The ten best jazz bassists of all time

Categories: Jazz, Lists

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wikimedia / Ingrid Pastorius

In jazz discussions, the saxophonists and the trumpeters generally dominate the conversation, and rightly so. Equally as integral to the music, though, is the rest of the band. While we've already listed the top guitarists and pianists, today we focus on those holding down the low-end. Although there are a number of exceptional bassists worthy of consideration, these are the ten best jazz bassists of all time.

See also: Ten essential jazz albums if you know squat about jazz

10. Ray Brown
While Ray Brown could swing heavy with bebop pioneers like Dizzy Gillespie, he's probably best known for part in pianist Oscar Peterson's trio from 1951-1966. Brown's buoyant playing seemed to match Peterson's relaxed attack on the piano. The bassist, who was briefly married to Ella Fitzgerald, backed up the singer, as well as countless other jazz luminaries until he passed away at the age of 75 in 2002. Brown released dozens of discs under his own name from the mid '40s to the early 2000s.

9. Paul Chambers
John Coltrane once said, "Paul Chambers was one of the greatest bass players in jazz. His playing is beyond what I could say about it." Chambers played a vital role in both the Prestige recordings of Coltrane, as well as a part of Miles Davis's first great quintet, appearing on the 1959 landmark album, Kind of Blue. Chambers, who died at the age of 33, also released some fine recordings as a leader, namely Whims of Chambers and Bass on Top.

8. Dave Holland
Over the last five decades, Dave Holland has established himself as one of the most skilled bassists in jazz. As a leader, the English bassist released some excellent forward-thinking recordings, like his 1972 debut, Conference of the Birds, which also featured Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, and 1982's Jumpin' In, which featured frequent collaborator, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. His later work on his own Dare2 imprint over the past decade or so is also highly recommended.



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44 comments
Gary Carter
Gary Carter

As much as I love music and the bass I feel compelled to say that a best ten list of anything from anyone, especially Westword, is starting to get pretty old...

Haven Holmes
Haven Holmes

I was talking about Victor Wooten with a bass player the other day in Guitar Center. He told me, in an attempt to discredit Victor's amazing musical abilities, "Victor just plays fast." The guy was probably trying to make himself feel better. I give credit when credit's due, even I can't stand the music.

Bryce Hall
Bryce Hall

No Jimmy Blanton?? This list is a joke

Greg Wilson
Greg Wilson

Very solid list!!! The only change I would make is trade Jaco Pastorius' and Ron Carter's spots. Good job Jon Solomon

James Speiser
James Speiser

Westword needs a REAL person that knows about blues and jazz in this community.

Ryan Knaub
Ryan Knaub

This sucks, all of this. I'm a metal fan and musician I've dealt with this band vs. band opinion bullshit for long enough. Nobody cares who you THINK is better, all that matters is how the music makes YOU feel. Your opinion shouldn't mean jack or shit to anyone else

Michelle Pearl Mobley
Michelle Pearl Mobley

What would anyone at the Westword know about Jazz? ...other than the ability to copy-and-paste off the Internet, absolutely nothing.

christof1
christof1

Milt "The Judge" Hinton amazing bass guru and jazz photographer

Andrew Cameron
Andrew Cameron

My vote is Mingus, but I'm also a little bummed NHOP didn't make the list!

Michael Caprara
Michael Caprara

jaco or mingus? that's like saying "what is better?" driving a Ferrari or eating a nice Kobe steak.... ???

tedkane
tedkane

Given fusion's footnote status in jazz, three fusion bassists seems excessive. Percy Heath? Cutlery Russell? Cecil McBee?

tedkane
tedkane

This list values fusion too highly. Victor Wooten is a great guy and a virtuoso all the way. But when was the last time you played a Stanley Clarke record?

Katie Maux Curtin
Katie Maux Curtin

What about Chris Wood if Medeski, Martin & Wood. Just glad Mingus is # 1 though. Love!

Keith Stone
Keith Stone

Jaco live at Boulder Theater was the best show on earth...

Squi Rrel
Squi Rrel

I think ray brown and Paul Chambers need to be a little bit higher up on the list... also everybody knows Jaco is the greatest, he shouldn't even be on this list... it should be 10 best bass players who are not Jaco

swapster.com
swapster.com

Victor Wooten and NOT Jeff Berlin? Come on… 

Brian Lauro
Brian Lauro

Avashai Cohen and Christian McBride are missing for two guys I never heard of

Jazzbird
Jazzbird

What an outrage !    You ignore Oscar Pettiford !   Also Dr. Art Davis should be included !

frank.demarco
frank.demarco

Where's NHOP? Totally agree about Davis. Mostly I think lists like these are kind of silly. 

uglyt
uglyt

Where's Richard Davis and Lisle Atkinson?

GuyLiguili
GuyLiguili

OK but where are Jimmy Blanton and Richard Davis  (and Danny Thompson) ?

stuthehistoryguy
stuthehistoryguy

Where is Jimmy Blanton? Without him, the rest would not be possible.

troyehall
troyehall

Rufus Reid really should have made this list. He's not as big a name, but if you know Rufus, you know I'm right.

kbro
kbro

jimmy garrison; alex blake, Richard davis

Dave Cleland
Dave Cleland

ah, well he didn't make #1 but quality choice there

Matt Morava
Matt Morava

Ray Brown doesn't make this list? WTF?

uglyt
uglyt

@Matt Morava He's number ten! WTF?

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