In this video I'll go through my top 13 best jazz guitar albums of all time and talk about their history and how they impacted me and my playing.
🎸 Get my FREE Method Booklet - Play any jazz chord with just 8 shapes
🕐 Video Content Outline
0:00 - Video outline
1:37 - #1: The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark by Grant Green
2:59 - #2: Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny
5:18 - #3: Incredible Jazz Guitar by Wes Montgomery
7:08 - #4: Undercurrent by Bill Evans
9:30 - #5: Meditation by Joe Pass
11:10 - #6: Standards Trio: Reflections by Kurt Rosenwinkel
13:16 - #7: Time And The Infinite by Adam Rogers
15:41 - #8: Standards (And Other Songs) by Mike Stern
17:45 - #9: View With A Room by Julian Lage
20:16 - #10: Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane
21:30 - #11: The Best of Django Reinhardt
23:09 - #12: Footprints by Pat Martino
24:29 - #13: Cabin Fever by Lenny Breau
27:13 - Tips for listening to jazz
29:24 - Play any jazz chord with just 8 shapes (FREE PDF)
🔗 Links & Lessons Mentioned in This Video
🎸 How to play octaves
🎸 D Natural Blues lesson
🎸 Diminished scale lesson
🎸 Quartal chords lesson
🎸 Descending scale runs with slurs
🎸 Get my FREE Method Booklet - Play any jazz chord with just 8 shapes
🎸 WATCH THIS NEXT: How to play any jazz chord
💬 Lesson Description
In this video, I go through my top thirteen best jazz guitar albums of all time.
If you want to listen to some amazing, historically significant world-class jazz guitar players, then I highly recommend checking out these thirteen albums.
Jazz can be rather challenging to listen to at times, and it requires that we develop a taste and an appreciation for it.
At the end of the video, I tell a story and give some advice on listening to jazz if you’re not already a fan and if you’re not already comfortable listening to it.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson about my top thirteen best jazz guitar albums of all time. Let me know what you thought in the comments.
More of a reader? Here’s the whole lesson adapted in written form just for you 🙂
My Top 13 Best Jazz Guitar Albums of All Time
One of my all-time favorite jazz guitar licks comes from the exact introduction of Grant Green's guitar solo on the tune 'Green Dolphin Street.' I've been playing this lick for over 25 years. This got me thinking about the wealth of knowledge available in classic jazz guitar albums, so I decided to share with you what I think are thirteen of the best jazz guitar albums of all time. Whether you're looking to soak some jazz into your brain or just enjoy some world-class jazz guitarists, you'll find these albums invaluable.
Before I jump into the list, I acknowledge that jazz can be challenging to listen to at times. It requires us to develop a taste and an appreciation for it. Doing that isn’t always an easy road, but it's definitely worth it. So, if you're not already a fan or comfortable with listening to jazz, I hope this list of the best jazz guitar albums of all time helps open a door for you.
1. The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark by Grant Green
First up is the album that got me started on this journey: 'The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark' by Grant Green. I absolutely adore Grant Green's unique sound—that blend of heavy strings and a funk and blues attitude. This album captures the hard bop era of jazz, which is marked by amazing attitude and creative expression. Trust me, you’ll be amazed by Green's sustainability in playing—he could play all night without sounding stale or repetitive.
2. Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny
The next one on the list is 'Bright Size Life' by Pat Metheny. If you're interested in jazz guitar at all, you've probably heard of him. Metheny's fresh energy, virtuosity, and groundbreaking sound put him on the map. This fusion album uses triads in its harmony. Triads are common in popular music and folk songs, but can be surprisingly challenging to improvise over in jazz. 'Bright Size Life' is a fantastic representation of this innovative approach.
3. Incredible Jazz Guitar by Wes Montgomery
Next up, we have 'Incredible Jazz Guitar' by Wes Montgomery. Montgomery was one of the most influential jazz guitarists of all time, known for his robust sound and innovative techniques using octaves and playing with the thumb. Check out my lesson on playing octaves and my tutorial on 'D Natural Blues', a tune featured on this album. Honestly, any Wes Montgomery album is great, but 'Incredible Jazz Guitar' is one of my favorites.
4. Undercurrent by Bill Evans
Fourth on my list is 'Undercurrent' by Bill Evans from 1962. Evans was an amazingly tasteful and virtuosic piano player, known for his work with Miles Davis on the album 'Kind of Blue'. His chord structure in 'So What' is instantly recognizable. But this album is unique because it's a duo work with Evans and Jim Hall. Hall is an understated guitar player, focusing more on tastefulness, harmony, and melody than flashiness. This album really shows that jazz is an interactive art form, and the duo's active listening and improvisation are phenomenal.
5. Meditation by Joe Pass
Coming up next is 'Meditation' by Joe Pass. A list of the best jazz guitar albums wouldn't be complete without mentioning Joe Pass. He was a virtuosic guitarist known for his mind-blowing solo performances. The frenetic energy of his playing can be quite exciting, but my personal favorite moments are when he plays in a more relaxed and soft manner. 'Meditation' was recorded live, with Pass playing by himself on stage, which makes it all the more impressive. It's an amazing demonstration of Pass's understanding of melody and harmony, and his ability to improvise with sophistication and finesse.
6. Standards Trio: Reflections by Kurt Rosenwinkel
The sixth album on my list is 'Standards Trio: Reflections' by Kurt Rosenwinkel. It's a departure from traditional jazz, moving into a more modern jazz guitar sound. Rosenwinkel is one of the most prolific jazz guitar improvisers alive today, and this album from 2009 is my favorite work of his. He has a unique sound that's both modern and still very much harmonically pleasant. His use of interesting scale patterns and angular melodies is stimulating and refreshing. The album's opening track, also named 'Reflections', showcases Rosenwinkel's modern voice and unique harmonic language beautifully.
7. Time And The Infinite by Adam Rogers
The seventh album is 'Time And The Infinite' by Adam Rogers. When I first listened to it, I was stunned. Rogers has a unique sound that first struck me as robotic due to his precision and fast-paced scalar playing. But after listening to it multiple times, I began to appreciate the linear, constant flow of the music. Rogers' style includes a lot of chromatic notes and very clean, warm tone. This album, similar to Kurt Rosenwinkel's work, is distinctly modern and incorporates elements from fusion and more recent trends in music.
8. Standards (And Other Songs) by Mike Stern
Eighth on the list is 'Standards (And Other Songs)' by Mike Stern. Stern's career began when he played with Miles Davis, who revolutionized jazz multiple times. Stern later became a fusion jazz guitar superstar in his own right. While he has many albums that are more rock, funk, or pop-oriented, this album—where he plays jazz standards—is my favorite because it showcases his deep understanding of jazz harmony. You can hear Stern's vast knowledge and vocabulary of jazz in his fluid, fast, and light playing style.
9. View With A Room by Julian Lage
Ninth is 'View With A Room' by Julian Lage. Lage is currently very active in the jazz guitar scene, releasing albums regularly. This album, released in 2022, features Bill Frisell as a side player. Lage explores his voice in different ways across his discography, with various tones and approaches, making his work fascinating to follow. His humility and passion for the craft of jazz guitar are evident in his music. In my opinion, this is one of the best jazz guitar albums of all time.
10. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane
The tenth album is a collaboration between Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. Burrell is a traditional jazz player known for his bluesy style. However, this album leans more towards jazz than blues. It's an excellent opportunity to appreciate both Burrell's guitar work and Coltrane's saxophone mastery. Released in 1963, you can hear that it’s from the same era as the Bill Evans and Jim Hall album.
11. The Best of Django Reinhardt
The eleventh album is 'The Best of Django Reinhardt'. Reinhardt is a legendary gypsy jazz guitar player known for overcoming the limitation of losing the use of two of his fingers after a fire accident. He played everything with just two fingers, proving that limitations don't have to hold you back. Reinhardt changed the face of guitar, and his tasteful music still inspires people today. The album I recommend is a collection that covers his best work from the 1930s.
12. Footprints by Pat Martino
The twelfth album is 'Footprints' by Pat Martino. Martino is known for his unique voice in jazz guitar. His personal story is interesting - he suffered amnesia, forgot how to play, and then re-learned how to play in his own style. This album shows his fast, flashy jazz lines that meticulously follow the harmony and include chromatic notes. Martino's playing on this album, especially on the Bossa Nova standard 'How Insensitive', is pure and beautiful, and a joy to listen to on repeat.
13. Cabin Fever by Lenny Breau
Last on the list is 'Cabin Fever' by Lenny Breau. Breau is a unique figure in jazz guitar due to his diverse influences, including country, classical, and flamenco. As a child prodigy mentored by Chet Atkins, he incorporates many styles into his music, creating a unique sound. This album was recorded when he locked himself in a cabin get off heroin cold turkey. It’s not studio quality, but it does capture his private practice sessions and explorations, which makes for an intimate and special listening experience.
Tips for Listening to Jazz
These thirteen albums provide a diverse introduction to jazz guitar across different eras and styles. For the best experience, I recommend creating a playlist and listening to them in their entirety to appreciate the range and evolution of jazz guitar fully.
Diving into jazz might seem daunting at first, but I've got some advice for you. Start off by simply listening to some jazz tunes. You can hit shuffle, or listen through an album in order—whatever floats your boat. Let the music sink into your soul.
If you're finding it tough or difficult to follow, that's totally normal.
Jazz can be a challenge, but the key is just exposing yourself to more of it.
Over time, you start to pick up on the subtleties and get a feel for it. Just give yourself the space to absorb it, and hold off any quick judgments.
Here's a cool story. Back in school, in my ethnomusicology class, our first assignment was to listen to a not-so-great quality recording of a folk guitar player. The singing was rough, the guitar was a bit out of tune, but our instructor had us listen to it anyways. Our first impression of it was pretty bad.
Our homework assignment was to listen to it ten times, each time really focusing on the music. When we came back to discuss it, everyone's perspective had shifted. The same recording that was dismissed at first was now appreciated for its depth, emotion, power.
And that's the thing with music, especially jazz: exposure can really change your perspective.
The brain naturally tries to make sense of what it's listening to, and jazz, with all its complexities and nuances, can take some time to decode. So don't be discouraged. The more you expose yourself to it, the more familiar you'll become with the rhythm, style, vernacular.
Play Any Jazz Chord With Just 8 Shapes (FREE PDF)
If you're into playing jazz guitar and haven't yet gotten hold of my jazz chord booklet, you should definitely pick it up. You can download it for free here. The booklet is a mini-guide that shows you how to play any jazz harmony from any album, recording, real book, or jazz tune collection, using only eight chord shapes.
While it may sound strange, considering how dense and layered jazz music can be, it's absolutely true. With just eight chord shapes, you can accurately play any jazz chord that shows up in these tunes. But you have to see it to believe it. That's why I have a lesson that fully explains this method. If you're looking for something to check out next, I recommend that lesson.
I put up a new lesson every week. Starting next week, I'm launching a jazz chord melody series titled "Make it a Chord Melody". We're going to transform a slew of tunes into chord melodies and delve into the nuts and bolts of how that's done. It's going to be a blast, and I'm pretty stoked about it. Hope to see you there! Thanks for tuning in, take care, and happy practicing!
Like my video lessons?
I’ll send you an email when they come out each Tuesday
Just sign up here
I never spam or share your info