Home » Jazz Articles

Building a Jazz Library

There's more to jazz than Kenny G and Wynton Marsalis. That's why we created Building A Jazz Library. With this resource, you can home in on the players and styles essential to the past and future of jazz. Each section in this series features a brief introduction which provides some background and biographical information to shed light on each particular artist or style.

Then we list the discs. You'll find landmark material here, true high-water marks worthy of respect and attention. We recruited a special enthusiast to assemble each section in this series. These people have spent a lot of time with the subject (and probably bought way too many records to back it up). We assure you that the nuggets listed here are carefully considered and on-target. If you're new to Jazz -- or new to an artist or style -- treat Building A Jazz Library as a primer of sorts. It will provide you with enough information to step confidently into the store (or the library) and find something tasty. Or if you're a serious collector, you might just find that a few of these recommendations may fill some gaping holes on your shelf. Building A Jazz Library throws its doors wide open to all different kinds of Jazz fans and interests. Certain sounds may mesh with your particular tastes, and this series aims to bring you and the music together in perfect harmony.

So dig in, and enjoy!

Related: Essential Buying Tips for Building a Jazz Collection on a Budget.


The Keith Jarrett Trio: Ten Essential Recordings

Read "The Keith Jarrett Trio: Ten Essential Recordings" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

The Keith Jarrett Trio, or The Standards Trio, as it later became known, with Gary Peacock on double bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, is one of the most celebrated and influential jazz trios of all time. The group was formed in 1983 but Jarrett and DeJohnette had been collaborating since the late 1960s when they performed together in Miles Davis' band. The early version of the Jarrett trio featured Charlie Haden on bass, with Peacock coming in at the ...


Louis Stewart's Out On His Own: A Landmark Solo Guitar Recording

Read "Louis Stewart's Out On His Own: A Landmark Solo Guitar Recording" reviewed by Ian Patterson

Dublin's finest export? Not Guinness, but Irish jazz guitarist Louis Stewart (January 5, 1944--August 20, 2016). A guitarist of tremendous skill, invention and personality, Stewart was certainly the first world-class jazz musician to emerge from Ireland and make a name on the international stage. During a fifty-plus-year career, Stewart played with Benny Goodman, Lee Konitz, Clark Terry, Tubby Hayes, Joe Williams, J.J. Johnson, George Shearing, James Moody and fellow six-string maestro Martin Taylor. Not bad for a ...


Jaimie Branch: 7 Steps To Heaven

Read "Jaimie Branch: 7 Steps To Heaven" reviewed by Chris May

Following the 2024 re-election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, and his subsequent ratification as President-for-Life, the US Constitution was suspended. Jaimie Branch, who had passed in 2022, was one of many musicians, film makers, writers and visual artists whose work, no longer protected by the First Amendment, was declared Un-American and its broadcasting and public performance banned. Branch had been prominent among those American jazz musicians who raised their voices against the rising ...


Bill Evans: Ten Essential Sideman Albums

Read "Bill Evans: Ten Essential Sideman Albums" reviewed by Chris May

Bill Evans attracts a special sort of fan. Clinically obsessive is a reasonable description. While far from undiscerning, we find something, usually plenty, to enjoy in every record Evans played on. And we want them all in our collection. Evans' hardcore fans include practically every musician who played with him. Eddie Gomez, his bassist for 11 years, spoke for many when, in an interview for the liner booklet of Bill Evans Treasures (Elemental, 2021), he said: “Every ...


Wayne Shorter: An Essential Top Ten Albums

Read "Wayne Shorter: An Essential Top Ten Albums" reviewed by Chris May

At the start of September 2021, trumpeter Terence Blanchard released Absence (Blue Note), dedicated to saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, who for health reasons had recently been obliged to retire from performing, at least temporarily. Some people celebrating their eighty-eighth birthday, as Shorter did the previous month, might not welcome being the dedicatee of an album with such a title. They might consider a more appropriate choice of words to be Presence or even I'm Feeling Fine Thanks For Asking. ...


The Best of Basie

Read "The Best of Basie" reviewed by Bob Bernotas

In 1935, pianist William “Count" Basie (born August 21, 1904), a fixture on the jny: Kansas City jazz scene since the late 1920s, organized his own rocking, riffing, blues-based big band. The following year this freewheeling unit came east and took New York by storm. For the next decade and a half, Basie's stellar cast--which included such original jazz stylists as tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry “Sweets" Edison, trombonist Dicky Wells, drummer Jo ...


The Best of Tony Bennett

Read "The Best of Tony Bennett" reviewed by Chris M. Slawecki

"Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business, the best exponent of a song," Frank Sinatra once said. “He's the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more. There's a feeling in back of it." Tony Bennett began his career as a singing waiter in his Queens, NY neighborhood. He served in WWII as part of “the greatest generation" and returned home to his music. Two enduring career hallmarks--his inexhaustible ...


Celebrating Don Sebesky, Part 1

Read "Celebrating Don Sebesky, Part 1" reviewed by Dan McClenaghan

The passing of composer/arranger Don Sebesky in April 2023, invites a revisitation of his artistry. A Manhattan School of Music-trained trombonist, Sebesky played in the big bands of Kai Winding, Claude Thornhill, Tommy Dorsey and Maynard Ferguson. But by 1960, he found that his true passion was arranging and conducting. For this, he was nominated for 31 Grammy Awards. He won three of them. Though he received praise and accolades for his work, he was also the target ...


Ron Miles: The Best Of The Denver Jazz Doyen

Read "Ron Miles: The Best Of The Denver Jazz Doyen" reviewed by Ian Patterson

Ron Miles left the planet all too soon, but the Denver cornetist and trumpeter has left a lasting mark, both in terms of the music he made and in the people whose lives he touched. This list, a guide to ten of Miles' most significant recordings as both leader and as a sideman, reflects his playing and writing strengths. For although Miles was widely recognized as an outstanding instrumentalist, his distinctive compositions, subtly sophisticated and deeply lyrical, are works of ...


Michel Legrand: Hollywood Hitmaker And Jazz Genius

Read "Michel Legrand: Hollywood Hitmaker And Jazz Genius" reviewed by Chris May

For many jazz fans, Michel Legrand is celebrated, if he is celebrated at all, for one album only: the masterpiece Legrand Jazz (Columbia, 1958). But Legrand's jazz legacy is more extensive than that, including other historic recordings, with large and small ensembles, under his own name and by Stan Getz and Phil Woods, whose Images (RCA, 1975) is regarded by some listeners as Woods' most perfect album. Legrand began his career in Paris in the early 1950s, ...

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.