Caleb Cook
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The Best Jazz Albums to Listen to While Driving

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Jazz may not be as popular or influential as it once was, but it’s still a musical genre bursting with energy, emotion, and creativity. Even if you think of jazz as hopelessly boring, old-fashioned, or snobbish, you’ll be pleasantly surprised once you start exploring all it has to offer.

Today is International Jazz Day, and to honor the occasion, I recommend cranking up some jazz tunes the next time you get behind the wheel. To get you started, I’ve listed one classic and one recent album each for a variety of driving scenarios.


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Musical Road

Classic Pick: Sonny Rollins, “Saxophone Colossus”

This album by the legendary saxophone player Sonny Rollins is full of joyful, swinging, summery tunes that sound great with your windows rolled down. Favorite tracks: “St. Thomas,” “Blue 7”

Recent Pick: Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”

This album by modern saxophone genius Kamasi Washington more than lives up to its title, featuring nearly three hours of masterful sounds that span the jazz tradition. It’s an extravagant, soulful masterpiece that will make an excellent companion for your next long drive. Favorite tracks: “Change of the Guard,” “Leroy and Lanisha,” “Re Run Home”

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Classic Pick: John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme”

The next time you’re grinding your teeth in the middle of a traffic jam, let yourself get swept away by the passionate, yearning sounds of “A Love Supreme.” This devotional jazz classic will connect you with a power greater than yourself and put the temporary frustrations of traffic in perspective. Favorite tracks: Just listen to the whole thing already.

Recent Pick: Anat Cohen Tentet, “Happy Song”

From old-time swing to Brazilian and African grooves, the creative sounds of Israeli clarinet player Anat Cohen and her talented cohorts will put a smile on your face and make you forget about the 10-car pileup that’s making you late for work. Favorite tracks: “Oh Baby,” “Kenedougou Folly”

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Classic Pick: Bill Evans Trio, “Sunday at The Village Vanguard”

This is widely considered to be one of the great live albums of all time, and for good reason. The simple sounds of piano, bass, and drums combine to create a magical masterpiece that fills listeners with a profound sense of wellbeing and relaxation. Favorite tracks: all of them

Recent Pick: Jeff Parker, “The New Breed”

On this album, guitarist Jeff Parker creates a loose and laid-back sound that draws from jazz, but also from funk, electronic music, and hip-hop. The perfect setting to play this one: driving home during a summer sunset. Favorite tracks: “Jrifted,” “Get Dressed”

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Classic Pick: Kenny Burrell, “Midnight Blue”

These smoky, bluesy tunes are driven by Kenny Burrell’s crisp, warm guitar and a soulful rhythm section. As you might guess from the title, this collection of moody, smoldering grooves is best played after dark. Favorite tracks: “Chitlins Con Carne,” “Midnight Blue”

Recent Pick: Yazz Ahmed, “La Saboteuse”

These songs by British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed meld mysterious jazz atmosphere with electronic effects and haunting, Arabic-inspired rhythms and melodies. Whether you’re speeding down a deserted highway or cruising wet, dimly lit streets, the spell Ahmed casts will stick with you. Favorite tracks: “Jamil Jamal,” “The Space Between the Fish and the Moon”

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  • Caleb CookEditor

    A longtime editor/writer and recently transplanted Hoosier, Caleb Cook lives in Xenia, Ohio. His favorite activities are reading and listening to music, although he occasionally emerges from the heap of books and vinyl records in his basement to stand blinking in the sunlight. Once fully acclimated to the outside world again, he can be observed hanging out with his fiancee, attempting a new recipe in the kitchen, attending movies, walking the dog, or wandering into a local brewery to inquire about what’s on tap. See more articles by Caleb.