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Jazz music is one of America’s great artistic achievements. From its humble beginnings in the early 1900s to the most avant-garde forms today, the genre has evolved and continued to fascinate listeners worldwide.
But what are the best jazz songs? Find out below.
The Best Jazz Songs
“Dream Another” – Makaya McCraven
Who is the best jazz artist today? Many would say French drummer Makaya McCraven, who has been impressing audiences since 2007.
“Dream Another,” one of the best modern jazz songs, is the most recent on the list, having been released on 2022’s In These Times.
“Birdland” – Weather Report
Jazz fusion band Weather Report made huge waves with their 1977 album Heavy Weather. The legendary combination of Wayne Shorter on saxophone and Jaco Pastorius on bass propel the record into the stratosphere.
“Birdland” was written by Weather Report’s keyboardist Jon Hendricks and lyricist John Hendricks. Amazingly, this Charlie Parker tribute was recorded in one take.
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” – Charles Mingus
Bassist Charles Mingus was on the cutting edge of jazz from his debut recordings in the 1940s until his death in 1979.
“Goodbye Park Pie Hat” is from his 1959 release Mingus Ah Um. The tribute to saxophonist Lester Young swings at a wild pace.
It’s one of the best jazz songs to dance to if you have a lot of energy.
“My Funny Valentine” – Chet Baker
This classic from Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms has one of the prettiest melodies in jazz.
The standard has been performed by an incredible 600+ artists, but it was the signature song for trumpeter Chet Baker.
One of the best old jazz songs for sure.
“Autumn Leaves” – Cannonball Adderley
Another standard performed by a legend, “Autumn Leaves” dates back to 1945 and has also been performed by hundreds of different artists.
Saxophonist Cannonball Adderley has the definitive version of “Autumn Leaves.” It appeared on his 1958 album Something Else.
Related: The 25 Best Songs About America
“The Girl from Ipanema” – Stan Getz
Let’s get a little bossa nova in our lives, shall we?
“The Girl from Ipanema” won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965, and rightly so. Renowned saxophonist Stan Getz shines, and Perry Ribeiro’s vocals are stunning.
“Body and Soul” – Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins, known as simply Hawk, was one of the first prominent sax players in jazz.
One of the best jazz songs from before the 1940s, “Body and Soul” was a smash hit in 1939. It’s been featured on many albums, including a 1996 greatest hits set named after the piece.
“St. Thomas” – Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollin’s signature tune, “St. Thomas,” swings along to an engaging calypso beat. His fluid work on the saxophone is second to none.
Nice drum solo in this one, too.
Fun fact: though written by Rollins, “St. Thomas” is based on “Sponger Money,” a folk song from Baha.
“Mack the Knife” – Ella Fitzgerald
One of the best jazz songs to sing, “Mack the Knife” is simply fun.
Penned by eccentric duo Weill and Brect, it first appeared in their forward-thinking 1928 masterpiece Threepenny Opera.
Ella Fitzgerald gives a typically engaging vocal performance.
“In the Mood” – Glen Miller Orchestra
What are the most famous jazz pieces? Among them is certainly Glen Miller’s “In the Mood.” It even made an appearance at the end of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”
“Cantaloupe Island” – Herbie Hancock
The unmistakable melody of “Cantaloupe Island” makes it one of the greatest in the ‘best jazz songs, instrumental’ category.
Its funky beat and cool feel are entrancing.
“So What” – Miles Davis
Speaking of cool, it’s the king of cool jazz himself, Miles Davis.
Of course, he could be considered the king of jazz itself. He re-invented the genre at least three times.
The opening track from legendary Kind of Blue has one of the hookiest jazz piano parts.
“Take the A Train” – Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington was obviously one of the best jazz musicians of all time.
His signature song, “Take The A Train,” swings like no other. It features another one of the most instantly recognizable melodies in jazz.
It was written for Ellington by songwriter Billy Strayhorn and was first released in 1941.
“Round Midnight” – Thelonious Monk
“Round Midnight” is so common in the jazz repertoire that you might think it’s an old standard that pre-dates the recorded era.
Not so, in fact. Iconic pianist Thelonious Monk wrote the track in 1943 and released it a year later.
It has been covered hundreds of times and was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Fly Me to the Moon” – Frank Sinatra
What best jazz songs list would be complete without ol’ blue eyes?
One of the best jazz songs with lyrics, “Fly Me to the Moon” swings in a way only Sinatra can pull off.
“Strange Fruit” – Billie Holiday
One of the best jazz songs with a message, “Strange Fruit” eloquently describes the plight of African Americans in American history.
Billie Holiday’s chilling vocal has to be heard to be believed.
“Space is the Place” – Sun Ra
Sun Ra is the undisputed king of avant-garde jazz.
The keyboardist combined philosophy, ancient Egyptian history and religion, and a forward-thinking attitude into some of the most engaging jazz ever recorded.
“Space is the Place,” his most famous song, belongs on any best jazz songs list.
“Bitches Brew” – Miles Davis
Okay, putting this song so high definitely reveals my biases.
Not only do I love jazz fusion, but I find Miles Davis’ landmark 1970 album Bitches Brew to be one of the most interesting albums of any genre.
The epic title track is the perfect gateway into jazz fusion.
“A Love Supreme” – John Coltrane
What is the most beautiful jazz song? If you’re thinking from the standpoint of spiritual significance and transcendence of performance, it’s “A Love Supreme.”
Saxophonist John Coltrane revolutionized jazz in the 1950s and 60s. This title track from his 1965 album shows his power of feel and melody.
“What a Wonderful World” – Luis Armstrong
What is the #1 jazz song of all time? It might very well be “What a Wonderful World.”
Luis Armstrong’s 1967 smash hit is not only a jazz standard, but it’s also simply one of the most recognizable songs, period.
Even people who don’t know or like jazz can get behind “What a Wonderful World.”
“Take Five” – Dave Brubeck
What is the highest-selling jazz song? That’d be Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” and it also tops our list.
The famous saxophonist first released the standard on his 1959 album Time Out. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996.
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