Record-Breaking Jazz: 10 Eye-Catching Guinness World Records

I don’t know about you, but I spent many-a-day as a kid flicking through the latest edition of the Guinness Book of Records.

The much-publicised entry noting Ron Carter as the most prolific jazz bassist in history relatively recently made me wonder… What other Guinness World Records are there related to jazz?

An enjoyable morning of research later (including getting sidetracked by things like the world’s stretchiest skin and fastest nose-typer…) and I have some answers for you.

Stay tuned for 10 verified jazz Guinness world records..!

The first Jazz records ever made

Seems that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band really were the original in some ways; their version of Indiana and “The Dark Town Strutters’ Ball” is officially the first jazz record made. Recorded in January 1917, it was released 4 months later by Columbia Records.

They beat themselves to the title of first jazz record released though, with their February recording of Livery Stable Blues released in March 1917 by the Victor label.

With its frontline of cornet, trombone & clarinet, Livery Stable Blues was apparently titled Barnyard Blues before an admin mix-up gave it the name which has been played by countless musicians in the century since.

We went into more detail about this group as part of our guide to Dixieland jazz here.

The World’s Largest Jazz Festival

Jazz may well have declined in mainstream popularity since its heyday in the middle of the 20th Century, but they don’t seem get the memo in Canada.

In 2004, the Montreal Jazz Festival was attended by almost 2 million concert-goers. The official tally of 1,913,868 people gave it a slot in the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest jazz festival.

Celebrating its 25th anniversay, the festival featured artists including Chick Corea, Tony Bennett, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, George Benson, Amy Winehouse and headliners Diana Krall and Santana.

Whilst those sort of figures are perhaps going to be tough to beat, the event is still going strong as part of the annual summer jazz festival circuit in Canada.

The Oldest Operating Jazz Club

Jazz clubs are not renowned for their commercial viability, but one – in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village – has been running since 1935.

It’s intimate room has hosted many of the most famous jazz musicians in history including – to name just a few –  Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis & John Coltrane.

On top of that, many legendary live albums have been recorded in this most legendary of NYC jazz clubs, as we covered in our round up of 10 essential Live at the Village Vanguard albums.

We recently updated our guide to New York jazz clubs in 2024 and got this ringing endorsement from Jazzfuel friend and NYC musician Gary Brocks:

“Go, you will be glad you did! Monday night is big band night – the players are top musicians in New York and the chairs in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra are handed down over the years”

The most recorded jazz bassist in history

Back in 2015, Guinness World Records announced the legendary Ron Carter as the most recorded jazz bassist in history, with more than 2,200 recording credits to his name.

Born in 1937, the Grammy-winning musician made his debut recording as a bandleader in 1961, before going on to join Miles Davis’ ‘second quintet’ alongside Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and drummer Tony Williams.

The record, covering some of the most famous jazz albums in history, only seemed to spur him on, as he has continued to work tirelessly ever since. At the time of publishing, he has international tour-dates on sale as far apart as Japan, Germany and Chicago!

Most expensive music chart entry

Who said jazz was elitist?!

The Guinness World Record for the most expensive chart entry was a jazz album by a certain Miles Davis, on sale for $250!

To be fair, the 2002 box set Miles Davis at Montreux which hit the US jazz charts that November covers the trumpeter’s nine appearances at the festival between 1973 and 1991, coming in at a monster twenty albums long.

For someone looking to get a rather in-depth snapshot of later-era Miles Davis, it’s essential listening, featuring musicians including John Scofield, Dave Liebman, Bob Berg and Rick Margitza.

Most expensive saxophone sold

Personally I graduated music college on a saxophone which I bought from a local guitar shop for £800.

(To be fair, it was a bargain for an excellent silver Selmer super action 80, for those in the know..!)

That wouldn’t cut it for the person who gave us this next record: the most expensive saxophone sold.

Once owned by bebop legend Charlie Parker, the plastic Grafton alto saxophone sold at London auction house Christies in 1994 for a whopping £93,500. It was promptly shipped to America where it is now on public display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As the saxophonist’s step-daughter Kim Parker commented to the Smithsonian magazine: “When I heard it was the Smithsonian I was just so proud, so proud because Bird was recognized as part of our history. I mean, Bird is never going to die.”

Whilst this is listed as the official Guinness holder of the record, an auction at Guernsey’s 10 years later notes the sale of Parker’s ‘missing’ King saxophone for an incredible $286,000, to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Whichever it is, needless to say there is still a fascination among jazz aficionados for items used by the forefathers of modern jazz.

Longest continuous note on a saxophone using circular breathing

This one might not be jazz-specific, but it’s certainly something you can spot on a jazz gig…

Circular breathing is a remarkable technique which allows wind instrument players to sustain a note for an extended period by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth using the cheeks.

It’s not easily learnt but, once you do, the results can be impressive (if not particularly musical!)

Whilst the record for this was long-held by a certain Kenny G, it was broken in 2000 by fellow American saxophonist Vann Burchfield with a note that lasted a mind-boggling 47 mins 5.5 seconds.

If you have an hour to spare, you can even watch it.

It’s an interesting record in that it will never be beaten; on the advice of doctors (and perhaps the off audience member), it was considered too dangerous to retry…

Shortest professional pianist

We can only hope that French jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani agreed to this award, which saw him verified as the shortest professional pianist at 91-cm (2ft 11.8in) tall.

Born in Montpellier, France, in 1962, he was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta (aka ‘glass bone disease’) which meant that his bones were very brittle and would often fracture.

Given his size, he would often have to be carried to the piano and used custom made extensions for his legs to enable him to reach the pedals.

Despite hundreds of bone fractures throughout his short life (he died aged 36), Petrucciani became a much-sought-after performer, playing 140 concerts in the year before his death.

Largest human image of a musical instrument

So we’ve checked out the oldest, most expensive and longest-running of the jazz world, but I’m sure you’ve noticed one glaring error…

“Just what is the record for the largest human image of a musical instrument?!”

Luckily for us, the people at Guinness World Records were on hand at the French seaside city of Nice in 2014 to verify 1,660 people creating the shape of a 56 m (183 ft 8 in) saxophone.

Hosted to celebrate ‘Fete de la Musique’ (France’s National Music Day) it marked the launch of the prestigious Nice Jazz Festival, for which the saxophone is the logo.

Check out the photo here.

Oldest person to release an album of new material

On the 30th September 2021 legendary jazz singer Tony Bennett became the oldest person to release an album of new material.

Aged 95 years and 58 days, Love for Sale was second album in collaboration with Lady Gaga, paying tribute to the American composer Cole Porter.

Round Up

Of course, there are thousands of records and potential-records still out there to discover and beat.

We couldn’t, for example, quite bring ourselves to include the “best-selling jazz artist” record held by a certain Kenny G…

(Arguments about style and taste aside, though, it does deserve a quick mention. As if owning a chunk of Starbucks wasn’t enough, the smooth saxophone king (who gave us this classic photo with Miles Davis) has notched up more than 75 MILLION album sales!)

Hopefully, though, this article has given you not just some light entertainment, but a prompt to go back and discover the great music of Ron Carter, Michel Petrucciani and Tony Bennett, or check out some live music at the oldest jazz club in your town…!

Looking for more jazz? Check out all our best guides, features and list via our Discover Jazz page.

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