I often get asked if I listen to music that is not jazz. While the majority of my listening is jazz-centric, I also enjoy a lot of music that most would probably not classify as “jazz.” The origins and relevance of the term “jazz” itself is rife with controversy, and what constitutes “jazz music” is ever-changing and expanding. The more I grow musically, the more arbitrary these categories of music seem to me. Perhaps Duke Ellington said it best, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

Enjoy this list (in no particular order) of some of the artists that inspire me outside of the “jazz” realm.


1. Scott Joplin

While closely associated with jazz as a predecessor, ragtime has its own flavor. I really enjoy listening to Scott Joplin’s “rags.” I also highly recommend listening to the New England Conservatory Scott Joplin Ensemble’s recordings. Gunther Schuller wrote some great arrangements of Joplin’s rags and led efforts to revive his music.

2. Dance Bands

While many would consider this jazz, some would classify this more closely with popular music or as dance band music. This music can be incredibly cheesy at times, but I have fun listening to it. Here are some examples of what I mean.

3. Louis Jordan

I am just starting to get into Louis Jordan. While I was vaguely familiar with his name, I learned more about him while reading the book Swing It: An Annotated History of Jive.

4. Perry Como

As cheesy as he was, I will always have a soft spot for Perry Como because he was my grandmother’s absolute favorite.

Now, to move further from the lineage of jazz/dance band/crooners/rhythm and blues… (depicted in this brilliant illustration below). There might be some surprises in this coming section!

History of Jazz by Mary Lou Williams and David Stone Martin

5. Earth, Wind & Fire

My go-to music for when I need to groove along with something!

6. ABBA

Yes, you read that right! For those times when I just need to be a dancing queen.

7. The Carpenters

I love Karen’s voice and I enjoy the songs and arrangements.

8. Stevie Wonder

He was the soundtrack of my high school life. Memorable melodies with stellar harmonies and hypnotic grooves.

9. The Beatles/John Lennon

I was lucky to grow up around a number of Beatles fanatics. My appreciation for their music grows constantly.

10. Bonnie Raitt

My very first memory in life is dancing to Nick of Time with my mom in the dining room. This music still continues to inspire me decades later!

11. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony is one of my favorite pieces of all time. I was incredibly fortunate to hear The Cleveland Orchestra perform it while I was in high school. His themes are stunning. He has also been a source of inspiration for jazz musicians (check out a previous blog about saxophonist/bandleader Freddy Martin, for example).

12. Maurice Ravel

Ravel is someone who I am just beginning to explore. I am particularly fond of Ma Mère l’Oye.

13. Early rap

It took me a while to come around to this music. I was fortunate to take a class at Cleveland State University that explored hip hop culture, which gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for rap and its potential to build community through voicing shared experiences.


Was there any music on this list that surprised you? Who are you listening to these days?

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