Widely seen as synonymous with groups like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver & Hank Mobley, Hard Bop rose to prominence in 1950’s America and is a style of jazz which took elements of its predecessor – bebop – and added influences such as blues, soul and gospel music.
New York Herald Tribune music critic John Mehegan is credited with coining the term hard bop which developed as an East Coast alternative to the cool jazz style which was coming out of California.
Generally more melodic than the frantic bebop which came before, references to this ‘funky soul jazz’ hint at the more audience-friendly vibe of the sub-genre.
But anyway, if you’re looking for an in-depth jazz lesson, you can check out our complete guide to the different types of jazz.
The real goal of this article is to pick out our top 10 hard bop albums from jazz history…
10. Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley
No list that talks about ‘jazz with blues & soul’ could be complete without alto saxophone great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley.
This album was recorded whilst Cannonball was a member of the Miles Davis sextet and features a rare appearance from Miles as a sideman, along with Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Art Blakey (drums).
At the end of the song “One for Daddy-O” Miles can be heard uttering the now-famous line to the producer:
“Is that what you wanted Alfred?”
Release: 1958 (Blue Note Records) Key Track: Love for Sale
9. Blue Train – John Coltrane
As his only album as a bandleader for Blue Note, this album was recorded whilst tenor saxophone giant John Coltrane was performing a residency as part of Thelonious Monk’s band in New York.
Key Track: Blue Train
8. Relaxin’ – Miles Davis
The music heard on this record is taken from two 1956 studio sessions which were eventually split into 4 albums.
This one, Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, plus Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.
Alongside Miles Davis on trumpet, it features John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums).
Year: 1958 (Prestige Records) Key Track: It Could Happen To You
American jazz pianist Horace Silver was one of the leading components of the hard bop movement and the title track from this Blue Note album is perhaps his most well-known contribution to the world of jazz.
Whilst Song for my Father has gone on to become a true jazz standard, the album contains 9 other gems, including the latin-influenced Que Pasa? and punchy, up-tempo number The Kicker.
The line up changes at various points on the album, but features trumpeters Carmell Jones & Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonists Joe Henderson & Junior Cook, bassists Teddy Smith & Gene Taylor and drummers Roger Humphries & Roy Brooks.
Year: 1965 (Blue Note Records) Key Track: Song for My Father
6. Clifford Brown & Max Roach
Described by The New York Times as “perhaps the definitive bop group” the collaboration may have only lasted 2 and a half years (until Clifford Brown’s untimely death in 1956) but spawned some classic jazz repertoire which has lasted until today.
The trumpet & drum bandleaders are joined by Harold Land on tenor sax, George Morrow on bass & Richie Powell on piano.
Together, they work through a bunch of tunes such as Joy Spring, Daahoud & These Foolish Things which, whilst possibly not renowned today as the most famous jazz standards of all time, have a special place in serious jam sessions.
Year: 1954 (EmArcy) Key Track: Joy Spring
5. Ready For Freddie – Freddie Hubbard
Widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, this album played an important role in catapulting the 24-year old Freddie Hubbard to a wider audience.
Possibly one of the most underrated albums on this list – and even in Freddie’s own discography – it includes some treats worth discovering, from the hard swinging Birdlike to the punchy Arietis.
In fact, Weaver of Dreams is the only song on this list which still gets a semi-regular airing around the jazz world.
Freddie is joined on this record by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist McCoy Tyner, double bassist Art Davis, drummer Elvin Jones and, quite a rarity, euphonium player Bernard McKinney.
Year: 1962 (Blue Note) Key Track: Weaver of Dreams
4. Soul Station – Hank Mobley
One of the later releases on this list – just out of the 1950’s – but also one of the most legendary hard bop albums ever.
Along with Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) & Art Blakey (drums) they work through some serious swinging, grooving bop versions of Remember, If I Should Lose You and, our favourite, This I Dig Of You.
Many musicians in this list (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins…) can count hard bop as one of the various jazz styles they touched on during the evolution of their playing.
Hank Mobley, though, is probably known primarily for his soulful hard bop playing and, as such, deserves his place near the top of this list!
Year: 1960 (Blue Note Records) Key Track: This I Dig of You
3. The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan
Like Song For My Father, the title track of this iconic jazz trumpet album entrenched itself as a classic standard – called at jam sessions and pickup gigs the world over!
Jazz trumpet great Lee Morgan (who we profiled in-depth here) is joined by Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass & Billy Higgins on drums.
Together, they perform 5 heavily blues-influenced originals, composed by Morgan – melodic and grooving, with plenty of complexity just underneath the surface. Year: 1964 (Blue Note Records) Key Track: The Sidewinder
Of course, by now, Sonny Rollins is known as a jazz saxophone great, but it was the hard bop outing more than 60 years ago that helped set him on the track to international acclaim.
For this quartet outing, recorded in a studio in New Jersey, he brings together a rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass & Max Roach on drums.
Whilst the calypso-influenced St. Thomas grabs the headlines for most jazz fans, the other tracks are each standout in their own right. Moritat, a playful, melodic medium down cover of jazz song Mack The Knife and the blisteringly inventive Strode Rode particularly worthy of repeated listening. We featured it on our list of best jazz records of all time.
Year: 1956 (Presitge) Key Track: St. Thomas
1. Moanin’ – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
It probably comes as little surprise that this jazz masterpiece from Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers tops out list of the best hard bop albums of time…
The band itself reads as something of a who’s who of the hard bop scene at the time: Art Blakey is joined by Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano) and Jymie Merritt (bass).
The drummer-bandleader was central in the emergence of this jazz style and this album – and in particular the title track – became synonymous with the bluesy, groovy, soulful music coming out of the East Coast of America.
Add to that some of the most memorable solos from the era (that Lee Morgan trumpet break just before the 1 minute mark on Moanin‘ or Benny Golson’s trademark singing, melodic lines on Come Rain or Come Shine) and you’ve got yourself a classic… Year: 1958 (Blue Note Records) Key Track: Moanin’
So there you have our list of the 10 best hard bop albums of all time…
Obviously there are way more than 10 great records from this era – and I’m sure you could argue that many of them could have had a place in this list.
Feel free to add your comments, tips, suggestions or grievances in the comments section below!
And, if you’re looking to discover some new music these days, you can head over to our Discover Jazz page.