Jazz music has produced many amazing albums that have stood the test of time, but which jazz album has sold the most copies? And which one was the first to sell a half-million or a million copies?
To answer these questions, we will explore the following points:
- The RIAA Certification
- The First Jazz Album to Go Gold
- The First Jazz Album to Go Platinum
- The #1 Selling Instrumental Jazz Album of All Time
- The #1 Selling Jazz Album of All Time
- The #1 Selling Jazz-Related Album of All Time
1. What is the RIAA Certification?
The RIAA certification is the official way to count the number of sold copies of an album or a single. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is a trade organization that represents the recording industry in the United States. Its central role is to protect the intellectual property rights of its members (e.g., record labels, music publishers, and other organizations that are involved in the production and distribution of music).
The RIAA has a system to certify the sales of albums (and singles) and it awards various levels of certification based on the number of units sold:
- Gold: At least 500,000 copies sold
- Platinum: At least 1 million copies sold
- Multi-Platinum: 2-9 million copies sold
- Diamond: 10 million copies sold
These certifications are now based on a combination of physical and digital sales, as well as streams.
2. What Was the First Jazz Album to Go Gold?
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
The first jazz album to go gold was Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, on April 19, 1963. Specifically, it was certified:
- 2x Multi-Platinum on February 18, 2011
- Platinum on April 28, 1997
- Gold on April 19, 1963
Time Out is also one of the Three Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time.
3. What Was the First Jazz Album to Go Platinum?
The first jazz album to go platinum was Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock, on November 21, 1986. It was certified:
- Platinum on November 21, 1986
- Gold on April 23, 1974
Head Hunters is also one of the greatest jazz-fusion albums of all time.
4. What is the Best-Selling Jazz Instrumental Album of All time?
Kind of Blue
The best-selling jazz instrumental album of all time is Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, with five million certified units sold. It was certified:
- 5x Multi-Platinum on November 18, 2019
- 4x Multi-Platinum on October 7, 2008
- 3x Multi-Platinum on January 16, 2002
- 2x Multi-Platinum on August 4, 1999
- Platinum on April 28, 1997
- Gold on August 10, 1993
Kind of Blue is also one of the Three Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time.
5. What is the Best-Selling Jazz Album of All Time?
Come Away with Me
(Blue Note Records)
The best-selling jazz album of all time is Come Away with Me by Norah Jones, with 12 million certified units sold. It was certified:
- 12x Multi-Platinum on November 22, 2021
- 10x Multi-Platinum on February 15, 2005
- 9x Multi-Platinum on May 19, 2004
- 8x Multi-Platinum on September 22, 2003
- 7x Multi-Platinum on June 18, 2003
- 6x Multi-Platinum on April 16, 2003
- 5x Multi-Platinum on March 6, 2003
- 4x Multi-Platinum on February 6, 2003
- 3x Multi-Platinum on January 6, 2003
- 2x Multi-Platinum on November 7, 2002
- Platinum on August 22, 2002
- Gold on May 15, 2002
Some might say that this is the most un-jazz-like album released by Blue Note or underline that Norah Jones won some of her Grammy Awards in the pop categories that year. Yet, Come Away with Me was released on Blue Note, which is clearly a jazz label. Plus, Norah Jones was supported by jazz musicians—and not just anyone, but musicians like Bill Frisell.
Therefore, we can comfortably argue that Come Away with Me is definitively a jazz album, and so it is the best-selling jazz album of all time. But if you do not like this answer, then just wait for the next one…
6. What is the Best-Selling Jazz-Related Album of All Time?
The best-selling jazz-related album of all time is Breathless by Kenny G, with 12 million certified units sold. Specifically, it was certified:
- 12x Multi-Platinum on June 18, 1998
- 11x Multi-Platinum on September 13, 1996
- 10x Multi-Platinum on January 11, 1996
- 8x Multi-Platinum on April 5, 1995
- 7x Multi-Platinum on November 29, 1994
- 6x Multi-Platinum on January 5, 1994
- 5x Multi-Platinum on July 20, 1993
- 4x Multi-Platinum on April 30, 1993
- 3x Multi-Platinum on March 2, 1993
- 2x Multi-Platinum on January 18, 1993
- Platinum on January 18, 1993
- Gold on January 18, 1993
Breathless, a typical, contemporary smooth-jazz album released in 1992 may pass the 13X multi-platinum mark before Come Away with Me. So, if you did not appreciate seeing Norah Jones beat out Miles Davis, now you will certainly break into a cold sweat!
However, if you appreciate Kenny G’s music, then you should take a look at the best smooth-jazz albums of all time.
Beyond the popularity of contemporary jazz at the end of last century and the always-enjoyable vocal-jazz style, we can only appreciate seeing albums like Kind of Blue passing million after million units sold as a testament to its connection with listeners across generations. We are sure that in the future, Miles Davis will manage to lead this list and once again be the best-selling jazz album of all time!