What are the best jazz vocal albums of all time? Jazz vocalists have consistently been trailblazers of voice throughout the history of music. Their innovative delivery is the gold standard that many pop, soul and rock singers strive to emulate. You've got to have pipes if you want to sing jazz, which means that narrowing down a list of the best vocalist albums is a challenge and a half. Even though it may be hard to settle on the best, it's harder still to beat the task of sifting through the contenders.
The Best Jazz Vocal Albums of All Time
Consider these jazz vocal albums:
Lady Sings The Blues by Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday - aka Lady Day - could fill up a list of best vocal albums from her own catalog alone. Still, Lady Sings The Blues stands out as a classic. The album, released in 1956, was Holiday's third studio album and was released the same time as a ghostwritten autobiography of the singer's life of the same name. This album contains many of Holiday's most memorable songs, including Strange Fruit, God Bless the Child, Good Morning Heartache and of course, the stunning title track. Later, Lady Sings The Blues became the title of a biopic based on Holiday's life.
Ella and Louis/Porgy and Bess by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
It's hard to imagine a more talented combo than Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. On Ella and Louis, the duo performed 11 ballads hand-selected by Norman Granz, founder of legendary jazz label Verve. The album was an instant hit and remained one of the jewels of Verve's formidable catalog. In fact, the album was so popular that it was one of the first released in CD format.
The Ella and Louis model was so successful that there were two follow-ups, Ella and Louis Again and most significantly, Porgy and Bess. Porgy and Bess was the soundtrack to the 1959 movie of the same name, which itself was based on the Gershwin opera of the same name. Porgy and Bess is considered to be a work of historical significance by the Grammy Foundation, which also inducted it into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
Black Coffee by Peggy Lee
Originally released in 1953 as a 10" album - the format popular at the time - Lee re-released Black Coffee in 1956 as a 12" with four additional songs. To some extent, Lee got caught up in a format shift, which impacted album sales, but still, neither version of the album made it onto the charts. However, although listeners might not have responded at the time, the album has since earned a reputation for being one of jazz's best vocal performances. Jazz critics name this album in their top 10 lists time and again. In 2004, after being out of print for many years, Black Coffee was finally reissued as part of the Verve Master Edition series of CDs.
Come Fly with Me by Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra is one of the most successful jazz crossover artists ever, and Come Fly with Me is his masterpiece. The title track is one of Sinatra's best known and more beloved hits, and the soulful crooning on this album is hard to match. The album was released in 1958 in a mono version and then re-released as a stereo album in 1962. It was a contender for album of the year at the very first Grammy ceremonies.
The album's iconic cover art, featuring a drawing of Sinatra, thumb out, standing in front of a jet, was intensely disliked by Old Blue Eyes himself. He felt the album looked like an advertisement from TransWorld Airlines and lobbied passionately - but unsuccessfully - for it to be changed.
New Moon Daughter by Cassandra Wilson
After a long drought of jazz vocalists, Cassandra Wilson burst onto the scene in the 1990s with New Moon Daughter. Although this was the album that made Wilson a household name, many fans didn't realize she had been releasing albums since the mid-1980s.
Some critics quibbled a bit with the heavy use of covers on the album rather than original material, and some objected to Wilson's move to a more pop-crossover sound. Despite the objections, the album reached number one on Billboard jazz charts in 1995 and has since been recognized as a classic.
More Jazz Vocalists Albums
In your search for the best jazz vocal albums of all time, don't overlook these gems:
- Sarah Vaughn with Clifford Brown
- Beach Samba by Astrud Gilberto
- What a Difference a Day Makes by Dinah Washington
- Blue Light Red Light by Harry Connick, Jr.
- Pastel Blues by Nina Simone
- That Bad Eartha by Eartha Kitt
- Mark Murphy Sings by Mark Murphy
- Love Scenes by Diana Krall
- Chet Baker Sings by Chet Baker
- Once Upon a Summertime by Blossom Dearie