JE Blog

Top 20 favorite jazz musicians- guest post

Wendy Thomas | April 27, 2018

Hello JE members!
We have a guest writer, Marc-Andre Seguin from bringing you an informative overview of his top 20 favorite jazz musicians. Take a look at this and see who you are most inspired by and make sure to check out Marc’s site. He has a tremendous amount of information and materials for all you guitar players out there. Thanks Marc!

Miles Davis

Miles Davis is the most influential jazz musician in the twentieth century.  He was on the cutting edge of several different stylistic innovations.

His clean and minimalistic legato style of playing became legendary and at the same time allowed other bandmates to play along the edges of Davis’s more melodic approaches.

Over his lengthy career of 5 decades, he created and performed everything from bebop and cool to modal jazz styles.  He was preeminent in establishing modal jazz as a style.

Davis played with seemingly almost everybody and gave many great names in jazz a start within his own bands, such as John Coltrane and many others.

John Coltrane

This great saxophonist was influential to many musicians over his career, including non-sax players.  He played several different styles of jazz over his legendary career.

He helped pioneer modal jazz and was on the cutting edge of free jazz creating highly experimental creative spaces.  

He had a great ability to improvise earning accolades as a master of improvisation.

In his later career he used jazz voicings in a spiritual context.  

Antonio Carlos Jobim

He was the Brazilian superstar largely credited as being one of the main proponents to create the bossa nova style.

Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most recorded songs of all time.  Many of his songs remain in the standard jazz repertoire.

His music-writing legacy will ensure his songs and the bossa style remain well loved.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was a pianist, composer and bandleader.

He became most famous as the bandleader of his orchestra from their many appearances at the famous “Cotton Club” in Harlem.

He attracted many of the best players to his orchestra with many staying for decades.

Duke Ellington wrote over 1000 songs of which many became standards.  He also performed songs written by musicians in his orchestra, such as Juan Tizol (Caravan).  

He also wrote many songs with Billy Strayhorn with whom he collaborated for about thirty years (Take the A Train).

He is the most recorded jazz artist of all time.

Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck was a composer and pianist credited as one of the main proponents of cool jazz.  In actuality, this is a small part of his legacy as he enjoyed playing several styles and experimented with sounds and styles throughout his career.  His knowledge of classical music helped contribute originality to his compositions.

He contributed many songs to the standards list, such as “In Your Own Sweet Way”, plus many others.  

Many of his songs are in unusual time signatures and employ superimposed rhythmic structures and tones.  

Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk was a jazz pianist and composer of approximately 70 songs.  His compositions added many songs to the jazz standards.

He is the second most recorded jazz artist in history after Duke Ellington.  

His compositions, performances and playing style on the piano tended to be more dissonant and melodically difficult for some people to access.

Some of Monk’s contributions to the jazz standard repertoire are “Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”, plus many more.

Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny is a jazz guitarist with a burgeoning four-decade career so far.  

He has won 20 Grammy awards in twelve different categories and most recently (2018) was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Award.

He was one of the first jazz artists to utilize a unique synthesized guitar sound that has become synonymous with his style.

Many other musicians use his harmonized background phrasing and sound as a natural element of jazz in which to work with.

Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rolling’s career of seven decades has been very influential within the jazz community.

He has composed several songs which have become jazz standards such as “St. Thomas”, and “Oleo”.  

His improvisational skills are legendary, let alone his saxophone playing.  

He often uses Calypso rhythms which eventually became a signature trademark of his playing style.

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was a trumpet player, composer and singer who became an influential figure in jazz over a career spanning five decades.  

He had a beautifully distinct singing voice with many recordings and even some movie appearances to his credit.  

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is a keyboardist and composer who helped forge a new role for jazz rhythm sections early in his career with the Miles Davis Quintette.  

He also contributed significantly to the creation of the post-bop sound.

He has contributed many songs, such as “Cantaloupe Island” and “Watermelon Man”, to the jazz repertoire.

Gil Evens

Gil Evans was a Canadian jazz pianist, arranger, and composer, as well as a bandleader.  

He had an important part in the development of cool, modal, and free jazz.

His acclaimed work with Miles Davis leveled the spotlight on him as one of the greatest orchestrators in jazz.  

He collaborated with Miles Davis as an arranger on some significant albums such as; “Miles Ahead”, “Porgy and Bess”, and “Sketches of Spain” plus others.


These are some of the best jazz musicians of all time that have contributed to the jazz repertoire and the development of jazz as we know it today.  There are of course many more incredible musicians such as Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard and Ornette Coleman to name only a few.

I hope you take the opportunity to listen to some of the great works created over the last century and today as jazz continues to enrich our lives.

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

Join the Discussion

2 responses to “Top 20 favorite jazz musicians- guest post”

  1. carmen osuna says:

    Great list!!! I’ll add a few of my favorite
    Lester Bowie

  2. William Foster says:

    Great list!!! I’ll add a few of my favorites.
    -Dizzy Gillespie
    -Blue Mitchell
    -Art Pepper
    -David Binney
    -Horace Silver

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