drum & bass with jazz fusion, and he is also an accomplished jazz bassist.
  • St. Germain: a French musician, he's among the pioneers of Nu Jazz and the most famous exponent, combining electronic music with jazz.
  • Moses Sumney. An experimental musician who mixes this with art pop and classical music.
  • Thundercat: While notoriously difficult to classify, Thundercat (the solo work of former Suicidal Tendencies bassist, onetime Kendrick Lamar collaborator, and frequent Flying Lotus collaborator Stephen Bruner) is generally accepted as jazz-related, as he freely mixes jazz and jazz fusion with elements of hip-hop, soul, funk, psychedelic rock, synth-funk, and yacht rock.
  • The Disney tribute album Stay Awake (1988) features many different kinds of musical interpretations of classic Disney songs, some in a crooner version, others more jazzy and even avant-garde.

    Jazz poetry & Beat poetry 
Poets who recite their poetry with improvised musical accompaniment (stereotypically bongos and congas, but not exclusively) are sometimes classified as Jazz as well.

  • Gil Scott-Heron: A civil rights activist and poet who became well-known for reciting racially-charged poems, such as "Whitey on the Moon", "Peace Go With You, Brother", and his oft-parodied signature poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised". His unfiltered, blunt delivery and social consciousness was an early predictor of rap.
  • Langston Hughes: One of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry.

Jazz in fiction:

  • Cyclic National Fascination: From the late 1980s through to the late 1990s, the 1930s-era swing jazz styles went through a revival. Bands played swing tunes, often mixing in rockabilly, boogie-woogie, and using jump blues-style horn sections. Some rock, punk rock, and ska bands mixed in swing elements. Bands also took up vintage zoot suits and retro hairstyles. Along with the swing music revival was a surge in interest in 1930s-style swing dancing. Swing revival bands and artists included Royal Crown Revue, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Brian Setzer.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Some discussions and collections of jazz emphasize how it developed in the United States, calling it “America’s Music” and “America’s Gift to the World”.