1959 was without a doubt the best year in jazz history. Even if we were to add “so far” to the end of that statement, it still wouldn’t make sense, as the revolution to come will be grounded in the roots of 1959 anyway—or it will get a new name, other than “jazz.”
John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Blue Mitchell, and Lee Morgan were just amazing. These names alone should give you an idea of how important the records of 1959 were when you think that they are not even the leading musicians of the following releases. These albums were made for eternity, and their creators even more so.
1959 also saw the first annual Grammy Awards ceremony, which awarded Ella Fitzgerald with Best Jazz Performance, Individual for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, as well as Count Basie with Best Jazz Performance, Group, for Basie.
The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 1959
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
Kind Of Blue
Kind of Blue is now regarded as one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, and it is also the best-selling jazz album of all time, as it has sold 5M+ copies. Due to its influence on several genres of music (e.g., jazz, rock, and classical), music historians have named it one of the most influential albums ever recorded. Discover more about Kind Of Blue in the dedicated post The Three Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time.
Miles Davis: trumpet; Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: alto saxophone; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Bill Evans: piano; Wynton Kelly: piano (2); Paul Chambers: double bass; James Cobb: drums
Release date August 17, 1959
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Time Out is based on the use of out-of-the-ordinary jazz tempo, as the band experimented with unusual, non-traditional time signatures, written compositions that went beyond 3/4 and 4/4, and experimentation with polyrhythms within each song. This record’s legacy continues to resonate six decades later as a testament to open-mindedness and a willingness to draw inspiration from all corners of the globe. In other words, it’s timeless. Read more about Time Out in our selection of The Three Greatest Jazz Albums.
Dave Brubeck: piano; Paul Desmond: alto saxophone; Eugene Wright: bass; Joe Morello: drums.
Release date December 14, 1959
Ornette Coleman – The Shape Of Jazz To Come
The Shape Of Jazz To Come
This is Ornette Coleman’s first release on Atlantic and a giant step forward for free jazz. Even the initial title was changed by the producer to give consumers “an idea about the uniqueness of the LP.” [see here].
Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone; Don Cherry: cornet; Charlie Haden: bass; Billy Higgins: drums
Release date November 1959
The Horace Silver Quintet & Trio – Blowin’ The Blues Away
Blowin’ The Blues Away
“By 1956, Silver had left the Messengers to record on his own. The series of Blue Note albums that followed established Silver for all time as one of jazz’s major composers/pianists. LPs like Blowin’ the Blues Away and Song for My Father (both recorded by an ensemble that included Silver’s longtime sidemen Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook) featured Silver’s harmonically sophisticated and formally distinctive compositions for small jazz ensemble.”
Horace Silver: piano; Blue Mitchell: trumpet; Junior Cook: tenor saxophone; Eugene Taylor: bass; Louis Hayes: drums
Release date November 1959
Bill Evans Trio – Everybody Digs Bill Evans
Everybody Digs Bill Evans
“Music should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise. It’s easy to rediscover part of yourself, but through art, you can be shown part of yourself you never knew existed. That’s the real mission of art. The artist has to find something within himself that’s universal and which he can put into terms that are communicable to other people. The magic of it is that art can communicate to a person without his realizing it… enrichment, that’s the function of music.”
— Bill Evans
Bill Evans: piano; Sam Jones: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums
Release date March 1959
Cannonball Adderley Quintet – In Chicago
This amazing album—quite often referred to as Cannonball & Coltrane, due to a later release recorded in February 1959—includes most of the musicians who would then go on to record Kind of Blue in March and April 1959; it is only missing Bill Evans and, of course, Miles Davis.
Cannonball Adderley: alto saxophone; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Wynton Kelly: piano;
Paul Chambers: bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums
Release date 1959
Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins – Sonny Side Up
Sonny Side Up
A one-day jam session recorded in December 1957 resulted in another gem.
“The pairing of Rollins and Stitt was highly inspired. More important than their common nicknames (and the punning album title), tenor saxophonists Rollins and Stitt were both influenced by Charlie Parker, but each took a vastly different approach to improvisation. Stitt transferred Parker’s white-hot intensity to the tenor after several fans and critics pointed out the tonal similarity of their alto sounds. Rollins was a more thoughtful player who expanded the vocabulary of bop improvisation by incorporating thematic elements into his solos and by experimenting with different melodic shapes and unusual phrase lengths.”
— Thomas Cunniffe
Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet, vocal (1); Sonny Stitt: tenor saxophone; Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Ray Bryant: piano; Tommy Bryant: double bass; Charlie Persip: drums
Release date January 1959
Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
Mingus Ah Um
The music is direct and talks to everybody, positively, strongly. Ah Um is also for sure key in making 1959 The music is direct and speaks to everybody positively and strongly. Ah Um also certainly played a vital role in making 1959 the greatest year in jazz history. It is hard to say if it is his best release—although it is certainly in close competition with The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady—but based on the number of comments we received on the “Three Greatest Jazz Albums” post, many voted for this one to take the #3 spot.
Charles Mingus: bass, piano; John Handy: alto sax (1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12), clarinet (8), tenor sax (2); Booker Ervin: tenor sax; Shafi Hadi: tenor sax (2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10), alto sax (1, 5, 6, 9, 12); Willie Dennis: trombone (3, 4, 5, 12); Jimmy Knepper: trombone (1, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Horace Parlan: piano
Release date October 1959
Sun Ra And His Arkestra – Jazz In Silhouette
Jazz In Silhouette
“In tomorrow’s world, men will not need artificial instruments such as jets and space ships. In the world of tomorrow, the new man will ‘think’ the place he wants to go, then his mind will take him there.”
— Jazz in Silhouette 1959 album notes [Bandcamp]
Sun Ra: piano, celeste, gong; Hobart Dotson: trumpet; Marshall Allen: alto sax, flute; James Spaulding: alto sax, flute, percussion; John Gilmore: tenor sax, percussion; Bo Bailey: trombone; Pat Patrick: baritone sax, flute, percussion; Charles Davis: baritone sax, percussion; Ronnie Boykins: bass; William Cochran: drums
Release date May 1959
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Moanin’
““Moanin,’” “Along Came Betty,” “Blues March” and “Are You Real?” are all played to perfection by the band and not only deservedly became integral to Blakey’s songbook, but have also found their place in the jazz canon. […] It’s rare that a jazz album—let alone a pop album—includes so many “hits.” That’s what Blakey accomplishes on Moanin’ with ease, swing, and rumble.”
Art Blakey: drums; Lee Morgan: trumpet; Benny Golson: tenor saxophone; Bobby Timmons: piano; Jymie Merritt: bass
Release date January 1959
1959, The Best Year In Jazz History:
- Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (Columbia)
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (Columbia)
- Ornette Coleman – The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Atlantic)
- The Horace Silver Quintet & Trio – Blowin’ The Blues Away (Blue Note)
- Bill Evans Trio – Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Riverside Records)
- Cannonball Adderley Quintet – In Chicago (Mercury)
- Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins – Sonny Side Up (Verve Records)
- Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (Columbia)
- Sun Ra And His Arkestra – Jazz In Silhouette (Doxy)
- Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Moanin’ (Blue Note)
Playlist “Best Jazz 1959”
Here is a link to the Spotify Playlist Best Jazz 1959, the Best Year In Jazz History, with a track for each album listed above plus 10 tracks from 10 other amazing 1959 jazz albums, including Jimmy Smith, Abbey Lincoln, Thelonious Monk, and Blue Mitchell.