Jazz is a daunting genre. It's big and complex. There are so many musicians, recordings, instruments, etc. that it's almost hard to find a starting point. My wife and I started getting into jazz when our children were born (we love listening over dinner). But as we added to our collection, I began to get overwhelmed quickly. So I took a step back and started to think about the instruments and the styles. I've found that even with that simple mindset, it's much easier to browse through our LPs. And once you have a firmer grasp on that, you can start thinking about the different labels and collaborations. It all starts to connect.

Naturally, I started thinking about how this thinking would translate into a blog post. Rather than writing a bunch of words about different albums, that frankly, I'm entirely unqualified to do, I turned to what I know best - lists and charts. And I feel like the saxophone was the most natural entry point. It's worth noting that I consider this list 100% entry-level. It's not comprehensive or absolute.

Before we start, here's a quick overview of the styles mentioned in this post:

Bebop/Bop Fast and complex with lots of improvisation
Hard Bop An extension of bebop with a rhythm and blues influence
West Coast/Cool Jazz A calmer, more formal response to bebop and hardbop
Free Jazz More experimental and less structured

And a quick note on vinyl:

Amazon isn't the best place to buy jazz vinyl. If a popular record is $10, there's a reason. Many older jazz recordings are in the public domain, and knock-off labels will put up cheap recordings (usually just sourced from a CD). I've listed a few legit Amazon recordings, but try to stay away from labels like Wax Time or Jazz Wax. It's a little more effort, but I always prefer to find an original recording on Discogs.

Jazz at Massey Hall

Charlie Parker / The Quintet

The Jazz Giants '56

Lester Young

Saxophone Colossus

Sonny Rollins

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

Art Pepper

Somethin' Else

Cannonball Adderley

Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster

Coleman Hawkins / Ben Webster

The Shape of Jazz to Come

Ornette Coleman

Two of a Mind

Paul Desmond / Gerry Mulligan


Dexter Gordon

Out to Lunch!

Eric Dolphy

Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter

A Love Supreme

John Coltrane