Essential Jazz Artists

Everyone’s telling us how much they loved our list of Essential Classical Composers and Jazz Artists! Well, almost everyone. You have strong opinions about who made the top 13—and who didn’t.

It's WRTI’s Essential Countdown!  You voted, and here are the results...

WRTI's Essential Jazz Artist No. 1: Miles Davis

Feb 10, 2017

Miles Ahead is the name of an album and a film, and might as well be the name of the WRTI Most Essential Jazz Artist list, since you voted Miles Davis your No. 1.

That clean, clear, flexible, and soulful voice can only belong to "The Queen of Song," Ella Fitzgerald. She amazes us with her improvising, range, and pristine intonation sounding like a trumpet at times. And she makes us laugh out loud when she scats, sounding like she knows something we don’t. But above all, Ella sounds like a lady, and one of the greatest jazz performers of any kind, of any time. You voted her the No. 2 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

Don’t let that big smile fool you into thinking that Satchmo was only an entertainer. He was the most important pioneer in jazz. He basically re-invented trumpet playing. He was hugely popular in five decades and over many periods in jazz. With playing, singing, and even acting, Louis was the international ambassador for the American art form of jazz.

Even in a musical genre built on distinctive personality—jazz—the sound of Trane soars above. His tenor saxophone was unlike anything anyone had ever heard, then or since, and you voted him your No. 5 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

There are not enough letter O's in smooth when you’re talking about the Duke. Ellington was elegance personified. This band leader was refined in everything—from how he dressed, to his compositions, to his playing, to his connection with audiences. But no matter how smooth his manner or refined his looks, it all came down to one thing—“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” And boy did Ellington swing.

Billie Holiday possessed one of the most distinctive singing voices in jazz, and was always stretching the boundaries, and improvising within the vocal line. In a life cut short by drugs and alcohol, "Lady Day" mesmerized audiences with her interpretations of standards such as “God Bless the Child.” But her version of the anti-lynching cri de coeur “Strange Fruit” became the “Marseillaise” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Charlie Parker, Credit: William Gottlieb

Yesterday’s No. 9 was Count Basie, and he influenced a kid from Kansas City who became the fastest, cleanest operator of an alto saxophone through the remote harmonies of bop that followed Big Band’s heyday. “Yardbird” or “Bird,” he was Charlie Parker. You voted this phoenix-like talent the No. 8 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

WRTI's Essential Jazz Artist No. 9: Count Basie

Jan 31, 2017

If it’s refined and sophisticated, but it’s jumping and swinging and striding all at the same time, you’re talking Count Basie, and you voted William James Basie the No. 9 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

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