The Top 10 Jazz Artists

Back from a short break I thought I’d mention that BBC Radio 3 recently announced the results of a poll for the top Jazz artist of all time. The result was:

  1. Miles Davis
  2. Louis Armstrong
  3. Duke Ellington
  4. John Coltrane
  5. Ella Fitzgerald
  6. Charlie Parker
  7. Billie Holiday
  8. Thelonious Monk (8=)
  9. Bill Evans (8=)
  10. Oscar Peterson

Although my ordering would have been a little different, I was quite surprised that the top 10 corresponded so closely with my own selection. In fact 8 of the above list would have made it into mine: Miles Davis; Louis Armstrong; John Coltrane; Charlie Parker; Billie Holiday; Thelonious Monk; and Bill Evans.

The only differences were that (a) I couldn’t possibly have had Billie Holiday without having Lester Young and (b) I simply had to have Ornette Coleman in there. To accommodate Messrs Young and Coleman I would have displaced Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. The latter are great artists, of course, but I wouldn’t say either influenced the development of Jazz as much as the others I mentioned, and that’s one of the criteria I applied.


No surprise that Miles Davis (above) came top. He changed musical direction so many times that he should actually count as four or five different musicians. It’s no coincidence that Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans all appeared on Kind of Blue, which is arguably the greatest jazz record of all time. I don’t think any serious Jazz enthusiast could have left out Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk either. And of course, Louis Armstrong just had to be there too. It’s hard to imagine what Jazz would have been without Satchmo. The same goes for the great Duke Ellington.

Anyway, it’s all a matter of personal choice. There are dozens of great jazz artists who didn’t make it into the top ten. Among my near misses were Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Eric Dolphy and Dizzy Gillespie.

Who else would you have picked?


12 Responses to “The Top 10 Jazz Artists”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:


  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I’m not really a jazz fan, but I have fond memories of listening to Thilo von Westernhagen.

    For lists like these, one has to define the criteria. Personal favourites? Most influential? Most successful? Most innovative? Most technically advanced? These categories are essentially orthogonal, so there are all sorts of combinations possible.

  3. Adrian Burd Says:

    It’s interesting to add to that list the instruments played by those artists.

  4. telescoper Says:

    It’s sad, but also worth pointing out, that they are all dead….

  5. brissioni Says:

    Did you see the New York Times article about beards?

  6. Dexter Gordon would be on my list with Miles Davis and John Coltrane at the very top. I like Chet Baker a lot but I’m not sure he’s top ten material. Sarah Vaughn. I agree completely with you about Kind of Blue.

  7. Didn’t get around to having the Jazz conversation with you when we met at IOP earlier this year. I have some recommendations for players still alive šŸ™‚

  8. Neither Evans nor Peterson would be on my list. Ornette Coleman would be. Charles Mingus too.
    I wrote about Monk recently on my blog. You might like the article:

  9. Michael Kenyon Says:

    Herbie Hancock? A helpful brother who hip people like.

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