25 best jazz songs from the beginnings to today

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New Orleans jazz legend Donald Harrison plays his jazz version of
New Orleans jazz legend Donald Harrison performs his jazz version of “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
Photo: Dinah Rogers, For The Tennessean, Illustration: Andrea Brunty, USA TODAY Network

As the National Museum of African American Music opens, reporters from the USA TODAY Network explore the stories, places and people who have helped make music what it is today in our world. extensive series, Hallowed Sound.

Jazz is a kind of performance, not a song. Created in the moment by improvisation, every time a song is played it is different. These 25 recordings retrace the century-old history of this quintessential American art: from the beginnings of New Orleans to the era of swing, through the heady period of bebop, the controlled chaos of free jazz, the fusion of jazz with rock and R&B and finally to today’s stars.

Play on Spotify: Click here to listen to these songs and more

'King Porter Stomp'

The New Orleans pianist would claim he invented jazz. Without a doubt, he helped create the sound of jazz piano. Benny Goodman and his band later had success with their recording of this Morton song.

Jazz musician Louis Armstrong smiles as he recalls the good old days during an interview at his home in Queens, New York on June 10, 1970.

Jazz musician Louis Armstrong smiles as he recalls the good old days during an interview at his home in Queens, New York on June 10, 1970.
AP Photo / Eddie Adams

Armstrong’s recording shows the trumpeter’s prowess in the intro and solo. Although recorded in Chicago, King Oliver’s song references the entertainment district on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.

'A-Tisket, A-Task'
Famous jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald performs in the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on March 30, 1971.

Famous jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald performs in the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on March 30, 1971.
Ron Frehm, AP

Fitzgerald was 17, just a child, when she joined the Chick Webb Orchestra. On this updated nursery rhyme, which she co-wrote, she displays the mature and agile vocal delivery that made her a star for half a century and earned her the title of “First Lady of Song.” .

'Lester jumps in'
Count Basie, right, and his orchestra open the concert with Tom Jones performing at the Municipal Auditorium on July 8, 1970.

Count Basie, right, and his orchestra open the concert with Tom Jones performing at the Municipal Auditorium on July 8, 1970.
Jimmy Ellis / Tennessee

Basie’s tight and lively orchestra included star players including Lester Young. The epitome of cool, Young had a major influence on the saxophonists who followed him, including Charlie Parker.

Billie Holiday, the legendary American jazz singer, was born on April 7, 1915 and died in 1959 at the age of 44.

Billie Holiday, the legendary American jazz singer, was born on April 7, 1915 and died in 1959 at the age of 44.
PA

The legend of Holiday’s short life, which ended with her voice ravaged by drugs and alcohol, sometimes overshadows her talent. On “Strange Fruit,” a searing lynching tale, she shows how restraint can make a message more powerful.

'Body and soul'

Hawkins made the saxophone the flagship instrument of jazz. His play during the swing period paved the way for bebop. When the bebop arrived, Hawkins didn’t miss a beat, playing with John Coltrane, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins.

The late composer Duke Ellington in front of a Steinway & Sons piano in the mid 1940s.

The late composer Duke Ellington in front of a Steinway & Sons piano in the mid 1940s.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The song became a theme for Ellington, one of the swing era’s most important band leaders and one of the great composers in American history.

'Balance'
Mary Lou Williams jazz pianist

Mary Lou Williams jazz pianist
ASSOCIATED PRESS

For most of jazz history, few musicians other than female singers have received the attention they deserve. Williams, whose long and ever-evolving career has included writing for Duke Ellington and mentoring bebop players such as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, deserves to be better known. On the album “Zodiac Suite”, she dedicated each song to one of the signs and to a fellow musician who embodied it.

'Night in Tunisia'
The great jazzman Dizzy Gillespie performs for several thousand people on the Alumni Lawn of Vanderbilt University for the Tennessee Jazz Festival on April 9, 1977.

The great jazzman Dizzy Gillespie performs for several thousand people on the Alumni Lawn of Vanderbilt University for the Tennessee Jazz Festival on April 9, 1977.
Bill Welch / Tennessee

With his puffy cheeks and his beret, the unmissable trumpeter Gillespie was another founder of bebop. He also merged Cuban rhythms with jazz on songs such as “Manteca”.

'Ornithology'
The great jazzman Charlie Parker performed in Paris on May 8, 1949.

The great jazzman Charlie Parker performed in Paris on May 8, 1949.
JEAN-JACQUES LEVY, AP

With lightning speed and endless ideas, alto saxophonist Parker helped create bebop, which transformed jazz from dance music to a more cerebral art form.

Pianist Powell adopted the innovations of bebop, matching the speed and ferocity of horn players on the keyboard. He forever changed the way the piano was played in jazz.

'Groan' '
Drummer Art Blakey performs on the opening night of the Kool Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall on Friday June 27, 1981. His band is called The Jazz Messengers.

Drummer Art Blakey performs on the opening night of the Kool Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall on Friday June 27, 1981. His band is called The Jazz Messengers.
G. PAUL BURNETT, AP

Drummer Blakey helped forge hard bop, a style that took bebop and incorporated R&B, blues and gospel. During his long life, the Jazz Messengers also launched the careers of many star players, including Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis.

'Ruby, my dear'
Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk poses in January 1949.

Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk poses in January 1949.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Angular, quirky and often dissonant, no one played the piano like Monk. Despite being a singular performer, his compositions, such as “Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Chaser” and “Ruby, My Dear”, have become standards of the genre.

'So what'
In this publicity image released by Sony / Legacy Records, musician Miles Davis is shown during the recording session in 1959 for

In this advertising image released by Sony / Legacy Records, musician Miles Davis is shown during a recording session in 1959 for “Kind of Blue”. His music is among those that will be available in new high-resolution music downloads.
Don Hunstein, AP

Davis, who is constantly innovating, opens a space for his musicians on “Kind of Blue”, refocusing on the melody after the athletic frenzy of the bebop. The album is considered one of the milestones of jazz.

Dexter Gordon performs at the Charlie Parker Tribute at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 28, 1980.

Dexter Gordon performs at the Charlie Parker Tribute at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 28, 1980.
CRP, ASSOCIATE PRESS

Standing 6 “6 ‘, Gordon was a literal jazz giant. His deep and lyrical tenor saxophone playing made him a favorite with critics and audiences throughout his long career. In 1987, he was nominated for an Oscar du best actor in a leading role for his work in the film “Round Midnight”, but lost to Paul Newman.

Powerful bassist and composer with a relentless research spirit, Mingus’ music ranged from the heart-wrenching magnificent ballad “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” to stimulating atmospheric works such as “Solo Dancer” from his masterpiece “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady ”.

'Acknowledgement'

Tenor saxophonist Coltrane has grown from a master of bebop to an artist pushing the limits of form with free jazz. “A Love Supreme”, his masterpiece, captures him between these two poles. The four-part album, which opens with “Acknowledgment”, tells a story of struggle and redemption through jazz.

'Totem'

Trumpeter Morgan stepped out of Blakey’s Jazz Messenger. His album “The Sidewinder”, which includes “Totem Pole”, is a hard bop classic that brings back a dancing rhythm to jazz.

Free jazz, which took root in the 1960s, took improvisation to the extreme. From now on, whole songs, often dissonant, would be composed on the spot, instead of simple solos.

New York was the center of the jazz world, or at least the jazz media. The thunderous pianist Tapscott, who stayed close to Los Angeles and was deeply involved in his community, never caught the critical attention of East Coast players. His deep influence on contemporary star Kamasi Washington, however, raised his profile in jazz history.

Davis never stopped. On this 1969 album he fused jazz and rock, much to the shock of many in the jazz world.

Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis hits a note on his trumpet during the recording of & # x201c; In Performance at the White House & # x201d;  at the White House on June 18, 1993. President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton hosted the event, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Marsalis, born into a large musical family in New Orleans, rejected pop influences and experimentation with free jazz. Rather, he defended a conservative approach rooted in swing and bebop. As Director of New York Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis continues to strongly influence the course of jazz.

Jason Moran performs at the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday August 8, 2010 in Newport, RI

Jason Moran performs at the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday August 8, 2010 in Newport, RI
Joe Giblin, AP

Pianist Moran grew up dedicating himself to hip hop, until he heard Thelonious Monk interested him in jazz. His restless creativity has made Moran one of the best jazz players today.

Kamasi Washington performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Friday, May 3, 2019 in New Orleans.

Kamasi Washington performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Friday, May 3, 2019 in New Orleans.
Amy Harris, Amy Harris / Invision / AP

After recording “To Pimp a Butterfly” with rapper Kendrick Lamar, Washington released the aptly named “The Epic,” a three-hour album that pairs its big band with chorus and strings. The first track, “Change of the Guard,” clarifies Washington’s intentions and ambitions.

Ambrose Akinmusire performs with his quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, RI on Sunday August 5, 2012.

Ambrose Akinmusire performs with his quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, RI on Sunday August 5, 2012.
Joe Giblin, AP

The Californian trumpeter was commissioned to create his craziest ideas on the 2018 album “Origami Harvest”. The result mixes jazz, chamber music and hip-hop, as on this track with rapper Kool AD

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