Jazz—that true American art form—underwent some major changes in the ’40s. Most notably, the innovation of bebop revolutionized the genre, led by pioneers like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Charlie Christian, and many others. Bebop became known for its fast tempos, virtuosity, emphasis on improvisation, complex chord progressions, and rapid chord changes, and extensive key changes.
When we wrote our roundup of great jazz albums from the 1950s, we stuck to albums that were released during the decade. But since vinyl LPs weren’t even introduced to the mass market until 1948, that’s not a particularly good way to discuss the most essential jazz recordings from the 1940s.
So, to cover this decade, we’re simply going by music that was recorded during the ’40s, even though some of it wasn’t released as publicly available albums until the next decade, or even sometimes long after that. The dates listed in the entries below are the dates the album was actually recorded, not released.
Of course, this list of essential jazz recordings from the 1940s leaves out a lot of amazing music. There was so much groundbreaking and highly influential bebop and other jazz performed and recorded during the decade, it’s certainly not feasible to include it all here. So, please forgive our omissions.
Some of the Best ’40s Jazz Recordings
1. The Blanton-Webster Band – Duke Ellington; 1940-1942
2. Black, Brown and Beige – Duke Ellington; 1943
3. Rainbow Mist – Coleman Hawkins; 1944
4. Coleman Hawkins Classics – Coleman Hawkins; 1944-1945
5. The Charlie Parker Story – Charlie Parker; 1945
6. Zodiac Suite – Mary Lou Williams; 1945
7. Billie Holiday at Jazz at the Philharmonic – Billie Holiday; 1945-1946
8. Shaw ‘Nuff – Dizzy Gillespie; 1945-1946
9. Groovin’ High – Dizzy Gillespie; 1945-947
10. The Thundering Herds – Woody Herman; 1946-1947
11. Bird: The Complete Original Master Takes – The Savoy Recordings – Charlie Parker; 1945-1948
12. The Lester Young/Buddy Rich Trio – Lester Young, Buddy Rich; 1946
13. Genius of Modern Music, Volume I – Thelonious Monk; 1947
14. Liberian Suite – Duke Ellington; 1947
15. Howard McGhee and Milt Jackson – Howard McGhee, Milt Jackson; 1948
16. Crosscurrents – Lennie Tristano; 1949
17. Jazz Band – Bob Wilbur; 1949
18. Subconscious-Lee – Lee Konitz; 1949
19. Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis; two sessions in 1949, one in 1950
20. Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set – Ella Fitzgerald; 1949 (and 1953)