Meet the 15 Greatest Jazz Trios of All Time

Updated on December 14, 2023
Famous Jazz Trios

Welcome to the ultimate jam session of words, where we spill the beans on 15 famous jazz trios that made history swing! Ah, the jazz trio—where the magic number three turns ordinary notes into sonic gold. Think of it as the holy trinity of jazz. 🎷 Whether you’re a seasoned jazz cat or just dipping your toes in the big pool of blue notes, you’ve come to the right place to groove.

We’ll explore the lives, legacies, and licks of the trios that defined genres, broke barriers, and flat out jammed. We’re talking about the famous jazz trio legends like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and so many more. Grab a cuppa, kick back, and let’s swing through the annals of jazz history together.

1. Bill Evans Trio

Ah, the Bill Evans Trio, the epitome of jazz elegance. Founded in the late 1960s, it featured Evans himself on piano, Scott LaFaro on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. That’s right, this trio was a revelation, daring to interact in a conversational manner that was almost revolutionary for its time.

Now, speaking of Scott LaFaro bass, that man could make his instrument sing like a canary! 🎵 This trio is best known for their album “Sunday at the Village Vanguard,” a piece of work that’s oft-considered among the greatest jazz albums. It captured their essence, the symbiosis that existed among them.

2. Oscar Peterson Trio

If there ever was a powerhouse in the world of famous jazz trios, it’s gotta be the Oscar Peterson Trio. Launched in the early 1950s, this trio often featured Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums, aside from Oscar Peterson’s dazzling piano.

Peterson was such a virtuoso that he’s often dubbed the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” His trio dabbled in various artists’ songs, giving them that unique Oscar touch. And let’s not forget their essential albums like “Night Train,” which can shake you awake more effectively than your morning alarm clock!

3. Keith Jarrett Trio

Speaking of versatility, let’s talk about the Keith Jarrett Trio, a modern marvel of the jazz universe. Founded in 1983, this band featured Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Their ability to interpret songs across multiple music genres is what makes them a stand-out act.

You can’t discuss the Keith Jarrett Trio without bringing up their albums like “Standards in Norway,” which is pretty much the Little Black Dress of jazz piano trio collections. Always relevant and never out of style.

4. Chick Corea Akoustic Band

In the jazz world, if you’ve not heard of Chick Corea, you might just be living under a rock—or maybe just a really big drum set. The Chick Corea Akoustic Band, which came into limelight in the late 1980s, featured Chick Corea on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Dave Weckl on drums.

Why Akoustic with a “K,” you ask? Well, it’s a creative spelling that complements their creative music. These guys turned everything up a notch, even getting their hands on albums like “Akoustic Band” that won a Grammy! So, if you’re into jazz piano trio magnificence, this one’s a no-brainer for your playlist.

5. The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus is for those who think traditional jazz is, well, too traditional. Born in the early 2000s, this trio consists of Reid Anderson on bass, Dave King on drums, and Orrin Evans on piano. These guys are the jazzy version of rule-breakers, always trying to stretch the boundaries of what is considered greatest jazz.

Dabbling in various artists’ songs and even experimenting with pop, rock, and electronic influences, their albums like “Give” and “Made Possible” are an audiophile’s adventure. So, if you like your jazz served with a side of the unexpected, The Bad Plus should be your jam.

6. Ahmad Jamal Trio

The Ahmad Jamal Trio is an institution in itself. Dating back to the early 1950s, it featured none other than Ahmad Jamal on piano, Israel Crosby on bass, and Vernell Fournier on drums. Jamal was the grandmaster of using space in music, something not everyone in the famous jazz trio universe understood.

His trio’s rendition of “Poinciana” is so iconic, it might as well be its own brand of coffee—smooth, soulful, and leaves you wanting more. So, if you’re sifting through albums, make sure to drop this one in your cart.

7. Christian McBride Trio

Now, if you want a trio that swings like Spider-Man through Manhattan, look no further than the Christian McBride Trio. Led by bassist Christian McBride, this trio often features Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums.

Christian McBride, a six-time Grammy winner, is like the Hercules of the double bass. He has collaborated with everyone from Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock. The trio’s albums, like “Out Here,” exemplify their ability to deliver both classical jazz standards and original compositions. Trust me, this is music for your soul, the sort of jazz that gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, like a hot cuppa Joe on a cold winter morning.

8. Red Garland Trio

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of sophistication, and it’s coming from the Red Garland Trio. This famous jazz trio led by the elegant Red Garland on piano, also featured Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Rising to prominence in the late 1950s, this trio was as classic as jazz gets.

Red Garland’s block chord style was the kind of magic that made the trio’s albums like “Groovy” live up to their name. It’s the sonic equivalent of slipping into a warm bath after a long day. So if you’ve got a penchant for all time greats, the Red Garland Trio is your go-to.

9. Brad Mehldau Trio

If the jazz trio were a film genre, the Brad Mehldau Trio would be an indie movie that critics can’t stop raving about. Formed in the 1990s, it stars Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums. These guys have that modern jazz trios essence that says, “Hey, we’re here, and we’re extraordinary.”

If you’re looking for albums, take a dive into “Blues and Ballads.” It’s like a mojito: sweet but with a strong kick. And guess what? They even dabble in covering Radiohead. Yeah, Radiohead!

10. Vijay Iyer Trio

Put your seatbelt on, because the Vijay Iyer Trio is like the Formula 1 of jazz. Composed of Vijay Iyer on piano, Stephan Crump on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums, they’re arguably one of the most intellectually stimulating jazz piano trio acts around. And we’re talking about post-2000s, baby!

Their albums like “Historicity” are where academia meets the streets. It’s sophisticated but never snobbish. Trust me, this trio can turn a cover of a Michael Jackson song into a postmodern masterpiece.

11. Herbie Hancock Trio

No famous jazz trios list is complete without the Herbie Hancock Trio. With Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, this trio is what you’d call jazz royalty. Hancock, after all, is a household name, even for folks who think that a clef is some new-fangled kitchen gadget.

You want to talk greatest jazz albums? Try “Trio 77,” a solid gold classic. And for the love of all that is holy and musical, if you haven’t heard Herbie Hancock, are you even living?

12. McCoy Tyner Trio

You know that feeling when you see a triple rainbow? Yeah, that’s what listening to the McCoy Tyner Trio feels like. Featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Avery Sharpe on bass, and Aaron Scott on drums, this trio packs a punch. Tyner, who once played with John Coltrane, is often considered one of the greatest pianists in jazz history.

Their albums like “Infinity” showcase Tyner’s signature modal jazz style. It’s that kind of music that makes you go “Oh, so that’s what heaven sounds like!” If you want to treat yourself to an experience, plug in McCoy Tyner Trio’s greatest jazz moments.

13. Paul Motian Trio

Paul Motian was more than just a drummer; he was a philosopher with drumsticks. The Paul Motian Trio, featuring Paul Motian on drums, Bill Frisell on guitar, and Joe Lovano on saxophone, is a departure from the standard jazz piano trio format, introducing the jazz guitar into the equation.

The trio’s sound is unlike any other. It’s like a good mystery novel, each note a clue leading to the next revelation. If you’re hunting for albums, check out “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.” It’s the kind of title that’s self-explanatory for the brilliance you’re about to hear.

14. Duke Ellington Trio

Ladies and gents, bow down to the Duke. No, not John Wayne—Duke Ellington, the godfather of jazz orchestration. His trio, featuring him on piano along with various line-ups on drums and bass, is like a fine wine: distinct, powerful, and leaves a lasting impression.

Though renowned for his Big Band arrangements, the Duke’s famous jazz trio settings are equally captivating. If you ever get a chance, listen to their rendition of “Caravan.” It’s got more layers than a seven-layer dip, and it’s just as addictive.

15. EST (Esbjörn Svensson Trio)

Last but not least, let’s take a European vacation with EST, also known as the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Comprised of Esbjörn Svensson on piano, Dan Berglund on double bass, and Magnus Öström on drums, this Swedish group brought modern jazz trios to the forefront in Europe.

Their music is a bridge between jazz and electronic sounds. Albums like “Seven Days of Falling” could easily be the soundtrack to a classy but suspenseful spy film. It’s contemporary but honors the roots, making it accessible for a new generation of jazz lovers.


Who was the first jazz piano trio?

The first jazz piano trio to really make a splash was the Nat King Cole Trio, formed in the late 1930s. Before he was crooning those songs that make your grandma swoon, Nat King Cole was laying the groundwork for jazz trios with his combo featuring him on piano and vocals, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Wesley Prince on double bass.

What is the most common jazz trio configuration?

The most commonly seen jazz trio format consists of piano, double bass, and drums. It’s like the peanut butter, jelly, and bread of jazz; each adds its own flavor but they meld together to create something truly magical.

What is the jazz piano trio format?

The jazz piano trio format typically features piano, double bass, and drums. The piano usually takes the lead, painting musical colors while the double bass provides the harmony and rhythm. The drums are there for that snazzy “oomph,” giving the trio its heartbeat. If a trio were a well-tailored suit, think of the piano as the jacket, the bass as the trousers, and the drums as that chic pocket square.

What is the difference between piano trio and jazz trio?

Okay, pay attention, class. A “piano trio” in classical music usually means piano, violin, and cello. But throw the word “jazz” in front of “trio,” and you’re talking about a different ensemble: piano, double bass, and drums. It’s like comparing a mountain bike to a road bike—same general idea, different terrain.

Which jazz pianist was famous for eponymous trio?

Bill Evans is the poster boy for this. The Bill Evans Trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is one of the most iconic line-ups in jazz history. The trio’s 1961 album “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” is considered a seminal jazz recording. So yeah, if you’re talking famous jazz trios, Bill Evans is a name you’ll hear more often than your coffee order at Starbucks.

What is a jazz blues trio?

A jazz blues trio typically features guitar, double bass, and drums, or sometimes a harmonica might join the party. This trio plays a fusion of—you guessed it—jazz and blues. It’s the kind of music that feels like a warm hug and a kick in the gut at the same time—complex rhythms, soulful melodies, and a whole lot of feeling.

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