Top 10 Jazz Funk Albums

Featuring Donald Byrd, of course…

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

I love Jazz Funk and you should too, so to get you started on this wild journey, here are the ten greatest Jazz Funk albums of all time, in exact order…

Donald Byrd – Stepping into Tomorrow (1975)

Donald Byrd

The undisputed king of Jazz Funk, I once had a really heated debate about Donald Byrd’s influence on modern music – I argued he was more influential than James Brown, the other guy (my foe) rightly pointed out that I was wrong. Either way, total genius.

Roy Ayers – A Shining Symbol (1993)

Roy Ayers

One of the first records I bought was this, the blue Best of… compilation of Roy Ayers 70s hits, there was also a yellow volume, which featured mostly his 1980s output. Somehow he seems to have been around forever, and is still going strong. There’s not a single dud track on this whole record.

Bobbi Humphrey – Satin Doll (1974)


Since Anchorman, the career life span of a Jazz flutist has been crippled, but the joke’s on us, because a bit of flute cutting through a summer glare can be a thing of wonder. Bobbi Humphrey made some terrific records in the 1970s, and then one turkey in 1994 criminally called Passion Flute. This is her best album.

Charles Earland – Anthology (2000)

Charles Earland

Charles Earland spent years playing the bridesmaid on other people’s records, and being issued with indecipherable nicknames like “The Mighty Burner”. This brilliant compilation of his best work comes from the educated Jazz botherers at Soul Brother Records.

James Mason – Rhythm of Life (1977)

James Mason

For a long time this was considered to be one of the great overlooked masterpieces of the 1970s, but it’s since gained a fairly broad following, which is obviously awful news for Jazz Funk train spotters who had been keeping this secret for years. Here’s Sweet Power Your Embrace.

Gary Bartz Ntu Troop – Harlem Bush Music (1970)

Gary Bartz

Recorded in 1970, this wasn’t actually released until 1997, which means that for 27 years it fermented in a basement like moonshine. The very definition of haphazard interpretive Jazz colliding with clumsy 1970s Funk, you’ve got to choose your moments with this one. Most people I know, for example, bloody hate it. But they’re wrong.

The Crusaders – The 2nd Crusade (1973)


Best known for their chart smash Street Life feat Randy Crawford, this tight knit group of Jazz-Funkers could spend a lifetime knee deep in swimming pools just on that one hit alone – but it’s not even their greatest work. In my opinion, that comes on Message from the Inner City on this album.

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)


As careers go, Herbie Hancock’s is ridiculous. Part of the Miles Davis Quintet in the early 1960s, then one of the Jazz-Funk pioneers in the 1970s creating The Head Hunters, and then in the 1980s he was immortalized as Electro royalty when he recorded Rockit. At last count he had made something like eight thousand albums.

The Blackbyrds – Flying Start (1974)


These guys started life as nerdy students in Donald Byrd’s Howard University class, and went on to become giants in the Jazz Funk world with dynamite tracks like Mysterious Vibes, Rock Creek Park, and Walking in Rhythm, which features on this album. They’re also the best group I’ve ever seen live.

Frank Strazzeri – After the Rain (1976)


Cloudburst from this album, for me, is the national anthem of Jazz Funk, in that it’s my favourite Jazz Funk track of all time, hands down. In the olden days when I used to play records in half empty bars in the West Country, this would always be the first platter to really really matter.

3 Responses to Top 10 Jazz Funk Albums

  1. dj says:

    Great list, thanks for confirming things I knew to be awesome and for putting me on to new ones.

  2. Rick says:

    Thanks Josh. I know all of these except the Frank Strazzeri. Will check it out now. Also, I think that Earland deserves a better shout out than an anthology. Most of his albums kick it. Same for Ayers. Just my opinion.

  3. Marty says:

    Highly — highly! — recommend the 2011 Ramsey Lewis compilation album “Sun Goddess: The Best of Ramsey Lewis” by the label Passion Music Limited. Every song in this double album is a joyful jazz-funk winner. Also gotta shout about all and any of the other Donald Byrd albums and songs produced in conjunction with the Mizell Brothers in addition to the one you mentioned such as Black Byrd, Caricatures, and Places and Spaces. And when you’re ready to go beyond the jazz-funk, Dr. Byrd’s many other jazz and fusion albums bring great, great joy.

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