Jazz is one of the most popular genres of music because it incorporates almost every culture and ethnicity. It may have gotten its start in New Orleans more than a century ago, but it brought in European and African influences while encouraging improvisation to create something unique.

Instead of playing sheet music, the early pioneers of jazz used their ability to pick up tunes by ear to replicate them.

If you are starting your journey into the world of jazz, then these are the musicians that you’ll want to get to know right away.

Jazz Artists That Should Be in Your Collection

1. Louis Armstrong

Armstrong helped to bring this genre into the spotlight. He had an infectious personality, an iconic trumpet, and a gravelly voice that makes you want to sing along. His work focused more on soloists than collective improvisation or call-and-response. He recorded 55 records during a three-year period in the 1920s, which means there’s plenty of material to enjoy.

2. Duke Ellington

Ellington is one of the most influential composers in the history of American music. He wrote over 3,000 compositions during his career, with several of the tunes you likely know already. Some of his famous works include Satin Doll and It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). The combination of his personality and talent makes his work part of today’s standard jazz repertoire.

3. Charlie Parker

Parker pioneered the bebop style of jazz with his partner Dizzy Gillespie. It was so far ahead of its time that today’s musicians in this genre still use the structure. It uses a style that’s fast and incredibly technical without robbing the melody of its glory. This work would eventually turn jazz into something more for listening than dancing.

4. Miles Davis

Davis played in Parker’s band for a while, giving him some exposure to the new bebop style. He then formed a group that became famous during the hard bop era for the genre, but he delved into free jazz and the West Coast scene at times. During the latter part of his career, he worked on fusion techniques that incorporated electronic instruments. His most influential work might have been his talent to spot young musicians to encourage them to play together, creating numerous bands that influence jazz to this day.

5. John Coltrane

Coltrane is one of the best saxophone players that ever lived. His greatest innovation for the world of jazz is something we call the Coltrane Changes today. It’s a harmonic progression variation that uses substitute chords over the common ones used in the genre, leading to more options for improvisation. His work was so profound that he won a Pulitzer Prize 40 years after his death in 1967.

The world of jazz offers several periods that are worth exploring. Everyone has a favorite that they enjoy, but all of them are worth hearing. Start with these artists, and then branch out to find others that you love!