24 Mar Hey Scott— who should I look to for jazz inspiration?
This is a question I’ve gotten a handful of times since my days at PBS— and let me tell you, I have a whole list! I picked a few of my favorites to share with you in this post (they’re my favorites both because of their musical contributions and because of their backstories). You can decide from there if that’s someone you want to dive deeper into!
My. FAVORITE. Jazz musician. Ever.
Chick was the jazz musician I looked up to when I was in school. He has won SEVERAL awards, including a 2020 Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Chick may have gotten inspired by his father, who was a jazz trumpet player. Chick started playing the drums when he was 8 years old and later started taking piano lessons from Salvatore Sullo, a notable concert pianist. Chick was playing gigs in high school and went on to study music at both Columbia University and Julliard School of Music.
Chick began his professional career in the early 1960s, recording songs with several popular artists. This eventually led to Chick creating his own albums and bands, including Return to Forever, one of Chick’s most well-known groups. Chick’s roots were in hard-bop styles, but he wasn’t afraid to push the status quo and really involve other subgenres in his songs, including bebop, classical, jazz fusion, and funk.
One of the most popular and best female jazz artists of all time— what a treasure! Ella had a difficult childhood but found her footing in music at age 15 when her name was drawn in a lottery for a spot to compete in a talent show at the local theater. She originally planned to dance, but decided to sing at the last minute. She wowed the audience, won more talent shows, and eventually went on to sing with bands including the Tiny Bradshaw Band.
Ella went on to sing with the “Jazz on the Philharmonic” tour, and worked with musicians including Louie Armstrong.
Many referred to Ella Fitzgerald as the “First Lady of Jazz”, which is a very accurate name for her— she was the first woman to become a true leader in the jazz world and paved the way for other female jazz artists to have a place and a voice.
Ella went on to win 13 Grammys with her music.
Another well-known for you to check out! He isn’t well-known because he was a blind piano player— he was a true master at the piano and is credited for weaving rhythm and blues and gospel genres together to create beautiful musical pieces.
He started learning piano when he was little. He lost his sight at age 7 but continued to develop his interest in piano and music while in school at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He worked hard to learn classical works from Beethoven and Mozart but eventually moved onto more modern styles.
Ray has earned 37 Grammy nominations and 17 Grammy Awards. Ten of his songs are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Do you have other favorite jazz artists you enjoy? Share your favorites below, you never know who might find some inspiration from those artists!