How do we define Jazz (with so many choices there will, of course, be so many omitted from lists like these)? Britannica defines it as: "often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. It was developed partially from ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and the use of original timbres."

Charles Mingus says: "Jazz is the language of the emotions" ; Ornette Coleman says: "Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time." ; Louis Armstrong says: "There is only two kinds of music, the good and the bad. I play the good kind."

For streaming or downloadable choices, check out the Jazz selections at Hoopla and Freegal, respectively.

Compiled by:
Brandon R.
The Birth of the Cool

Miles Davis
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Dav

"So dubbed because these three sessions -- two from early 1949, one from March 1950 -- are where the sound known as cool jazz essentially formed, Birth of the Cool remains one of the defining, pivotal moments in jazz. This is where the elasticity of bop was married with skillful, big-band arrangements and a relaxed, subdued mood that made it all seem easy, even at its most intricate. After all, there's a reason why this music was called cool; it has a hip, detached elegance, never getting too hot, even as the rhythms skip and jump." - Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Brilliant Corners

Thelonious Monk
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Mon

Considered by some to be Monks' 'artistic peak', featuring all original compositions, the complex title track notoriously required 25 incomplete takes (the final version was cut together from 2).

The complete Concert by the Sea

Erroll Garner
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Gar

"Taking tapes that may have otherwise wound up as a bootleg...this became one of the biggest albums in jazz history, selling over 225,000 copies in the first year after its 1956 release and turning into such a steady seller over the next few years, it reportedly brought Columbia Records a million dollars by 1958." - Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The Complete RCA Victor Recordings

Dizzy Gillespie
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Gil

"Although the sheer scope of this double-CD roundup of all of Dizzy's Victor sessions places it most obviously within the evolution of bebop, it is absolutely essential to Latin jazz collections as well. Here listeners find the discographical launching pad of Afro-Cuban jazz" - Richard Ginell

Ellington at Newport 1956

Duke Ellington
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Ell

"Ellington, by now on the downside of an illustrious career, was leading his band through a typically excellent appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival when his saxophonist Paul Gonzalves set in on what wound up being a swinging 27-chorus solo in the midst of "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue," whipping the crowd (until then reserved in its response to the concert) into absolute pandemonium. An exhausted Gonzalves finally collapsed on stage, leaving Ellington and crew to play an extended set just to keep the audience from rioting. The event made worldwide headlines, the resulting album became a hit, and Ellington returned to the spotlight as one of the world's most admire bandleaders." - Kenneth Bridgham


Dexter Gordon
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Gor

"The top tenor saxophonist to emerge during the bop era and possessor of his own distinctive sound, Gordon sometimes was long-winded and quoted excessively from other songs, but he created a large body of superior work and could battle nearly anyone successfully at a jam session...He caresses the melodies, creates solos that are full of swing, wit, and inspiration, and makes every phrase sound personal, fresh and original." - Blue Note

Head Hunters

Herbie Hancock
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Han

A key release in Hancock's career and a defining moment in the genre of jazz fusion, "it developed deeply funky, even gritty, rhythms over which he soloed on electric synthesizers, bringing the instrument to the forefront in jazz. It had all of the sensibilities of jazz, particularly in the way it wound off into long improvisations, but its rhythms were firmly planted in funk, soul, and R&B, giving it a mass appeal." - Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Hot Fives & Sevens

Louis Armstrong
Movies & Music – 789.5 Arm

"These recordings radically altered jazz's focus; instead of collective playing, Armstrong's spectacular instrumental (and vocal) improvisations redefined the music." Armstrong helped popularize scat singing in 'Heebie Jeebies', and his solo on 'Potato Head Blues' helped establish the stop-time technique in jazz."

The inflated tear ; Natural black inventions: Roots Strata

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Kir

This collection, from blind multi-instrumentalist Kirk (who lived in Bloomington near the end of his life), contains two distinct recordings; the first is "straight collection of blues tunes and ballads", while the second "offers an aural portrait of Kirk in a new light...What makes this remarkable is that Kirk sounds like three and four people at once playing an astonishing array of instruments from harmonium, piccolo bass, gongs and his usual array of horns and flutes. The music is provocative, accessible, moving and utterly fresh, as well as being wildly inventive". - Thom Jurek

Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Pas

Widely considered one of the best electric bass players ever, this jazz fusion inspired debut led to later collaboration in Weather Report before his life was tragically cut short. "Beyond his phenomenal bass technique and his surprisingly mature compositional chops (he was 24 when this album was released), there was the breathtaking audacity of his arrangements."  - Rick Anderson

Jazz at Massey Hall
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Qui

Considered by some to be "The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever" (the record was actually later re-issued under this title), the Quintet here is composed of five leading 'modern' bebop players of the day: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach (playing without a pre-arranged setlist, this is the only time they would all record together).

Kind of Blue

Miles Davis
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Dav

"A record generally considered as the definitive jazz album...the pinnacle of modal jazz -- tonality and solos build from chords, not the overall key, giving the music a subtly shifting of the greatest bands in history, playing at the peak of its power...the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes and chords before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised." - Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The Köln concert

Keith Jarrett
Adult Audiovisual CD – 786.2 Jar

At one time this was 'the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the best-selling piano album'. "Every pot-smoking and dazed and confused college kid -- and a few of the more sophisticated ones in high school -- owned this as one of the truly classic jazz records" - Thom Jurek

A Love Supreme

John Coltrane
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Col

"It was so interesting, when [John Coltrane] created A Love Supreme. He had meditated that week. I almost didn’t see him downstairs. And it was so quiet! There was no sound, no practice! He was up there meditating, and when he came down he said, “I have a whole new music!” He said, “There is a new recording that I will do, I have it all, everything.” And it was so beautiful! He was like Moses coming down from the mountain. And when he recorded it, he knew everything, everything. He said this was the first time that he had all the music in his head at once to record." - Alice Coltrane

Mingus Ah Um

Charles Mingus
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Min

"Charles Mingus' debut for Columbia, it is a stunning summation of the bassist's talents...where his musical forebears figure largely throughout and probably the best reference point for beginners with its immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes." -Steve Huey


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Bla

"The album stands as one of the archetypal hard bop albums of the era, for the intensity of Blakey's drumming and the work of Morgan, Golson and Timmons, and for its combination of old-fashioned gospel and blues influences with a sophisticated modern jazz sensibility."- Michael Nastos

Saxophone Colossus

Sonny Rollins
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Rol

"Indeed, while 'essential' jazz recordings abound, Saxophone Colossus rides somewhere close to the top of the list. Rollins stands as one of the greatest improvisers in all recorded jazz and constantly worked on changing his music, intensely aware of John Coltrane coming up fast on his stature as jazz’s premier tenor saxophonist. You can hear it in this record as a nervous energy, yet his tone and style remain completely accessible." - Dennis Davis

The Shape of Jazz to Come

Ornette Coleman
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Col

"Coleman's Atlantic debut was a watershed event in the genesis of avant-garde jazz, profoundly steering its future course and throwing down a gauntlet that some still haven't come to grips with. The record shattered traditional concepts of harmony in jazz, getting rid of not only the piano player but the whole idea of concretely outlined chord changes."  - Steve Huey

The Sidewinder

Lee Morgan
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Mor

"Carried by its almost impossibly infectious eponymous opening track, The Sidewinder helped foreshadow the sounds of boogaloo and soul-jazz with its healthy R&B influence and Latin tinge. While the rest of the album retreats to a more conventional hard bop sound" - Stacia Proefrock

Time Out

Dave Brubeck Quartet
Adult Audiovisual CD – 789.5 Dav

"Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time. It was a risky move...yet became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever." - Steve Huey