When you think about it, jazz composition is an incredibly difficult art. A great jazz composer must create a piece of music that is interesting as written, but also interesting as a framework for what is not written. A good jazz composition should imply more than it says.
Everyone's short list of top jazz composers should begin with Duke Ellington. My personal short list would then include Thelonious Monk, Gil Evans, Horace Silver, and Wayne Shorter. And of course many of the Tin Pan Alley composers wrote tunes that generations of jazz musicians have cherished as frameworks for improvisation.
I hope to post some more tributes to jazz composers in the future, but I'm going to start with three personal favorites that deserve more recognition: Billy Strayhorn, who was in many ways eclipsed by his mentor and collaborator, Duke Ellington; Jelly Roll Morton, well recognized in his day but not well known to today's young jazz listeners, and Hank Mobley, who is still better known as a tenor sax player than as a composer, though his jazz compositions are wonderful.
Visit my Billy Strayhorn page
Visit my Jelly Roll Morton page
Visit my Hank Mobley page
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