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We've Got The Jazz: 10 legendary jazz musicians who left their imprint on hip-hop

Preezy Brown

 // Jun 29, 2018

Borrowing from the old to create something new is a large part of what hip-hop is about, in all facets. Although the culture and the genre of rap music is predicated on originality, innovation is also a part of the process of creating timeless music, which artists and producers have been doing dating back to 1979 when "Rapper's Delight" became among the first rap songs to hit airwaves. While "Rapper's Delight" borrowed heavily from Chic's "Good Times," which many would classify as disco, as time progressed, rap would borrow from an array of genres, but its connection to jazz music is one that has helped bridge the gap between generations and resulted in some of the greatest beats rap has ever produced.

Jazz may not be as prevalent as it was during past decades, but the imprint of the genre's forefathers and pioneers can be felt even today, with a new crop of artists and veterans sampling from jazz's greatest compositions and artists. From A Tribe Called Quest and Guru to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, there is no shortage of rappers that have paid homage to the jazz community at one time or another.

In celebration of Black Music Month, REVOLT TV takes a look back at ten musicians throughout the history of jazz whose work has informed and inspired the hip-hop community and remain integral to the culture.


1. Charlie Parker

As one of the forefathers of bebop and a muse for The Beat Generation, Charlie Parker is one of the more influential jazz saxophonists and composers of all-time. Born in Kansas City, Kansas and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Charlie moved to New York in 1939, where his career exploded, leading him to work with fellow jazz luminaries including Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. In spite of a tumultuous lifestyle, which included an addiction to heroin and attempts of suicide, Parker was one of the most renowned and respected jazz musicians of all-time, with recordings like Charlie Parker with Strings and Jazz at Massey Hall both ranking among his greatest works. Unfortunately, Parker passed away on March 12, 1955 at the age of 34 as a result of lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"A Night in Tunisia" > "Manifest" by Gang Starr

"Cool Blues" > "Jazz Thing (Video Mix)" by Gang Starr

"Summertime" > "War" by Smif-N-Wessun

"Bird of Paradise" > "Tell Me Who Profits" by Souls of Mischief


2. Miles Davis

The most tenured jazz musician of his generation, Miles Davis is as synonymous with revolutionizing the sound and direction of the genre as anyone. Born and raised in Alton, Illinois, Davis moved to New York City to study at The Juilliard School, but left to make his professional debut with saxophonist Charlie Parker's bebop quintet before branching off his own, finding his biggest success after recording and releasing his iconic record Kind of Blue in 1959. Dominating the subsequent decades with albums like In A Silent Way, My Funny Valentine, and Bitches Brew, the acclaimed trumpeter and composer would introduce fellow jazz greats like bassist Ron Carter and pianist Herbie Hancock to the public, leading him to be regarded as jazz's preeminent standard-bearer. On September 28, 1991, Davis passed away due to the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia, and respiratory failure, but is remembered and revered by the hip-hop generation, even in death.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"Lonely Fire" > "Suicidal Thoughts" by The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy; "Party Over" by Mobb Deep feat. Big Noyd

"It's About That Time" > "Crooklyn" by The Crooklyn Dodgers

"Bitches Brew" > "You Can't See What I Can See" by Heavy D & the Boyz

"Sivad" > "Ain't No Thang" by OutKast

"Rated X" > "STFU, Pt. 2" by Sean Price



3. John Coltrane

Few jazz musicians possess the cache of John Coltrane, an acclaimed saxophonist whose music has only gotten finer and more acclaimed with time. Born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, Coltrane enlisted in the Navy in 1945, after which he laid down his earliest recordings prior to being discharged from his duties the following year. Continuing his pursuit of a music career, Coltrane worked as a sideman for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, but ultimately found success as a composer himself, forming The Classic Quartet, with whom he released his seminal album, A Love Supreme, in 1964. A Love Supreme would immortalize Coltrane as one of the all-time greats, and he would follow it up with a succession of albums before passing away on July 17, 1967 due to liver cancer, one of the more tragic and untimely deaths in the history of jazz.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"In a Sentimental Mood" (with Duke Ellington) > "Mood Swing" by Asheru feat. Talib Kweli

"Part 1: Acknowledgement" > "Life, Death & Love From San Fransisco" by Lupe Fiasco

"My Little Brown Book" (with Duke Ellington) > "Malcolm" by Ghostface Killah

"Autumn Serenade" (with Johnny Hartman) > "Pack the Pipe" by The Pharcyde

"Amen" > "Chief Rocka" by Lords of the Underground


4. Roy Ayers

A jack of all trades and a master of many, you'd be hard-pressed to find a musician with a resume rivaling that of Roy Ayers. Born September 10, 1940 in Los Angeles, California, Ayers got his start as a bebop sideman during the '60s before going on to start his own band, Roy Ayers Ubiquity, and went on to score the classic blaxploitation flick Coffy. While Roy Ayers would branch off from jazz and expand his sound as time progressed, his contributions in bridging the gap between jazz, funk and neo-soul has proven pivotal in the evolution of black music.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"You Can't Turn Me Away" > "Get Money" by Junior M.A.F.I.A. feat. The Notorious B.I.G.; "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature

"Running Away" > "Description of a Fool" by A Tribe Called Quest; "Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World)" by Common

"Searching" > "Searching" by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth; "Be a Father to Your Child" by Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs

"Feeling Good" > "Been Around the World (Remix)" by Puff Daddy feat. Mase and Carl Thomas

"Everybody Loves the Sunshine" > "Wake Up (Reprise in the Sunshine)" by Brand Nubians

"Daylight" > "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest



5. Branford Marsalis

The youngest jazz musician on this list, Branford Marsalis has followed in the footsteps of his forefathers while also helping to usher jazz into the era of hip-hop, making him an invaluable ambassador of both communities. Going on tour with the likes of Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry during the early '80s, Branford eventually teamed up with his brother Wynton's own quartet and released his own solo recording, Scenes in the City, in 1985. In addition to working with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz pioneers, Branford Marsalis would expand his base by working with singer Sting, the Grateful Dead, as well as Jay Leno, who tapped Marsalis as the leader of the Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno during the early '90s. If his appearance on Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" isn't enough to validate his reputation, Marsalis also helped rapper Guru of Gang Starr comprise his Jazzmatazz series during the mid-late '90s, a move that will forever connect him to hip-hop and sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"Watch What You Say" by Guru feat. Chaka Khan and Branford Marsalis

"Breakfast @ Denny's" by Buckshot LeFonque feat. DJ Premier

"Transit Ride" by Guru feat. Branford Marsalis

"Berta, Berta" > "G.O.M.D." by J. Cole


6. Thelonius Monk

Jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Monk ranks among the most original and inventive musicians in history. Born October 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Monk and his family moved to New York City while he was still a youth, where he began to play piano at age six. Getting his big break after joining the Coleman Hawkins Quartet, Monk eventually had stints on Blue Note Records, Prestige Records, Riverside Records, and Columbia Records, before recording his last album as a leader for the English Black Lion label in 1971. Passing away from a stroke on February 17, 1982, Monk ended his career as the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, a testament to his work ethic and extensive resume.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" > "Clan in Da Front" by Wu-Tang Clan; "Cuttin' Headz" by Ol' Dirty Bastard feat. RZA

"Pannonica (San Francisco Version)" > "Microphone Mathematics" by Quasimoto

"Black and Tan Fantasy" > "Shame on a Nigga" by Wu-Tang Clan

"Light Blue" > "Jazz Thing" by Gang Starr

"Ruby, My Dear" > "Sky High" by Hodgy Beats


7. Duke Ellington

Regarded as one of the originators of jazz as we know it, Duke Ellington's reputation within the genre is beyond reproach. Born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C., Ellington made his bones in New York City, where he was a composer, pianist, and bandleader for more than 50 years. A poster-child for the Harlem Rennaisance, Duke Ellington went on to garner numerous accolades, including having his name added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom prior to his death in May 24, 1974, due to complications from lung cancer and pneumonia.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"In a Sentimental Mood" (with Duke Ellington) > "Mood Swing" by Asheru feat. Talib Kweli

"My Little Brown Book" (with Duke Ellington) > "Malcolm" by Ghostface Killah

"Gong" > "No Main Topic" by O.C. feat. Prince Poetry



8. Herbie Hancock

A master of innovation, Herbie Hancock has made a career out of pushing the envelope and limits of what jazz can be. Born April 12, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, Hancock broke out as a pianist in 1960, learning the ropes from the likes of Donald Byrd, Chris Anderson and Coleman Hawkins, before joining Miles Davis' Second Great Quartet in 1963. Releasing the albums Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage during the '60s, Hancock would leave Blue Note Records for Warner Bros. Records, where he would experiment with his sound, adding electronic elements to his compositions. While a number of his mentors and former peers have passed away, Hancock continues to go strong, recently netting himself a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2008, making him the second jazz artist to accomplish that feat.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"God Make Me Funky" > "Gangsta Gangsta" by N.W.A; "How's It Goin' Down" by DMX and Faith Evans; "Hip Hop Is Dead" by Nas feat. will.i.am

"Bring Down the Birds" > "Groove Is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite feat. Bootsy Collins and Q-Tip

"You'll Know When You Get There" > "Fantastic" by Slum Village

"Hang Up Your Hangups" > "100 Miles and Runnin'" by N.W.A

"Jessica" > "Shook Ones Part II" by Mobb Deep


9. Donald Byrd

Born on December 9, 1932, Donald Byrd has been hailed as an iconic jazz musician and has the credentials and dues paid to back that claim up. Getting his feet wet as a trumpeter while still in high school, Byrd played in a military band during a term in the United States Air-Force before going on to obtain a bachelor's degree in music from Wayne State University and a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music. Joining Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Byrd eventually branched off and co-led his own quintet from 1958 to 1961 before releasing the albums Royal Flush and Free Form, both of which helped bring jazz pianist Herbie Hancock to prominence. Continuing to break new ground with his group the Blackbyrds during the '70s, Byrd later turned his attention to educating new generations of musicians, teaching music at a list of schools, including Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University. Byrd passed away February 4, 2013 at age 80, ending an illustrious career that has afforded him nothing but respect from peers and fans alike.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"Flight Time" > "N.Y. State of Mind" by Nas; "N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. II" by Nas; "Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy"

"Think Twice" > "Footprints" by A Tribe Called Quest; "Looking at the Front Door" by Main Source

"Dominoes" > "Brand New Funk" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

"Places & Spaces" > "All the Places" by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth

"Mysterious Vibes" > "I'm Kurious" by Kurious

"Rock Creek Park" > "Get Down" by Nas

"Wind Parade" > "Buck Em Down" by Black Moon


10. Dizzy Gillespie

Born October 21, 1917, Dizzy Gillespie was a pioneer of the bebop movement and one of jazz's most stories trumpeters. Following stints with the Frank Fairfax, Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill orchestras, in 1939, Gillespie joined Cab Calloway's orchestra, but would ultimately be fired by Calloway in 1941, leading him to freelance for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Earl Hines, and Billy Eckstein. Setting himself apart from the swing style of jazz that was popular at the time, Gillespie delved into bebop, with compositions like "Groovin' High," "Woody 'n' You," "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia," putting him in a class of his own. In addition to helping spearhead the Afro-Cuban music movement, Gillespie would keep his thumbprint on jazz all the way up until his death on January 6, 1993, when the legend passed away from pancreatic cancer.

Notable Songs Sampled:

"Stomped and Wasted" > "The Official" by Jaylib

"Matrix" > "World's Famous" by The Beatnuts feat. V.I.C.

"Summertime" > "What's the Real" by Kurious feat. Casual


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