Let 5 Living Jazz Artists Help Me Teach You How to Live

Written by Liam Green

Do you appreciate jazz but don’t know who to listen to or where to find great jazz?

If yes, you’ve probably YouTube and/or Spotify searched “jazz” and found heaps of grainy recordings of old dead guys, Ella Fitzgerald, or a 24/7 live stream of “Jazz Café Music Radio”. While all of this music is more or less worth listening to, the semi-pretentious music major side of me thinks you can do better. Thus, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite, and arguably some of the best, living jazz musicians that will keep you grooving.

My reasons for writing about jazz music are simple. Coming into my junior year I’ve yet again chalked my life full with responsibilities (even more than ever, not to toot my own horn), and I’ve been able to bring jazz music to the forefront of my life through academic courses and ensembles. Jazz is all about improvising, creativity, and relationships through-and-through. The flexibility of jazz is what makes the genre so refreshing, and its very history and nature can teach anyone about how to revel in the times, past or present.

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Arturo Sandoval

Album: Blues Walk (Spotify)

This 28-piece work is actually a compilation of tunes from a number of Sandoval’s albums. Arturo is known for paying homage to his array of influences and honoring his deep Latin roots, making him one of the highest-esteemed players worldwide. I needn’t say much about this 10 time Grammy Award Winner, as his music certainly speaks for itself. You can read more about Arturo at http://arturosandoval.com/ and even see him live at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis later this October. ://www.dakotacooks.com/event/arturo-sandoval-3/

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Sonny Rollins

Album: The Standard Sonny Rollins (Spotify)

Sonny Rollins got his start on saxophone growing up in Harlem, New York City, surrounded by the same jazz icons that spearheaded the Harlem Renaissance movement. Rollins drew his inspiration from artists such as Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong, and he grew to be acclaimed by musicians like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. My favorite thing about this album is its timeless ability to transport you to another place and time, as if the present slipped away and you were right there relaxing in a smoke-filled, 1950’s NYC nightclub. You can admire his accomplishments and transformation of Sonny’s facial hair by visiting http://sonnyrollins.com/

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Wynton Marsalis


Album: Standard Time Vol. 2: Intimacy Calling (Spotify)

Ever since I began playing trumpet back in the beloved days of middle school, Wynton has been my unwavering go-to for anything trumpet. Better yet, Marsalis is as captivating of a speaker as he is a player. I had the opportunity to see Wynton and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at Orchestra Hall this past month, and I’ve never heard a more talented group. I could sense the audience being continually mesmerized by the tone that Wynton set with his calm, unrushed demeanor, and I noticed each person on the edge of their seats before the start of every tune. This album boasts intimacy and is the one you’d put on for a romantic night in with your honey (or an entire pizza).

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Herbie Hancock


Album: Head Hunters (Spotify)

This album is a perfect example of the modern music powerhouse that Hancock is, given the exploration of electronic and acoustic jazz, funk, and R&B. This 14 time Grammy Award winner has explored every corner and escaped the confines of each genre to create a sound that is truly Herbie. For me, this album reminds me to take a step back from the stresses of reality, breath easy, and go with the flow.

James Morrison


Album: The Great American Songbook (Spotify)

This Great “American” Songbook was actually released by an Australian and features a British orchestra. Go figure. But actually, Morrison is one of the most versatile jazz musicians today, soloing on trumpet, trombone, and tenor saxophone. He’s the adult version of that kid everybody knows that is better than you at everything. He has even made his debut at the Olympics, albeit as the featured soloist for the 2000 Games in Sydney. Similar to all of the aforementioned artists, Morrison’s flexibility exemplifies what I consider the most important lesson that jazz music teaches: improvisation. Being able to acknowledge both the liberties and limits of every situation and convincing others you are correct is a lifelong craft, and there are always new ways and means for creativity and imagination.