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Influential Jazz Musicians and Albums Today

When asked to name top jazz albums or musicians, most people will cite those of the 1940s to 1970s. But who are the influencers today? Which recordings are we going to point back to in fifty years and say ‘iconic’ and mean it? Since it first developed in New Orleans, jazz has changed dramatically and profoundly, so it has become difficult to say what is jazz music. With the constant cross-pollination between genres, should we be defining jazz now? Is genre fluid the norm?

What makes defining jazz tricky is the volume of music and music linked to or influenced by jazz. It is now easier to release music if you have a recording system and are tech-savvy. Many well-known artists release their own music and even have a hand in marketing it. Gone are the days when most recording artists signed to a label, which took care of everything, from advertising gigs to selling albums, singles, and merchandise.

‘Jazz’ is a term liberally applied to music with a hint of syncopated rhythms or emphasis on the offbeat. This is not necessarily a terrible thing because it broadens jazz’s sphere but can be limiting in terms of discernment because often you listen to something labeled ‘jazz’ when it clearly is not.

So, how do we navigate through the hundreds of new releases each week, each one holding the hopes and potential despair of the musicians (and sometimes listeners)? Many seek opinions on online columns from reviewers or check out magazines – or they use social media or community platforms to find new releases for their playlists.

With true sales figures scattered among streaming platforms and playlist accounts, and charts offering no real guidance, there is no way to determine the true influence of jazz music. The volume of releases makes it difficult to imagine any single album, regardless of how excellent it is, having a massive impact. Yet from the many releases, a few remain in the mind long after the first listen and there are musicians today having huge impacts on how we interpret and hear music.

Many jazz musicians were not recognized at the time they were recording, and this is also true of some artists today. Kendrick Lamar may not be the first musician that springs to mind when we talk of jazz, yet his music is jazz-influenced, and more than one musician said they felt he would be looked back on as iconic in the future.

The ‘jazz’ label today is a testimony to the increasing diversification of music, which leads to pools of listeners for each sub or micro-genre within the genre becoming ever more diminished. Nothing, it might be argued, will have the cultural impact of Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue’ because even if it were released today, it would reach a smaller number of listeners compared to the days when record labels controlled releases. Listeners did not have the joy of diving into Bandcamp or Spotify to explore multiple genres and subdivisions. They had a gramophone record player that played one album at a time.

The way we listen to music has changed dramatically during the past two decades. Listeners have a world of music at their fingertips and can switch as easily as they can turn on their ‘phones or laptops, so maybe they no longer listen to a full track or album but can select pieces they enjoy.

Bands and musicians who are remembered as ‘iconic’ or ‘legendary’ did something revolutionary and changed perceptions. Those releases stood out as being different. Finding ones that stand out today means navigating through many releases, and many subgenres of jazz, and even then, you might miss a real gem if it is not being promoted.

Musicians today compete not only with their contemporaries but also with those musicians of the past as re-releases, collections, and newly found gems hit the stores – the big names of jazz whom everyone can remember (even those who do not like jazz). People like familiarity and even in films, where jazz music is used, more often than not, it is mainstream, and for background and it tends to be cocktail piano music, not freeform or experimental jazz.

So, who is worth noting, worth following, and who is making an impact on musicians today?

When I posed these questions to musicians and jazz lovers, the response was huge. Here are some results. These are the musicians, bands, and albums those who play jazz and those with an interest in jazz music consider important today.

Here are just some of the musicians and recordings recommended by musicians and people who listen to jazz music. Enjoy.


Matthias Eick The Door (ECM 2008)

Terence Blanchard Absence (Blue Note 2012)

Vijay Iyer See the Birds (ECM 2017)

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, Interscope Records 2015)

Houston Person and Ron Carter Chemistry (Highnote 2015)

Delvon Lamarr Close but No Cigar (Colemine 2015)

Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015)

Jonathan Finlayson Moving Still (Pi Recordings, 2016)

Dave Douglas Dark Territory (Greenleaf 2016)

Jaimie Branch Fly or Die (International Anthem Recording Co 2017)

Ambrose Akinmusire A Rift in Decorum (Blue Note 2017)

Kamasi Washington Harmony of Difference (Young Turks 2017).

Aaron Parks Little Big (Bandcamp 2018)

Cecil McLorin Salvant The Window (Mack Avenue 2018)

Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth (Young Turks 2018)

Lydian Collective Adventure (Lydian Label 2018)

Makaya McCraven ‘Universal Beings’ (International Anthem Recording Company 2018)

The Comet is Coming Trust in The Lifeforce of The Deep Mystery (Impulse 2019)

Cyrille Aimée Move On (Mack Avenue 2019)

Eric Revis Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (Apple 2020)

Dave Douglas Marching Music (Greenleaf, 2020)

Maria Schneider Data Lords (ArtistShare 2020)

Claire Martin/ Callum Au Songs and Stories (Danish Stunt 2020)

Alan Braufman The Fire Still Burns (Valley of Search 2020)

Nubya Garcia Source ( Concord Jazz 2020)

Chicago Underground Quartet Good Days (Astral Spirit Records 2020)

Joshua Redman Round Again (Nonesuch Records 2020)

Gretchen Parlato Flor (Edition 2021)

Nate Smith Kinfolk (Edition 2021)

Sungazer – Perihelion (Bandcamp 2021)

Floating Points (Pharaoh Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra) Promises (Luaka Bop 2021)

Emma Smith Meshuga Baby (Bandcamp 2022)

Cécile McLorin Salvant Ghost Song (Nonesuch 2022)

Mary Halvorson Amaryllis (Nonesuch 2022)

Samara Joy Linger Awhile (Verve 2022)

Ziv Ravitz & Lionel Loueke Within this Stone (Intuition 2022)

Musicians (in addition to any inclusions on albums mentioned above)

Yazz Ahmed, Ambrose Akinmusire, Darcy James Argue, Jamie Baum, Majid Bekkas

Steven Bernstein, Carla Bley, James Brandon Lewis, Peter Brotzmann, John Butcher

Angel Bat Dawid, Yussef Dayes, Dave Douglas, Hamid Drake, Binker Golding

Ruth Goller, Muriel Grossman, Mats Gustafsson, Mary Halvorson, Keyon Harrold

Ben Herman, Marquis Hill, Shabaka Hutchins, Samara Joy, Ingrid Jenson, Barb Jungr

Soweto Kinch, Joel Ross Kingmaker, Kendrick Lamar’ Fergus McCreadie, Cecil McLorin Salvant. Roscoe Mitchell, Ikue Mori, Nadje Noordhuis, Aaron Novik, Gretchen Parlato

William Parker, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot, Matana Roberts, Sonny Rollins, Leni Stern

Kamasi Washington, Adrian Younge, John Zorn

So, if you want to get to know the jazz of today, the above lists give you just a very few suggestions of the albums and musicians to watch for and listen to.



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