The Most Influential Jazz Musicians

Here are 6 of the most influential Jazz Musicians of all time. Enjoy the greatness!

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus was a famous African American jazz double bassist. Not only that, he was also a composer, pianist, and bandleader. Mingus was an accomplished musician born in Nogales, Arizona. He grew up in the city of Watts in California. He gained a great deal of his musical influence from church. He gained inspiration listening to Duke Ellington and studied with H. Rheinshagen, who led the New York Philharmonic at the time. Mingus gained touring experience with Lionel Hampton, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong. Some of his most ingenious works include “The Black Saint”, “The Sinner Lady”, “Pithecanthropus Erectus”, and a fusion of Jazz and Cumbia to name a few. Charles Mingus lived from 1922 until 1979.

Mary Lou Williams

The musical career of Mary Lou Williams was vast. She was born in 1910 and passed in 1981. With each approaching decade, Williams adopted different styles; from modal to avant-garde. Mary Lou Williams has even dipped into classical music with the song “Zodiac Suite”. The world of classical music welcomed her with open arms; the infamous musician has played at Carnegie Hall backed by an orchestra. Williams possessed several talents including being a pianist, composer, and even served in the capacity of a mentor. Some would argue that she is one of the most important women in the history of jazz.

Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole was an African American pioneering musician of the era of Swing. Not only that, he was also a highly influential pianist and group leader. Nat King Cole found great success in his vocal talents, specializing in light swing and ballads. He began his foray into music as a 12 year old in church who played the organ and sang. Cole began touring with a revue and then went to L.A. to perform in jazz clubs. Regarding being a pianist, he developed his own syncopated style with the piano, highlighted by melodic phrasing. Nat King Cole had a long and storied music career; he lived from 1919 until 1965.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is known for growing his style along with changing times. Hancock has become infamous for Iconic songs such as “Rockit” and “Watermelon Man”. Hancock is the recipient of numerous Grammy Awards as well as an Academy Award. He was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1940. He delved into music at an early age of seven years old. After he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a young teenager, Mozart in particular. For a somewhat brief period of his life, Hancock attended Grinnell College for the purpose of studying electrical engineering. However, Hancock never ignored his musical calling. He continued to compose and even relocated to New York to share performances with Donald Byrd, the trumpeter.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis is certainly considered to be one of the greatest musicians of his time. Davis was born in 1926 in Illinois. He was introduced to the trumpet when he was 13 years old by his father. Elwood Buchanan, a friend of his father tutored Davis and supported his quickly developing talent. Buchanan influenced Miles Davis by teaching him to play the trumpet without vibrato. At the age of 17, Miles Davis was called upon by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to go on stage and replace the sick trumpet player in the band. Once he reached the age of 18 he moved to New York City to begin his music career in jazz. Davis went on to accomplish a great deal in the world of music before passing in 1991; he received eight Grammy Awards recognizing his superior musical skills.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis has done a great deal to expand the Jazz vocabulary. He has performed a wide range of music with chamber ensembles, quartets, and big bands. He is considered one of the greatest composers and musicians in the world. Marsalis has a notable sound, recognize by its clear depth, style, and emotion. Marsalis’ superior skill expressed itself early on in life. Marsalis began performing at the age of eight years old and created a band in 1981 which he played with for 15 years consecutively.

All That Jazz

Jazz was and will always be such a major contribution in the world of music. The legacy of the  jazz genre is one that has influenced the world of music for decades with many different styles and legendary musicians – all leaving an indelible mark that lives on throughout the ages.
Jazz influences include military like instrumentation, African traditions of polyrhythmic layering, classical European chord progressions and Cuban dances and African American field songs. These elements blended together to form beautiful music called “jazz”.

Different Jazz genres


One of the earliest and quite popular forms of jazz, Dixieland, was born and nurtured in New Orleans. In the early years of the 20th century, Dixieland jazz stayed strong for over 20 years. Also known as “hot jazz”, it quickly spread from New Orleans to New York and Chicago, where a faster jazz pace was introduced. The ragtime sound of trumpets, trombones and clarinets was accompanied by a rhythm section that included drums, banjos and guitars The Dixieland jazz movement spread and moved into Chicago where a faster pace was introduced to the rhythmic jazz beat.


As the popularity of the music increased brought on by the greats like Louie Armstrong, it became more sophisticated and jazz bands began performing in venues throughout the states. This led to the Swing Era between 1935-1949, because of the rhythmical swing of the music.

Throughout the World War II era, Swing was the new word in the jazz world, and this genre was a United States favorite with the introduction of the big band sound and infamous band leaders. Swing was all about improvised sound with notes extended over each other creating an incredibly unique jazz style.


The next jazz genre introduced in the United States was Bop or Bebop. Bob was an influential staple in music land beginning in the 1940s and lasting well into the 60s. Bob nurtured harmony and melody in an up beat, fast tempo style offering complicated melodies and chords in what some described as rushed and incomplete. It worked wonders for super stars including Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Cool Jazz

Jazz is cool, especially when it comes to Cool Jazz. Around the late 40s and early 50s, following in the wake of Bebop, Cool Jazz entered the scene. Cool is characterized by a lighter tone and easy tempo as compared to Bebop. It offered the listener’s ear an easy flowing tone and stayed away from the stark complicated of Bebop. Cool Jazz signifies a pensive, calm sound in music, which then led to “soundsculpting”, using audio samples and pure sounds using digital and analog effects to alter the original sound. Using a synthesizer is a good example of producing this effect. Cool jazz often employed formal arrangements and incorporated elements of classical music. The subtle, cool sounds of Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck are classic examples of Cool Jazz.

Fusion Jazz

Jazz would not be jazz without Fusion Jazz. This genre born in the late 1960s, was a fusion of improvisation and harmony popular in Latin, rock, rhythm and blues and funk music. At this time rock was at an all time high and Fusion blended nicely and led to some great performances by legends like Frank Zappa and Herbie Hancock. During this time many jazz musicians began experimenting with electric instruments and amplified sound like synthesizers for the first time.

Modern Fusions

Rolling into the 21st century, Modern Eclectic Fusion took its place in the jazz music scene fusing styles from many different music genres from different countries and eras. During this time, punk and hip-hop gained popularity with modern fusion as the backbone to the movement. Whereas Eclectic Fusion has sounds influenced by hip-hop and punk cultures, Classic Fusion is more rooted in an Afrocentric, beatnik and hippie culture.

What is Jazz nowadays?

In this century, it hard to define jazz, because artists tend to mix all genres, from Modern Fusion, Bop and many other definitions in the jazz mix. This music is performed and recorded by musicians from all parts of the world. Jazz is known for its amazing diversity. It was born and bred in America and is a true reflection of freedom of expression and can be heard at festivals and in concert halls, universities and clubs all over the world.

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