All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Digital Music

Finding Free and Legal Music Downloads on the Internet

By Published: August 16, 2004

This might be the richest source of all when it comes to legal live recordings, but there are two factors that must be considered: 1) Files are not compressed, so files are roughly 10 times as large as those at other sites and 2) etree is a peer-to-peer service similar to those where illegal file trading occurs, and requires software that allows other users to download files from your collection of these files while online. But in many ways this is the free exchange system idealists envision when it comes to the Internet.

U.S. Army Bands Online and other government sites

No kidding—this is at least worth checking out. In addition to nuclear bombs, it turns out your tax dollars are spent on musical interpretations of Van Gogh and the space program. Since it's the government there's a bunch of recordings and live performances free for the downloading, along with an extensive collection of other material including educational content for musicians. Among the sites are the Band Of The U.S. Air Force Reserve and, to cite one of many specific performance sites, a concert of 19th century band music by the Music Division of the Library Of Congress that took years of planning. Many more can be found by going to and doing a search for "mp3" and "jazz."

Everybody seems to be doing blogs these days and this is one of the better ones focusing on music downloads. A lengthy daily post generally ends with a list of recommended downloads. His other material is interesting, but those wanting to save a considerable amount of time can do a site search for "daily downloads," which results in several hundred of his lists.

Probably the best place to sample well-known artists, as many make one or two songs from various albums available. Almost everything is accompanied by listener reviews, although many are far too complimentary.

This CNET site is similar to Amazon, but frequently has more songs by artists available and they tend to be small-label or independent performers. Musicians generally provide good descriptions of their work.

National Public Radio

Streaming audio is everywhere; this is mentioned as an example since they're a worthy cause and they offer strong material that's a bit different from the norm. Audio and video files of exceptionally talented artists not only performing, but discussing, their work are available as free streams and—like many NPR shows—can frequently be purchased.

Record Labels

Telarc Records

More generous than most major labels in their online offerings, with nearly 100 songs from various jazz artists such as McCoy Tyner and Michel Camilo available.

Palmetto Records

A great example of a label using the Internet to offer something different. About 20 unreleased outtakes, rough mixes and live cuts from various performers can be found here .

Individual artists

Among the best offerings by major artists are guitarist Charlie Hunter with three albums of live and studio performances, saxophonist Greg Osby with about a dozen live performances from the past several years and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt with a half-dozen live performances. Similar material is posted by many artists, but surfers will likely strike out 19 of 20 times as they search for the large collections (although one or two songs are frequently available).


  • Searching for "free MP3" on Google will likely cause more headaches than rewards, but there are two good alternatives. One is Google's "Sound File" directory . The second is searching Google's "Groups" section, accessible from the search engine's main page. Two good discussion groups are and

  • Songs are more likely to be available at a musician's site than the label they record for.

  • Listen to a song or check its file size before grabbing everything at a site, since many files are only short excerpts (some sites mention this, some don't). One minute of MP3 music takes up roughly 1MB of memory, so a file that size is almost certainly a sampler.

Discuss digital music on the AAJ Bulletin Board .

comments powered by Disqus