Jazz is an influential genre of music that often suffers from a poor public reputation. It is an art form that’s incredibly unique, but the melodies often get portrayed during uncomfortable situations.

It is far more than Kenny G playing elevator music. 

The best jazz albums of all time are essential listening for anyone who wants to explore this genre beyond its surface. This list can take you through the pivotal pieces that have even helped to shape what you can hear on today’s Top 40 radio stations.

1. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

This album offers tight compositions and flawless performances. The band that Davis had at the time features three of the genre’s greatest minds: Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. It’s often listed as the most famous piece of all time because the atmosphere feels deliberate and intelligent without feeling elitist.

2. Chet Baker Sings by Chet Baker

Although it isn’t the first album that features Baker on the trumpet, it is his singing debut. The vocals are light and tight, delivering excellent renditions of standards for the genre like “My Funny Valentine.” The sequence of compositions chosen is precisely measured to provide the warm, cozy feeling that you get spending time with your loved ones. Choose it when you want to set a specific mood.

3. Out to Lunch by Eric Dolphy

Although Dolphy died at the young age of 36, his influence on jazz is still immeasurable. This album is one of the best in history that turns complex rhythms into effortless listening. It feels straightforward and honest, but you also know that there’s a lot of love behind every note. You’ll experience some experimental efforts as well, including the vibraphone on the title track. The solo forms are in perfect balance, even if some of the structures were well ahead of their time.

4. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane

Playing and recording versions of other albums and songs was a tradition of the jazz genre in the 1950s and 1960s. It was an industry-wide effort of the music business to promote specific works. Even artists like Gary Lewis and the Playboys only got a couple of original tunes per album. Everyone agrees that this Coltrane masterpiece is off-limits to that perspective. It is the masterpiece of one of jazz’s most influential artists. It will make you fall in love with the man’s work.

5. Return to Forever by Chick Corea

Although this album might not make most lists, it’s still essential listening material for the budding jazz enthusiast. The unique rhythms that come from the drums demand your interest. The keyboarding skills and atmospheres are also fantastic to consider, but the real magic is from vocalist Flora Purim. It is one of the rare options that sounds better in headphones than on vinyl.

You can also listen to anything from Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and Herbie Hancock to have an incredible experience in the world of jazz.