From fashion to the Civil Rights movement, Jazz music had a huge impact on American culture in the 20th century. Learn more about the famous black jazz musicians who helped develop the genre into the huge cultural phenomenon it is today.
With a career that spanned over 5 decades, Miles Davis is one of the most influential jazz musicians in history. After starting his career in 1945, he made many contributions to the music scene. Perhaps his most notable work was his album, Birth of the Cool, which played a large role in developing the cool jazz genre. Later in his career, he played in a sextet consisting of iconic musicians like John Coltrane and Paul Chambers. Together, they recorded the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. Since its release in 1959, it has sold well over 4 million copies.
Louis Daniel Armstrong
Using his talents as a trumpeter, composer, and vocalist, Louis Daniel Armstrong made a name for himself as one of the most well-known jazz musicians. His lengthy career spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s. Armstrong began his career strong as a member of the most popular jazz band of the time, King Oliver’s band. He later went on to lead a jazz recording band, The Hot Five, under his own name. It was with this band that he released what’s known as the first song to use scatting, “Heebie Jeebies.”
John Coltrane began his career as a jazz musician by playing the alto saxophone in a navy band. After switching to tenor saxophone, he began playing in nightclubs and on the recordings of other jazz musicians. However, it wasn’t until he joined Miles Davis’s quintet in 1955 that his career really took off. However, due to his unreliability, the band fired him in 1957. During this time, he started recording songs under his own name and developed his renowned improvisational style known as “sheets of sound.” He worked with Davis one more time before forming the John Coltrane Quartet whose African and Indian influences led them to become one of the most popular jazz groups of their time.
Also known as “Yardbird,” Charlie Parker is one of the greatest saxophonists of all time. His love for music developed after receiving his first saxophone at 11 years old. Without any formal training, he taught himself how to play the instrument by listening to other musicians—Lester Young being his favorite. It wasn’t long until his passion drove him to drop out of high school and join the local musicians’ union at just 15 years old. He went on to gain popularity through jazz circuits and collaborations with other musicians. Today, we remember him as the father of the fast tempo jazz style, Bebop.