This Saturday (4/30) is international jazz day. It’s the one day of the year when the world comes together to honor one of the most complex musical styles. To get some inspiration on how you’ll celebrate, let’s take a look back at some of the most famous jazz musicians that we’ve lost over the years.
Louis Armstrong is who many people think of first when they hear jazz. Out of all of the jazz musicians who have played the trumpet, Armstrong is probably the most famous. With a career that spanned five decades, Armstrong entertained audiences around the world, not only with his trumpet, but with his scat singing as well. It’s his distinctive, gravelly voice that truly transcends time, though. Whether you’re watching a movie and hear “What a Wonderful World” or are sitting around the Christmas tree and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” comes on, you immediately know it’s Louis Armstrong.
Another famous trumpeter, Miles Davis was one of the biggest innovators in the jazz scene during the 20th century. He, and the musical groups he was a member of, came up with things like bebop and cool jazz. Although Davis passed away in 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 because he was such an influential person in the jazz community. He was a member of some of the first great jazz quintets and sextets. “King of Blue,” however, is probably what Davis is best known for, as it is considered his great work.
Although her real name was Eleanora Fagan, Billie seemed to fit her style and personality way better. Holiday left her mark on jazz and pop music by changing what people thought they knew about tempo and phrasing. In fact, the way she sang in her songs was inspired by the way jazz musicians play. She rose from performing at clubs around Harlem, to selling out Carnegie Hall and signing contracts with major record labels like Columbia Records. Sadly, the final years of her life were filled with drug and alcohol abuse. Her voice was never quite the same after she struggled with these substances, but her legend will never be forgotten.
Although Dizzy was just a nickname, with the kind of melodies he played, there was no way people could call him a plain name like John Birks with a straight face. Names like Davis or Armstrong are who modern trumpeters oftentimes try to emulate because Dizzy’s playing style was so complex. It’s not every day that someone develops a style like that. Gillespie only sang occasionally in order to fully let his trumpet shine. Another way he influenced jazz was by promoting the Afro-Cuban music scene. By bringing Afro-Cuban rhythms into jazz, he created a sound all his own that further influenced future jazz musicians.