10 Rock Artists Who Released Jazz Albums

Rock Artists Who Released Jazz Albums

Photo: Poiseon Bild & Text (press photo by a photographer of the consulting company Poiseon AG in St. Gallen, Switzerland)) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When Linda Ronstadt released her first album of standards in 1983, the rock and roll world was taken back by what was viewed as such a drastic career move. Linda Ronstadt had become one of the most successful musical artists of the 1970s. Her career was lined with hits that crossed the genres of pop, rock and country. Fans loved her work. Why would she take such a risk of recording an album of jazz standards from the Great American Songbook? That question became moot when the album and career change proved to be incredibly successful. From that point in time, it soon became a common occurrence among pop and rock artists to dive into that Great American Songbook.

This article takes a look at some of the legendary rock and pop artists that have dabbled in the world of jazz. Some only recorded one album of jazz standards while others released multiple recordings over a specific period of time. Some rock musicians also have spent many years enjoying parallel careers in the jazz world while still embracing their rock god status. This list does not rate or critic these artists. Our 10 Rock Artists Who Released Jazz Albums is simply a presentation of some of the most famous rock musicians who have released interesting jazz recordings during their rock and roll careers. There are so many more than just the ten on this list. However theses artists define the variable approaches that rock stars have taken towards the field of jazz and that Great American Songbook.


# 10 – Rod Stewart

We open this list with an artist who was extremely successful from a commercial point of view in his engagement with the jazz standard world. Rod Stewart released five jazz standards albums over a ten year period.The first of the five was entitled It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook. It was released in 2002. Rod Stewart would release four more volumes in what he termed The Great American Songbook Series. Most of the arrangements stayed faithful to the originals without venturing off into much improvisation. Older fans especially females loved the albums.

# 9 – Deborah Harry

Deborah Harry, one of rock and roll’s early new wave artists as the lead singer of Blondie, turned to jazz in the mid 1990’s. In 1994, Deborah Harry joined the jazz band The Jazz Passengers. She toured with the band for a few years and recorded an album with the group in 1997 entitled Individually Twisted. 

# 8 – Annie Lennox

If any rock and roll singer had a voice to sing standards it was Annie Lennox. The ex-Eurythmics lead singer and brilliant solo artists released an album of standards in 2015 entitled Nostalgia. Annie Lennox’s adventure into jazz yielded great results as her Nostalgia album hit number one on the US Billboard Jazz Charts in 2015.

# 7 – Carly Simon

Carly Simon released her first jazz standards album in 1981 entitled Torch. This was two years before Linda Ronstadt released What’s New which wound up serving as the catalyst for many more rock singers to experiment with recording standards albums. Carly Simon’s Torch was not a hit. Although, its lack of commercial success should take nothing away from Carly Simon’s brilliant vocal performances on the album. It has always been one of our favorite Carly Simon albums and should have gotten more recognition than it did. The lineup of all star jazz musicians on the record is very impressive. So worth checking out.

# 6 – Charlie Watts

It’s not just famous rock singers that have jumped into the jazz world. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts is a serious jazz drummer who has spent a great deal of time recording and performing with the Charlie Watts Quintet and Tenetent while very much still remaining a Rolling Stone.

# 5 – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney’s love of jazz music has always been evident throughout his career. You could hear it in his melodies and song structures that defined the art of songwriting which is what standards do. Two Beatles songs “Yesterday,” and “Michelle,” appear in the legendary Jazz book, The Real Book which is the Bible for jazz musicians. There have been moments, especially during the Wings years when Paul McCartney would compose and record a piece that paid tribute to the art of jazz.  “You Gave Me The Answer,” which was released on Venus and Mars was an example of that.

Paul McCartney’s full blown excursion into the jazz world happen in 2012 when he released the album Kisses on the Bottom. The album consisted of jazz standards with two original Paul McCartney songs.

# 4 – Steve Smith

Steve Smith is the second drummer on this list. When Steve Smith is not performing with Journey he is busy recording and touring with his famous jazz fusion band Vital Information. This group has released so many fantastic jazz fusion albums. Frank Gambale’s guitar playing on these albums is simply stunning.

# 3 – Bob Dylan

Heads turned when Bob Dylan announced he was releasing a standards album in 2015. However, the results were spectacular. Bob Dylan did what he has always done, be incredibly creative in his own unique voice and record material of deep substance. The album entitled Shadows in the Night, was a tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra. Bob Dylan explained that his philosophy towards making the record was that it was not about covering songs, it was about uncovering them. This one was all about the songs and Bob Dylan did a fascinating job in his foray into the jazz world.

# 2 – Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt was the rock and roll county voice that started the jazz crossover experience for rock singers. Her three album excursion into standards was done so well, she became an inspiration for other artists to tempt the experience. Some will argue that Linda Ronstadt was just not experimenting with jazz standards but rather for her it was a musical genre change. Linda Ronstadt spent four years in a row celebrating the success she had singing jazz standards. Her first jazz standards album was released in 1983 entitled What’s New. That album was followed up by Lush Life in 1984. Her third standards album was released in 1986 entitled For Sentimental Reasons. She released no other pop or rock material during those years.

# 1 – Boz Scaggs

From that opening bass line to “What’s New,” listeners were instantly notified that they were about to hear something special. on Boz Scaggs jazz album entitled But Beautiful. Boz Scaggs’ two album exploration of jazz standards simply became the standard that pop singers should shoot for when crossing that line. Perhaps, it’s because in a way Boz Scaggs has always been a jazz singer. Boz Scaggs has that unique voice reminiscent of a Billie Holiday. It’s all about phrasing in jazz, and Boz Scaggs nails that aspect on every vocal he records. Boz Scaggs’ huge hit “Lowdown,” in 1976 may have been thought of as an r&b classic, but if you listen to those chord changes, arrangements and of course Boz Scaggs’ cool vocals, it was simply jazz in disguise. When Boz Scaggs released those two jazz albums, “But Beautiful,” and “Speak Low,” it was not a reach, but rather a celebration of his magnificent talent.

Updated May 17, 2023

10 Rock Artists Who Released Jazz Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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