DAR Legends: 8 Black Jazz Legends And Pioneers

By @TrueGodImmortal

There was going to come a time when we expanded our musical discussion on legends to include more than just hip hop and soul artists. We've covered names like 2Pac, Biggie, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, and many more, but one thing we've neglected to mention in our Legends series is the foundation of all our music: jazz. Jazz music provided the basis for essentially most of our music, and while most of the artists who are prominent in the jazz culture have since long passed on, their legacies can never be denied. That's why today, I'm taking a look at 7 of the seminal jazz artists of our culture and what they represent. It's tough trying to narrow it down to just 7 legends, but these are the most important names in the genre of jazz and my personal favorites. Let's get into it.

*Miles Davis 

-The greatest jazz musician ever. There's no one even close to being better IMO, and that's no offense to the other legends on the list. Miles was just special. A troubled artist and a musician that would thrive off of his demons to fuel his creativity, there are a lot of relatable elements to Miles and his sfory. For me personally, there was always something that drew me to his music and his artistic plight, and later I would realize why that might be. We have the same birthday. The Illinois native was an enigma in his own right, choosing the trumpet as his preferred instrument and the rest is history. Over the years, Miles helped create so many gems and his albums are the biggest piece of his legacy without question. Miles would craft classics like Kind Of Blue, 'Round About Midnight, and Milestones before eventually branching out some and altering his style. The final piece of his legacy in jazz would come from the jazz fusion on his Bitches Brew album in 1970. Miles would experience another career resurgence before his untimely passing in 1991, but his legacy was solidified way before that. Miles Davis is without a doubt a legend and one of the greatest ever in jazz. That much is clear. 

*Lena Horne 

-One of the most elegant names and faces in jazz music, Lena Horne was a special talent. She would end up crafting and creating a legacy the extended beyond just jazz music, but her impact in the music itself was felt through her vocal stylings and the nuances that made her who she is. A native of Brooklyn, Lena would start his journey at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and from there, she rose to become a legend in her own right. With a lead vocalist role on the popular NBC Jazz series The Chamber Music Society Of Lower Basin Street, Lena would raise her profile even more. She would star in movies, become an outspoken activist, and even become blacklisted in Hollywood for her affiliations. That didn't stop her. She would end up becoming a full time live nightclub performer, releasing albums along the way, the most infamous being her live album at the Waldorf Astoria, and of course, her collaborations with Harry Belafonte (another jazz legend who just missed this list), which includes the classic Porgy and Bess. Lena was one of those artists and personalities who made sure she was visible no matter what she was doing, and she should always be remembered as a true legend and one of the female pioneers in the jazz world. She exceeded the jazz world while still embodying it through her life. A true legend.

*Louis Armstrong 

-Another legendary name in the genre of jazz is Louis Armstrong, otherwise known infamously as Satchmo. He was a trumpeter, one that would come to prominence in the 1920s for his style of play, showcasing a rather inventive side with his work. He was also a vocalist, with a distinct style that captured the listener's attention as soon as you heard his music come on. He had a very charismatic stage presence and his ability to control the crowd led to him becoming a crossover star in his own right and he was recognized as a pioneer for jazz. He would eventually take his charisma and turn it into success in both films and TV, a sign of his riding star. Still, his love was always music. He would release a number of popular singles, his biggest one being the legendary song "What a Wonderful World", which is one of the most iconic pieces of music ever. You can't talk jazz and the importance of the genre without talking Louis Armstrong, he's a seminal piece of the history. 

*Thelonious Monk

-Another favorite of mine, I would like to think that Thelonious deserves a bit more credit than he gets for his unorthodox style of jazz music. He was infamous for utilizing an improvisational style, which worked very well for him, and he holds the title as one of the most recorded jazz musicians ever. He was an acclaimed pianist and composer, who would become well known for his style, both musically and fashion wise, as his compositions would feature unorthodox melodic twists, switched key releases, and a number of hesitations atop heavy percussion. His fashion style was a topic of discussion as well, as he would gain attention for his distinct hats, suits, and of course, the sunglasses. Musically, he would release recordings on Blue Note Records, Prestige Records, Riverside Records, and Columbia Records, with a number of amazing albums and projects coming as a result, like Monk's Dream, Straight No Chaser, Thelonious Himself, Thelonious Monk Trio, and more. Thelonious was without a doubt a pioneer and one of the most vital artists in jazz history. He is without a doubt a true jazz legend.

*Billie Holiday 

-I always heard a lot about Billie Holiday growing up, but I knew very little about her music or what she did. Upon doing my own research in my teenage years, I found myself intrigued by her and wanted to hear more and learn more. The incomparable Lady Day made her name as a singer and songwriter and a jazz vocalist, where she tested the normal vocal tempos and vibrations, mostly due to her own range (which was seen as limited). She was gifted in every sense of the word, a musician who took the world by storm in her short life with her talent and her natural alluring charisma. A Philadelphia native, Billie got her fame and her true start like most jazz musicians in that era did, in Harlem. She was troubled, like many of the infamous jazz musicians of the time, serving a short prison sentence for her legal troubles and drug abuse in the 1940s, but she would continue to perform and make music to much success. Her albums and singles were loved, as many would point to her iconic record "Strange Fruit" as being her biggest song. Another classic single from Billie included "God Bless The Child", and her albums "Lady In Satin", "Stay With Me", and of course, "Lady Sings The Blues" would end up as well loved and well known records. Unfortunately, her story ended too early, as her death in 1959 brought her career to an end far too soon. Billie Holiday however made sure to maximize her time while she was here and because of that, she is undoubtedly a legend. 

*Duke Ellington 

-A native of Washington D.C., Duke Ellington is one of the most recognizable names in the history of jazz. After his arrival in New York City all the way back in the 1920s, Duke would etch his legacy in the place where jazz really began to take off: Harlem. The peak era of jazz is something special, as so many great vocalists and musicians came through Harlem during this period, and Duke was definitely one of those. He didn't like to be boxed in, and he rejected the notion that he was solely a jazz artist, but the fact remains that his calling was in the jazz genre. He was not only a composer and gifted piano player, he also led his own orchestra, which would grow to be known as the longest running and most famous jazz orchestra in music history. His work for the art form helped it grow to higher measures than before and many look at Duke as one of those vital forces in jazz earning the same credit and legacy as other genres that were more appreciated at the time. His recordings through the decades were seen as treasures, and songs like "Stormy Weather", "Sophisticated Lady", "Caravan", "Moon Indigo", and of course, "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing" made his legacy as a musician even bigger and brighter. Duke Ellington might not be my personal favorite on this list (he's still a favorite, just not over Miles or Coltrane), but he could very well be the most important name on this entire list. He's that vital to jazz and the history.

*Ella Fitzgerald 

-There are many unsung heroes in jazz for women. There aren't too many quite like Ella. Known to the world as the Queen Of Jazz and Lady Ella, her impact was felt on the genre almost instantly. Her tone when vocalizing was a thing of beauty and her delivery was top notch. She started out with a rough patch in her teenage years, but eventually she would grow to become the legend we all know very well now. Her most infamous performances came at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and many reports say that a performance from Ella was one of a kind. She would be signed to Decca Records for 20 years and in that time, she would record a number of hit singles and albums, including my favorite Songs In A Mellow Mood and Lullabies Of Birdland. She would appear on TV shows and movies, win Grammys (including a Lifetime Achievement Award), as well as earn other huge honors through her career, solidifying herself as a true legend in the process. Jazz wouldn't have been the same without the First Lady Of Song.

*John Coltrane 

-I started the list with my favorite and I'll end it off with my second favorite jazz artist of all time. Coltrane was an enigma, much like Miles Davis. His troubles weren't the same of course, but his musical ability was genius all the same. His importance is unrivaled in many ways, as he would become vital in the free jazz world. He was a superior saxophonist, composing some of the best compositions that I've ever heard in jazz music, and he worked with a few names on this list like the incomparable Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk. He contributed to the classic Kind Of  Blue, among other projects, and he also created great projects himself. From his self titled album in 1957 to Blue Train to my Favorite Things, A Love Supreme, and many others, Coltrane has an extensive catalog. Some of his best songs include "Naima", "In A Sentimental Mood", "Greensleeves", and many more. Coltrane was one of the best musicians to grace the genre, and much like the rest of the names listed here, he's a true legend.



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