Enumerating Some of the Best Jazz Performers and Composers

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A comprehensive list of some of the best jazz performers and composers of all time, including Miles Davis and Duke Ellington.

Jazz performers

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis was an American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical styles throughout his career, which included forays into bebop, swing, hard bop, modal jazz, avant-garde jazz, and jazz fusion. His 1959 recording Kind of Blue is described by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time and “a tantalizing transport to another realm.”

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American trumpeter, composer, singer and occasional actor who was one of the most influential figures in jazz. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in jazz. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader of a jazz orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death in a career spanning over fifty years. Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onward and gained a national reputation through his orchestra’s appearances in the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured Europe and South America. Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington embraced the phrase “beyond category” as a liberating principle and referred to his music as part of “the big C,” which encompassed seeing beyond race and into the universality of creative expression. His compositions have had a profound influence on popular music up to the present day and are notable for their innovation and feel for melody.

Jazz Composers

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a style of music that is characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and a strong rhythm. Jazz has been a major influence on many other genres of music, including rock and roll, pop, and hip hop.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), as well as the opera Porgy and Bess (1935). He wrote most of the music for both Broadway and Hollywood musicals, such as Of Thee I Sing, Girl Crazy, Strike Up the Band, Funny Face, Damsel in Distress, Shall We Dance?, An American in Paris, and Someone to Watch Over Me. Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn on September 26, 1898. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants.

Cole Porter

One of the most celebrated lyricists and composers of the 20th century, Cole Porter wrote the songs that defined an era. His sophisticated, witty lyrics and infectious melodies resulted in some of the best-known standards of all time, including “Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Born in Peru, Indiana in 1891, Porter studied at Yale University and the Sorbonne before embarking on a career in musical theater. His first major success came with the 1928 Broadway revue Paris, which introduced several of his now-classic songs. Porter went on to write the score for several more Broadway hits, including Kiss Me, Kate (1948), Can Can (1953), and High Society (1956). He died in 1964, but his music continues to be performed and recorded by some of the biggest names in show business.

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin (born Israel Beilin; Yiddish: ישראל ביילין‎‎; May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, ” Marie from Sunny Italy”, in 1907, receiving 33% of the royalties during his lifetime. He also was an owner of the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.

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