The Most Influential Jazz Musicians of All Time

Jazz music has been around for over a century, and it has evolved and changed over the years. From Duke Ellington to Louis Armstrong, from Charlie Parker to Django Reinhardt, from Count Basie to Art Tatum, from Billie Holiday to Thelonious Monk, there have been many influential jazz musicians who have shaped the development of this genre. Duke Ellington is widely regarded as the most recorded and arguably the best jazz composer in history. His songs such as Satin Doll, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Mood Indigo and hundreds of other jazz standards have become iconic.

He was also a very important jazz pianist whose percussion and minimal performance influenced Thelonious Monk and others. Louis Armstrong was a jazz trumpet player who broke racial barriers and became a very famous celebrity at a time when this was unusual for African Americans. He is still considered by many occasional fans to be the “founder” of jazz itself, and his rhythmically sophisticated operatic style has made him the best jazz musician of all time according to many. Count Basie's orchestra is known for its soaked vibrato, deeply oscillating sound, and it has included future jazz legends such as Lester Young, guitarist Freddie Green, drummer Jo Jones and vocalists Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

His work in the 1950s used lists provided by arrangers such as Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico and Quincy Jones, many of which are still performed today by major bands around the world. Coleman Hawkins, also known as Hawk or Bean, is widely regarded as the father of the jazz saxophone that was not really considered a jazz instrument until its appearance in the 1920s. His best performances were in jazz ballads, with his version of Body & Soul retaining its place as one of the most famous jazz songs of all time. He has been cited as a major influence by future jazz legends such as Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz and Zoot Sims.

Art Tatum was blind since childhood and mostly self-taught as a pianist, but many consider him the greatest virtuoso in all of jazz. He would lead a trio in the style of Nat King Cole with Tiny Grimes on guitar and Slam Stewart on bass in his later career. His best-known recordings are in the tradition of solo stride, piano and ragtime of James P. Johnson. Django Reinhardt changed the role of guitarists within groups with his jazz group the Quintette du Hot Club de France which he conducted with violinist Stephane Grapelli.

With instrumentation that included only stringed instruments, Django's virtuoso acoustic solo could be heard clearly. He is considered one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time even though he played without the use of two fingers due to an accident. Billie Holiday's short and tragic career gave later generations of jazz singers great shoes to fill. She made her debut with Benny Goodman at the age of 18 and her collaborations with jazz titans such as Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Count Basie and Artie Shaw are milestones in the jazz-canon. Charlie Christian was involved in the birth of bebop, playing in famous jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse with Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Don Byas in the late 1930s. He died at just 25 years old but he has influenced virtually every major jazz guitar soloist since. Thelonious Monk was instrumental in the birth of bebop and he merged bebop with Cuban music to create Afro-Cuban jazz.

He is remembered by many music fans for his iconic bent trumpet and inflated cheeks. These are just some of the most influential jazz musicians who have shaped this genre over time. They have transcended their music to become icons of jazzy.