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What to listen to during the lockdown: Jazz classics for beginners (with playlists)

An original KÖZGAZDÁSZ ONLINE post.

It might have been easy to get lost among all the assignments and Teams calls since the start of social distancing, however, we believe being at home also brings new opportunities for you to try. One of them is exploring new music genres, which you can do even while working. So, there is no better timing for a deep dive into the world of jazz!

Jazz is a genre that many listen to as background music, some even like it, but only a few dare to get deeply immersed in it. It is a truly versatile genre: so many different styles are called jazz that we may not even know where to begin once we are decided. So, we have prepared a small guide for you to introduce you to the classic albums and performers based on their dominant instruments.

Go ahead and listen to jazz!


No other “instrument” expresses feelings better than human voice. It is no coincidence that we so often hear Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan sing on the radio or in movies.

They are also on our playlist. Chet Baker represents a completely different atmosphere: he used to be one of the American idols of the fifties, he was a popular singer, trumpet player and an actor.

  • Billie Holiday: Lady in Satin

  • Sarah Vaughan: Sarah Vaughan

  • Chet Baker: Chet Baker Sings


The trumpet needs no introduction, it has been widely used in most jazz formations. One of our selected artists is the famous veteran, Louis Armstrong, whose songs we most definitely recommend. One of his most popular albums might be “Ella and Louis”, where he performs together with the previously mentioned Ella Fitzgerald.

Miles Davis was one of the most innovative jazz musicians for decades, representing several alternative styles of the genre. Clifford Brown is not as popular due to his tragic early death, however, he surely was one of the most talented trumpet players.

  • Louis Armstrong: Ella and Louis

  • Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

  • Clifford Brown: Study in Brown


The most known jazz guitarist is Django Reinhardt, however, he has no albums but only compilations available. That is why he is not listed on our playlist, still, he does deserve a mention.

The titles of the selected Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass albums tell the truth: both musicians belong to the most outstanding guitar players of modern jazz. The only Hungarian musician we list is on the guitar playlist: Gábor Szabó, who used to be almost unknown in Hungary until the 90’s, while he used to play with the most famous jazz musicians overseas in the 60’s and 70’s. We have chosen his most significant album, Spellbinder, as it very clearly represents his inspiration taken from the different genres, a typical feature of his entire oeuvre.

  • Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

  • Joe Pass: Virtuoso

  • Gábor Szabó: Spellbinder


Despite not being too widespread in the 19th century, it became one of the most dominant sounds of jazz later. It appeared already in the 1920’s as a solo instrument, but it reached its highest point of popularity with the musical revolution of the 50’s and 60’s. The albums we have selected for you originate also from this very experimental, expanding period of jazz.

  • Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus

  • Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch

  • Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come


It is the dominant instrument of early jazz, from before World War II. In this period there were no albums yet, only separate pieces. It would be misleading if we listed a “best of” or a compilation list, so we rather recommend you concert recordings and clarinet performers.

  • Benny Goodman: The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

  • Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell


Even if jazz is not part of your everyday life, the 2016 La La Land movie must have brought it closer to you, and you probably have recognized that the piano is an essential part of jazz.

It may provide the rhythm, it can accompany the melody or the vocal, and it may also play solo. Duke Ellington is one the most influential characters of jazz history, and his record made at the Newport Jazz Festival is a mandatory piece. Thelonious Monk is the second most recorded pianist after Ellington and is specially known for his unique improvisation style. The Grammy award winner musician Dave Brubeck, apart from composing music for ballets, movies and even masses, primarily composed jazz. He performed together with the most famous musicians of his era, he even played once for Gorbachev in Moscow.

  • Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport

  • Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

  • Dave Brubeck: Time Out

Drums, double bass, trombone

We tend to think of them as supplementary instruments. The drums and the double bass are generally meant for providing the rhythm instead of the melody, and we hardly hear the trombone play solo either despite being an essential part of orchestras in the period of dixie and swing. Nevertheless, many characters of jazz history were outstanding musicians, and some even led popular jazz bands.

Charles Mingus is a legendary double bass player and band leader, either his record listed below, or Mingus Ah Um are both good picks for a start.

Art Blakey was the leader of a band as a drummer. We could recommend numerous albums from his oeuvre, still we have finally chosen the one called Moanin’. Jack Teagarden played with the most prominent performers of the pre-war jazz scene. From his works we have selected the 1955 album “Jazz Great” that he ended up recording with his own orchestra.

  • Charles Mingus: Blues & Roots

  • Art Blakey: Moanin’

  • Jack Teagarden: Jazz Great


We must mention that jazz helped some generally - or at least in pop music - unknown instruments start their solo careers as well. We have selected the vibraphone and the flute, focusing on a few albums.

Milt Jackson seems to be the only musician on our playlist whose album we present here – and this is not by chance: we recommend Bags & Flutes because of the flute performance of Bobby Jaspar, while the sound of Milt Jackson’s vibraphone can be heard more on the album Wizard of the Vibes.

  • Milt Jackson: Bags and flutes

  • Roland Kirk: I talk with the spirits

  • Gary Burton: Like minds

It is important to note that jazz is almost exclusively played by orchestras/big bands, so it is not only the name of the band you should look at. If you liked some of the listed pieces, you should check out the other musicians as well. For an outstanding performance all members of the orchestra need to perform well, so it would be a mistake to attribute an album to the achievement of one single musician.

We have selected our favourite pieces of each album to prepare a playlist for you. Click here: Jazz Classics list

Translated from: Images:, Columbia Records, Capitol Studios, Prestige Records, Atlantic

Written by: Bera Viktor, Sipos Sára

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