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Building a Jazz Library

A complete list of essential jazz recordings.

By Steve Williams

Salt Lake City, UT – This is a listing of artists and recordings I believe are essential to building a basic jazz library. Some are simply a 'Best Of' recording, meant to introduce a collector to a composite of the artist's work and not necessarily the most historic recording. Numbers don't determine importance of one recording over the other.


Miles DavisKind of BlueColumbia
Dave BrubeckTime OutColumbia
Count BasieApril in ParisVerve
Bill EvansPortrait of JazzFantasy
Stan Getz/JoaoGetz and GibertoVerve
Duke EllingtonBlues in OrbitColumbia
Oscar PetersonThe Lost TapesVerve
Ella FitzgeraldSings the BluesPablo
Sarah VaughnThe Best ofPablo
Nat King ColeAfter MidnightCapitol
Stan KentonRetrosepctive-4Capitol
Erroll GarnerMagician & Gersh.TelArcive
Hi-Lo'sColumbia YearsKoch
Mose AllisonAllison WonderAtlantic
Louis ArmstrongDecca HighlightDecca
Ben WebsterJaz Round MidnightVerve
John ColtraneGentle Side of...Impulse
Clifford Brown/MaxAnd Max RoachEmArcy
Billie HolidayBillie SongbookVerve
Benny GoodmanSlipped Disc 1945Columbia
George ShearingBest of 1960-69CapitolCD
Modern Jazz QuartetDedicated to ConnieAtlantic
Gerry MulliganConcert Jazz BandVerve
Gill Evans/Miles DavisPorgy & BessColumbia
Lester YoungBlue LesterSavoy
Johnny HartmanWith ColtraneMCA/Impulse
Nancy WilsonSwingin's MutualCapitol
Herbie MannEvolution of MannAtlantic
Woody HermanThundering HerdsColumbia
Shirley HornHere's to LifeVerve
Lionel HamptonReunion NewportRCA/BlueBird
Art BlkeyBest of MessengersBlueNote
Art TatumBest of TatumPablo
Coleman HawkinsIn a Mello TonePrestige
Ella & Duke EllingtonElla & DukeVerve
Maynard FergusonChris Connor 2sCapitol
Keith Jarrett TrioStandards LiveECM
Red Garland TrioGroovyPrestige
Art PepperNo LimitContemporary
Milt JacksonReverence & CompassQwest
Charlie ParkerBird-Origin RecsVerve
Chet BakerChetRiverside
Dizzy & BirdJazz at Massey HallFantasy
Thelonious MonkBest ofBlueNote
Bud PowellBest ofBlueNote
Horace SilverSong for FatherBlueNote
Wes MontgomeryPlays the BluesVerve
Joe PassAppassionatoPablo
Basie & WilliamsSwings/SingsVerve
Sonny RollinsBest of BlueNoteCapitol
Ella Fitzgerald/Louis ArmstrongVerve

This list could easily have contained hundreds of recordings, but I've narrowed my favorites down to this group . . . recordings that give an enthusiast a basic introduction to the important movers and shakers of the jazz scene.

Steve Williams is KUER's Jazz Director and weeknight jazz host from 8pm to midnight.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.