The Best of Modern Jazz Music: Instrumental

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for the best in modern jazz music? Check out our list of the top 10 instrumental jazz albums of the past decade!

The Birth of Modern Jazz

In the early 1940s, a new type of music was born. This music was a blend of African American vernacular music and European art music. It was first played in the clubs of New Orleans and eventually spread to other cities like Chicago and New York. This new style of music was called “jazz.”

The Bebop Revolution of the 1940s

While big band swing was the dominant form of jazz during the 1930s and early 1940s, a new style began to emerge in the mid-1940s, led by a group of young musicians who came to be known as bebopplayers. These musicians were influenced by the harmonic and melodic innovations of European classical music, as well as by the African-American musical traditions from which jazz had arisen. They began to experiment with more complex harmonic progressions, faster tempos, andrhythms that were not based on the standard four-beat measure. This new style came to be known as bebop, and it quickly gained popularity among young jazz musicians.

Bebop was initially met with resistance from older, more established jazz players, who felt that the new style was too difficult to play. However, bebop soon became accepted as a legitimate form of jazz, and its popularity continued to grow throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Bebop artists such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie made significant contributions to the development of modern jazz, and their influence can still be heard in many contemporary jazz styles.

The Cool Jazz Movement of the 1950s

The Cool Jazz Movement of the 1950s was spearheaded by Miles Davis and his seminal album “Birth of the Cool.” This period marked a shift away from the bebop style of jazz towards a more subdued and introspective sound. The cool jazz movement was short-lived, but its influence can still be heard in many modern jazz recordings.

The Golden Age of Modern Jazz

From the mid 50s to the mid 60s, jazz music was on the rise with more and more people becoming interested in the genre. This was the golden age of modern jazz, where some of the best instrumentalists in the world came together to create beautiful music. Let’s take a look at some of the best instrumentalists of this era.

The Hard Bop Movement of the 1950s and 1960s

The Hard Bop Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a extension of Bebop, with compositions reflecting the increased interest in R&B and Gospel music. The lyrics were often personal and introspective, with themes of love, relationships, and loss. Hard Bop also incorporated elements of Latin Jazz and Blues. The primary exponents of Hard Bop were Horace Silver, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane.

The Avant-Garde Jazz Movement of the 1960s

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new type of jazz emerged that was even more experimental than bebop. This new style came to be known as avant-garde jazz, free jazz, or simply “the new thing.” Like bebop, this new style of jazz was largely influenced by African-American music, but it also incorporated elements of European classical music and other genres.

One of the most important innovators of this new style was saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Coleman’s approach to improvisation was radically different from that of previous generations of jazz musicians. Rather than basing his solos on pre-composed melodies, Coleman improvised his solos based on the overall mood or “feeling” of the piece. This approach to improvisation would come to be known as “harmolodic.”

Coleman’s landmark album The Shape of Jazz to Come was released in 1959 and is widely regarded as one of the most important albums in the history of jazz. Other important avant-garde jazz recordings from this period include Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch (1964), Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity (1965), and Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures (1966).

The Legacy of Modern Jazz

The best of modern jazz music features various artists that have helped to shape the genre into what it is today. These artists include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. These legends of jazz have inspired countless other artists and continue to influence the genre today.

The Jazz Fusion Movement of the 1970s and 1980s

The Jazz Fusion Movement of the 1970s and 1980s is considered by many to be a high point in the history of jazz music. Instrumentalists such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis blended elements of jazz with other genres such as rock, funk, and Latin music to create a new, unique sound. The results were often complex and sophisticated pieces of music that pushed the boundaries of what was possible within the jazz idiom.

During this period, many young musicians were drawn to the possibilities of jazz fusion and took the genre in new and exciting directions. Groups such as Weather Report, Return to Forever, and The Headhunters produced some of the most innovative and influential music of the era. In addition to expanding the sonic palette of jazz, these artists also brought new themes and ideas into the music, reflecting the social and political upheaval of the times.

The Jazz Fusion Movement was also marked by a renewed interest in improvisation and individual expression. Soloists such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis had always been considered masters of improvisation, but in the 1970s and 1980s there was a new generation of musicians who were equally dedicated to this art form. Players like Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, and Wayne Shorter became known for their ability to create beautiful melodies on the fly, often using techniques borrowed from other genres such as rock and blues.

The legacy of the Jazz Fusion Movement can still be heard in today’s jazz landscape. Many of the ideas pioneered by these artists have become staples of modern jazz practise, and their influence can be heard in the music of younger generations of players. The Jazz Fusion Movement was a pivotal moment in jazz history, and its impact is still being felt today.

The Neo-Bop Movement of the 1980s and 1990s

In the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of jazz musicians came to the fore, influenced as much by R&B, rock, and Latin music as by bebop and hard bop. This Neo-Bop movement fused traditional jazz elements with a more contemporary sound, and produced some of the most influential jazz musicians of the late 20th century. Among the most notable Neo-Bop artists are saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Sonny Rollins, pianist McCoy Tyner, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and bassist Marcus Miller.

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