Why Some Say 1959 Was ‘The Greatest Year’ in Jazz

Why Some Say 1959 Was ‘The Greatest Year’ in Jazz

If you hold with many popular opinions from musical experts and jazz aficionados around the globe, then you probably will agree that 1959 was “The Greatest Year” jazz ever had. The year was certainly pivotal for the genre. Here is a brief summary of why proponents for this theory support it:

  • In 1959, Esquire devoted an entire issue to jazz, titled “The Golden Age of Jazz”
  • Miles Davis finished recording Kind of Blue, the bestselling jazz album of all time
  • John Coltrane finished recording Giant Steps
  • Dave Brubeck released Time Out, which was more popular in its day than Kind of Blue and led the way toward jazz fusion and smooth jazz

So, in summary, in 1959 a major magazine announced that 1959 would be “the year” for jazz and then a number of very famous, long-lasting, impactful recordings and records essentially made it so.

That is fairly convincing, really. You certainly cannot argue that 1959 was not a pivotal year for the genre. But was it the greatest year in jazz?

Placing the title of “greatest year for jazz” on a year now six decades behind us is, perhaps, a bit limiting. After all, while jazz may have encountered some very pivotal events during 1959, it has not, by any stretch, ceased to evolve since that pivotal moment. In very few musical genres may one legitimately state, decades after the genre’s inception, that a new movement has formed as a result of said genre. With jazz, however, this happens once or twice a decade – at least.

Head out to a club today – and it does not have to be a jazz club, by the way – and you will still hear echoes and invocations of jazz greats from the World War I era and onward. We still feel chills rise when we hear Ella Fitzgerald, but we also get a surge of excitement when we recognize a “sample” of Duke Ellington in modern music, such as when “In a Sentimental Mood” made it into Mac Miller’s “Diablo” in 2014 or “My Little Brown Book” got a nod from Ghostface Killah in 2000.

Is every song impacted by jazz to our personal taste? Probably not, but the genre is nothing if not intensely pervasive and, as a result, we would argue, not anywhere near 60 years past its prime.