I have to admit to you guys that while we are looking at the best jazz albums of the 21st century, I have only been seriously listening to jazz for a few years at this point. We have had a look at the best vintage speakers for jazz music and had a lot of fun doing so. However, today I thought that I would kick things up a notch and put my own spin on what the best jazz albums are. I know we all have our own favorites and I thought that it would be fun to throw my list into the mix. Also, if you are like me and someone who is new to jazz, these albums would be a fantastic place for you to start your collection.
The Greatest Jazz Hits of the 21st Century
I decided pretty early on that we are not going to have any greatest hits albums on this best jazz albums of the 21st century list. I mean at the end of the day, the easiest thing for me to suggest would be stuff like Miles Davis: Greatest Hits or The Best of Ella Fitzgerald and many other albums for all the other top jazz artists or even something that is a compilation of famous artists. Instead, I wanted to focus on core albums and albums that have meant a lot to me since I started listening to jazz. Do not worry, I did a bit of “cross referencing” and I can hand on my heart say that every album I am suggesting has appeared on some other kind of “best of” list by more highly regarded music critics than I.
My sister got me this fantastic Midnight In Paris record for Christmas and to say I was blown away is a massive understatement. Duke Ellington is my personal favorite jazz musician of all time and not counting compilation albums, this is my favorite so I knew it had to be on this best jazz albums of the 21st century list. The original release of this is highly sought after by collectors, but I am more than cool with my modern pressing of it which as far as I can tell can be yours for anywhere between 20 and 30 bucks.
You have no idea how much I wish I could have listened to Duke Ellington live as he was such a talented musician. The album has so many great tracks, but it is Under Paris Skies that gets me every time. The whole album has a very relaxing kind of vibe and it is weird in that it is an album that I will only play when I am in the house by myself. It is an album that always manages to get me in a real calm and chilled out state. By far, this is my favorite jazz album and I cannot recommend it to you guys highly enough!
When you look at the majority of lists of the best jazz albums of the 21st century, I would wager that 99/100 Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is going to be on there. This was one of the first jazz albums I ever added to my collection and it remains a firm favorite to this day. You know how some albums you will put on, listen to a few tracks, skip some tracks and then call it a day? I do not think that Kind of Blue is that kind of album at all, smooth is probably the best word I can think of to describe this album as you can put it on and you will not want to skip any of it. It truly is fantastic stuff and one of the most important jazz albums of all time if you ask me!
While this is an album, I love to listen to from start to finish, it is the final track Flamenco Sketches that I love the best. It is like the whole album is building up to this and the strange this is that when I listen to this album, I always listen to it all the way through, but I never listen to it on repeat. It is like it ends with Flamenco Sketches and that is the way it is supposed to and you cannot go straight back into it again.
Here we have two amazing artists with one album in Ella & Louis Again which is a truly amazing album. To tell you the truth, many Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald albums feature on many best jazz albums of the 21st century lists, but this is the one that I like the best. It was one of the first jazz albums that I purchased brand new in my local record store and it has remained in rotation ever since. This is one pick that is very “personal” as I am not sure that this is the album many other “music experts” would have picked for their list, but this is my list so I say that it makes the cut.
What I love about this is that they complement each other so well, his deep voice and her singing scat in some cases just work together so well. It is the kind of thing that is very hard to explain if I am being honest with you. You just have to go and listen to it to get an understanding of what I am talking about. Just do not be surprised if you go down a rabbit hole of getting all the Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald albums that you can. My favorite track on this album by the way has to be Stompin’ At the Savoy which is truly timeless stuff.
You cannot have a list of the best jazz albums of the 21st century and not have Ray Charles on there. The real question is what Ray Charles album do you have? I thought long and hard about what Ray Charles album to put on here and while I am kind of breaking my own rules that I set out with the “no greatest hits” thing, I think that Ray Charles: Live In Concert 1964 has to be my favorite Ray Charles album in my collection. The thing about Ray Charles is that he is a man that really transcended jazz and fit into so many types of music, hell he has a country and western style album!
Anyway, this is a truly amazing live album, one of the best live albums I have had the pleasure to add to my collection in all honesty with you. This concert is the stuff of legend and apparently, everyone involved, not just the people in attendance were blown away by this performance. I think the whole album is great, but Ray Charles: Live in Concert really comes into its own on side two (I am talking about the viny here of course) that starts with Baby Don’t You Cry and Making Whoopee back-to-back.
I have to say that Duke Ellington & John Coltrane would probably feature on pretty much any list of jazz albums that I made, but I sure as hell knew that it had to make my best jazz albums of the 21st century list! I know we already had Dude on this list, but this is one of my favorite albums of all time and actually, this along with Kind of Blue were the two albums that started me on this journey of becoming a real fan of jazz music. It does not have a ton of tracks on the album, but each one is an absolute star in its own right. Stevie has always been the song that did it for me.
Yet even though I do have a favorite song, this is one of those albums that demands to be listened to from start to end. The first time I listened to this album was on Christmas morning a few years back and I was just blown away by it. You can get this on CD (I do have it on CD to listen to in the car) however, this is an album that has to be listened to on vinyl to truly hear it. Sure, you can listen to Duke Ellington & John Coltrane on YouTube, but trust me when I tell you that vinyl is the way this album you need to experience this.
Thanks for taking the time to have a little look at some of the best jazz albums of the 21st century. Always remember to never take a list like this too seriously at the end of the day, this is my own opinion, but I really do stand by all of the albums that we have discussed today and if you want to embrace jazz music, then these are albums that have to be in your collection.