Music they say heals the soul, it is often the answer to many questions. Some say the kind of songs you listen to expresses the kind of mood you wish to be in. For those who wish to express excitement and an energy-filled liveliness, what better choice of music if not jazz. Its rhythm has a way of drawing you in and warming your spirit, no wonder many lovers of jazz refer to it as spiritual. For most famous Jazz musicians, the genre is not just about the singing, its performer must not just possess a vocal ability but also the ability to play one or more jazz-related musical instruments such as the piano, keyboard, guitar, cornet, drum, trumpet, clarinet, flute, organ, saxophone, trombone, and other jazz-related musical instruments.
There are so many people who possess the skill to master the art of jazz but there are certain people who mastered the art so well and it has stuck with them so that when we listen to their music, we cannot help but love them. We could listen to their songs on and on without getting tired. Let us take a look at some famous Jazz musicians who made us fall in love with their jazz music.
Davis miles was an American jazz musician who was listed among the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Regarded as one of the most famous jazz musicians who ever lived, Miles was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois to Cleota Mae Henry and Miles Dewey Davis Jr. He had two siblings; his elder sister Dorothy Mae and a younger brother named Vernon. His dad was a dentist while his mother was a music teacher and a violinist. Miles grew up to become a music composer and bandleader mastering the use of the trumpet and flugelhorn. He attended an all-black elementary school named John Robinson Elementary School. It was at the early stage of his life that he began to develop an interest in music, he also had a love for sports and mathematics.
When he was only 9 years of age, his father’s friend, John Eubanks gifted him his first trumpet with which he began to build up his culture in music taking music lessons with Elwood Buchanan. He attended East St. Louis Lincoln High School and was on school’s marching band as a trumpet player. He was 15 when he started playing for bands. He used his earnings to pay for his sister’s university tuition fees.
He further attended piano and music theory classes at Juilliard School in New York City but dropped out after three semesters following his failure to register for the 1945 autumn classes. Another reason behind his drop out was so he could go full-time with his music career. He joined the four-man saxophonist band, Charlie Parker’s bebop in 1944 and played with them until 1948. He made musical records for labels like Capitol Records, Prestige Records, Columbia Records and Warner Bros. Records. One of his evergreen songs is Rolling Stone. His Kind of Blue album was released in 1959 and was rated as one of the most popular Jazz albums of all time. Others include Freddie Freeloader, Round About Midnight, So What, Boplicity and many others.
Miles died in Santa Monica on September 28, 1991, at the age of 65.
Next on the list of famous jazz musicians we love is Louis Daniel Armstrong who was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana to William Armstrong and Mary Albert. He grew up in a poor black neighbourhood which he often called the “Battlefield“. He attended the Fisk School for Boys and used to work for a Lithuanian Jewish family named the Karnoffskys but with the high rate of race discrimination back then, the Karnoffskys were largely condemned for taking Armstrong in, even though they themselves were also subjeced to discrimination by their fellow white folks.
As things began to shape up for the young Jazz player, he began going on tour with different bands, mostly as a temporary member replacing a regular band member. His career continued to mature and soon he started doing solo’s and singing as well. Things only got better for Armstrong in the early 1920s as he accepted an invite from King Oliver to come to Chicago and join his band, Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. It was with Oliver that he made his first studio recordings, under Gennett Records.
Armstrong returned to Chicago in 1925 and formed his own jazz band called Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five. His initial ‘Hot Five’ members included his wife Lil Armstrong (piano), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Kid Ory (trombone) and Johnny St. Cyr (banjo). Within a year, starting in late 1925, the band produced 24 records which included top hits like Potato Head Blues and Muggles.
In 1964, he recorded his biggest-selling record in his career, Hello, Dolly. Four years later in 1968, he recorded his last trumpet performance from his album Disney Song’s the Satchmo Way. Other of his well-known songs include What A Wonderful World, When You’re Smiling and Go Down Moses.
On July 6, 1971, the world lost one of its famous Jazz musicians, the great trumpeter and an ambassador of jazz. Armstrong died of a heart attack in his residence, in Corona, Queens, New York.
Multiple award winner Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was famously known as a bandleader, musician, composer and conductor. The jazz music icon was a master of the piano. He was born on April 29, 1899, in Washington but he lived most of his life in New York City. Ellington was a jazz musician throughout his adult life and even after his death. He was active as a professional for half a century, from 1914-1974.
Ellington’s parents were pianists James Edward and Daisy Kennedy Ellington from whom he inherited his passion for the piano. He started taking lessons from a music teacher named Marietta Clinkscales when he was only 7. He was eventually nicknamed Duke by his friend Edgar McEntree who thought of him as a nobleman during a time when black men weren’t regarded as noblemen due to colour. While he was taking piano lessons, Ellington was more interested in baseball; he felt it was his parents’ desire for him to become a pianist and not his, so he skipped more classes than he attended. But as fate would have it, listening to others playing the piano grew his likeness for the instrument and he gradually began to have interest in it. He then began taking his piano lessons more serious and soon enough he could read music.
Ellington wanted to play baseball but ended up becoming one of the best and most famous jazz musicians of all time. He started playing in clubs and cafés in Washington and became so passionate about music that he turned down an art scholarship from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, in 1916. As his success grew, he moved out of his parent’s house and bought his own house.
In 1917, he formed his own jazz band called The Duke’s Serenaders but it did not last long. After his first group disbanded, Ellington went on to lead several other bands, conducting and composing. His orchestra is known to be the best unit in the history of jazz. His fame continued to broaden and he was known not just in America but around the world. He made records for so many American record companies and collaborated with other prominent jazz musicians like himself.
The jazz legend died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, but before his death, he recorded songs like It Doesn’t Mean A Thing, Take The ‘A’ Train, Never No Lament, Caravan and Satin Doll.
Late American renowned jazz saxophonist and composer John William Coltrane, was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina to John Coltrane and Alice Blair. He lost his father when he was 12 years old, which left him to be raised by his mother. He is not only an influential saxophonist but also one of the famous jazz musicians of his time. He mastered the art of playing the alto saxophone and flute and was one of few musicians that popularized free jazz. During the course of his 22 active years as a jazz musician, he made not less than 50 records and was featured in many other musicians’ albums. He worked with jazz legends like Davis Miles and Thelonious Monk. During his active years as a jazz saxophonist, he was signed under four record labels: Prestige, Blue Note, Atlantic and Impulse! Records.
At 40, Coltrane’s struggle with liver cancer claimed his life. He died at Huntington Hospital in Long Island on July 17, 1967. John Coltrane recorded songs like Giant Steps: Naima, Equinox, Moment’s Notice, My One And Only Love, Lazy Bird, Afro Blues and All Blues.
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Monk has a reputation for being one of the greatest and famous jazz musicians of all times. The origin of modern jazz and bebop leads right back to him, as he was one of the pioneers of the sub-music genre. Thelonious Monk was born on October 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He was a jazz pianist and a composer as well. He is only behind Duke Ellington as the most recorded jazz composer, writing about 70 songs.
Like many others, Monk started out playing in the church. He would go on evangelical tours with his church and was the church’s organist. He learnt to play the piano and soon began playing a different style of music, unlike the one he played in the church. He worked as the house pianist at a nightclub in Manhattan called Minton’s Playhouse.
During the course of his music career, he was signed under four popular record labels, Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and Columbia. The musical genius specialized in jazz, cool jazz, bebop and hard bop as his music genre. His style was unique and unorthodox, he would play the piano for a while, then stand up to dance a little before returning to playing the piano. Such style of performance made him stand out from others.
He died on February 17, 1982, in Englewood, New Jersey and has since been honoured with several awards and recognitions like the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a special Pulitzer Prize and his name was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
Monk will always be remembered for his long list of hit songs some of which include You Wouldn’t, Blue Monk, Four In One, Round Midnight, In Walked Bud, and lots more.