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10 Jazz Albums that Made their Mark
on Grammy History

Blog
10 Jazz Albums that Made their Mark on Grammy History

06.04.2018

Text: Cem Kayıran

As the Grammy Awards found their recipients for the 60th time just a few weeks ago, we take a journey into ceremony’s past to remember 10 jazz albums that left a mark on Grammy history.

Awarded for the first time in 1959, over time the Grammy Awards have been divided into a wider categories and have also updated some others. As such, let us make note that the albums included below are mentioned alongside the title of their winning categories at the time of their release.

Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes (From the Underground)
(1986 – Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Best Improvised Jazz Solo)

If you ever dare attempt to trace the Grammy Awards jazz tree, from time to time you will witness various artists establish dominance across different categories. Kicking off New Orleans trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' three-year dynasty over the best “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” category, Black Codes (From the Underground) earned the musician two awards in the same year. Produced by Steven Epstein, the album laid bare, at only 23, Marsalis' powerful abilities as bandleader.

Bill Evans – Converations with Myself
(1964 – Best Jazz Instrumental Album)

Earning praise and five-star reviews from many prestigious music publications, Bill Evans' album Conversations with Myself earned the artist his first Grammy. Much discussed for its unusual overdub production technique and bringing about many innovations in album recording, many music authorities regard this album as the piece that opened the door for modern jazz.

Miles Davis – Tutu
(1987 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo)

One of the most inspiring figures in jazz history, Miles Davis received the fifth Grammy Award of his career for his 1986 release, Tutu. Incorporating layers that could be considered new to jazz listeners, such as synthesizers and drum machines, into his music, Tutu, with its disruptive attitude that comes alongside Davis’ unparalleled know-how, is viewed as one of the major albums that piqued younger generations’ interest in jazz.

Pat Metheny Group– Offramp
(1983 – Best Jazz Fusion Performance)

Having received 10 Grammy Awards to this day, Pat Metheny’s 1982 release, Offramp, was the album that earned the artist his first Grammy. Offramp, in which we heard his soon-to-be signature instrument, the guitar-synthesizer, for the first time in his music, also holds an important place in the artist’s discography as his band’s first album to include vocals. Including odes to Metheny’s important inspirations Ornette Coleman and James Taylor, the album was also selected the year’s Best Jazz Album in the Playboy Readers Poll.

Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dear Ella
(1998 – Best Jazz Vocal Album)

Recorded by Dee Dee Fitzgerald as an ode to legendary musician Ella Fitzgerald who passed way in 1996, the album Dear Ella was one of the favorites at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards Ceremony. Earning Bridgewater the prestigious “Best Jazz Vocal Album” award for the first time, the album also received one more award that night, as his arrangement for “Cotton Tail” earned Slide Hamilton the award for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).”

Stan Getz & Joâo Gilberto – Getz / Gilberto
(1965 – Album of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album)

Recorded by Stan Getz, who has been honored with countless awards throughout his career, and Brazilian guitarist Joâo Gilberto, the 1964 album Getz / Gilberto not only masterfully brought together the traditions of jazz and bossa nova, but also made Grammy Award history. Getz / Gilberto, which won “Album of the Year” and “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” at the Grammy’s, which were awarded for the seventh time in 1965, was also the first non-American production to ever win in the “Album of the Year” category. Getz / Gilberto, on which another Brazilian legend, Antõnio Carlos Jobim, also accompanied the duo, still remains one of the highest selling albums of all time.

Duke Ellington - Anatomy Of A Murder
(1959 – Best Performance by an Orchestra for Dancing, Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, Best Instrumental Composition)

Organized for the first time in May 1959, the Second Annual Grammy Awards Ceremony was held in the fall of that same year, and the name that left its mark on the ceremony was that of Duke Ellington. Receiving awards in three categories with his compositions for the film Anatomy Of A Murder, Ellington also stands alone from the other artist on this list as none of these awards were in a jazz category.

Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society
(2013 – Best Jazz Vocal Album)

One of the most daring composers and musicians among jazz’s new generation of artists, Esperanza Spalding left the Grammy Awards Ceremony with two of the three awards she was nominated for in 2013. Winning the award for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)” for the song “City of Roses,” in addition to “Best Jazz Vocal Performance,” Radio Music Society brought jazz arrangements together with pop tones in a fresh and brave presentation. Saluting various eras and approaches from soul to big-band and swing, Radio Music Society is, undoubtedly, one of the jazz scene’s most unique albums from the 2010’s.

Al Jearreau – Look to the Rainbow
(1978 – Best Jazz Vocal Performance)

A tipping point in the career of American musician Al Jearreau, who passed away last year, the concert album Look to the Rainbow earned the musician his first ever Grammy, as well as great recognition in Europe. Combining Jearreau’s strength for using the human voice as an instrument with skilled orchestrations, the album includes exciting traces of what might await an audience member at an Al Jearreau performance.

Gary Burton – Alone at Last
(1973 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo)

Commemorated as one of the peaks of Gary Burton’s career, Alone at Last is especially remembered for the musician’s arrangement of “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues).” Comprised of recordings from performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival as well as four different studio sessions, the album gathers the wonders that Burton creates across various vistas at the piano, electric piano, and keyboard. Winning the award for “Best Improvised Jazz Solo” in 1973, Alone at Last almost sounds like the meeting of two distinct albums recorded at different times.

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