Top 10 Most Sampled Jazz Artists of All Time

Jazz, in its more traditional forms, it's fair to say is viewed by many as somewhat unnavigable musical territory, but the influence of jazz remains evident across the modern musical spectrum. This year, Snoop Dogg thanked Herbie Hancock (who ranks third in this list) for “inventing hip hop” at the Kennedy Center Honors gala. Aside from the lineage of jazz to funk to hip hop to pop and various other fusions and hybrids in between, jazz artists continue to adapt and innovate. Robert Glasper's 'Best RnB album' Grammy win for his 2012 Blue Note Long Player, Black Radio, proved that jazz can still—in some sense—be pop, while Gregory Porter's comparable success showed that jazz can be both contemporary, innovative and popular without the presence of featured artists from the worlds of hip hop and RnB. For many though, jazz is most evident in today's music as a result of sampling, those listeners being more accustomed to hearing sampled fragments of jazz tunes in the form of a catchy bass line or a much sampled drum break, than sitting down to a recording of 'Take Five'. Inspired by the findings in our recent Bob James post, we compile here a list of the Top 10 Most Sampled Jazz Artists to date.

10. Donald Byrd (135 samples)

An early jazz pioneer, this blues trumpeter cut his teeth as side man to many of jazz's greats, having played with the likes of John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock. However it's Byrd’s Mizell Brothers era Blue Note releases that have been most heavily sampled with the definitively funky jazz track 'Think Twice' on 1975’s Stepping Into Tomorrow sampled mostly in the early ‘90s by artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Main Source. 'Think Twice' epitomizes the particular strain of jazz funk for which the Mizell Brothers are famed with its effortless blend of traditional jazz brass instruments with the electric guitar, synthesizer, and the accompanying funk vocals of Kay Haith and Donald Byrd himself. Another notable sampled track is Byrd’s 'Flight Time' from 1973’s Black Byrd. The sound effect of an airplane take-off intermingled with high-register brass was sampled by Public Enemy and more famously Nas.


9. Miles Davis (146 samples)

Taken from one of the most iconic and renowned jazz albums of all time, 'Blue in Green' from Kind of Blue is Miles Davis’ most popular tune on WhoSampled. Notably, though, it’s Bill Evans’ modal piano accompaniment that attracts the most attention for its romantic melodic phrase in the intro of the piece.  Popular French hip-hop group Hocus Pocus replay the piano sample as a backing in '73 Touches' with pieces of Davis’ trumpet as a sporadic accessory to the track. Another notable use of the sample is from the late rapper Proof’s 'Life,' produced by J Dilla in 1997. It’s also noteworthy to mention that while this is his most popular track, his most sampled track is 'Bitches Brew' with sampling artists like Mobb Deep and Lord Finesse.


8. Nina Simone  (148 samples)

Nina Simone’s distinguishable low pitch and dramatic tone places her as the eighth most sampled jazz artist. Her highly popular, and most sampled track— 'Feeling Good'—is a Cy Grant cover itself, though Simone immortalized the track in her 1965 release of I Put A Spell On You. Its instantly discernable lyrics and brass riff have been covered or sampled many times since its release. Noteworthy samplers range from Jay Z and Kanye West  and Mary J Blige to Wax Tailor.


7. George Benson (176 samples)

George Benson’s multi-genre 60-year career as a pop vocalist and jazz guitarist gives artists a broad range of sampling opportunities. His most sampled track, ‘Give Me The Night,’ and his most popular track, ‘The Changing World,’ on WhoSampled emphasizes the diversity of his playing style. Whilst it's the 80s pop-soul of ‘Give Me The Night,’ that has been sampled most with usage by artists ranging from Breakbot to DJ Jazzy Jeff, Benson's earlier jazz material also provides rich pickings for sample miners. The drifting fusion sounds of 1974's 'The Changing World,' for example provides the backbone to Common's 1994 anthem 'I Used to Love H.E.R'.


6. Lou Donaldson (201 samples)

The soulful saxophonist Lou Donaldson composed the first and second most sampled tracks on Blue Note Records. His keen ability in linking gospel-type organ melodies with blues guitars and smooth saxophone solos are well displayed in his most sampled track 'Ode to Billie Joe' from Mr. Shing-A-Ling, another track from which many samplers borrow the clean opening drum break. The crisp snare framed by punchy kicks and characteristic drum roll an can be heard in countless tracks, to name just two: Kanye West’s 'Jesus Walks' and Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana’s 'To Zion.'


5. Grover Washington, Jr. (241 samples)

Grover Washington Jr. is in frequent rotation today for his highly successful collaboration with Bill Withers in 'Just The Two Of Us,' which has accumulated dozens of covers and samples. However, it’s the drum break in the intro of 1975’s 'Hydra' which is his most used sample. Offset by its recognizable bass line, it’s been used by A Tribe Called Quest, The Notorious B.I.G., and Cypress Hill.


4. Roy Ayers Ubiquity (257 samples)

Factoring in the 80+ samples of Roy Ayers' solo material not recorded under the 'Ubiquity' moniker (which include the majority of Ayers' early more traditional jazz work), Roy arguably deserves the number two spot on this list. Nonetheless, it is the fusion-era Ubiquity material that has been most heavily sampled with 1976's 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine' the runaway winner as both most sampled and most popular track, sampled close to a 100 times by a who's who of hip hop notables. Like many of the artists in upper reaches of this list, Roy Ayers has embraced his hip hop following collaborating for example with Lord Finesse on 1996's 'Soul Plan'.


3. Herbie Hancock (282 samples)

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock places third on the list for his dynamic style and legendary genre fusing tracks. The 1973 version of 'Watermelon Man' from the lauded Head Hunters LP contains one of the most unique samples used in the WhoSampled database. Bill Summers is credited for using a beer bottle to recreate wind instruments in the intro and outro of the track, which has been used dozens of times by artists such as Ultramagnetic MC's, J Dilla, and Madonna. Hancock of course himself experimented with hip hop, the fledgling jazz-electro fusion of 'Rockit' creating an unlikely major pop hit in 1983.


2. Quincy Jones (303 samples)

Although perhaps most famed for his compositions and production credits for the likes of Michael Jackson, multi-Grammy Award winning Quincy's roots lie in jazz. His most sampled track is the timeless jazz-fusion number 'Summer in the City', borrowed perhaps most famously by Pharcyde for the early 90s anthem 'Passin' Me By'.


1. Bob James (734 samples)

It’s no wonder that Bob James, who we dubbed an “accidental hip hop icon” in a recent post, is our most heavily sampled jazz artist. Although at the funkier end of the jazz spectrum, James also takes the cake for most sampled jazz tracks of all time in 'Take Me to the Mardi Gras,' and 'Nautilus,' respectively.

Honorable mention:

Lonnie Liston Smith (107 samples)

Jazz pianist and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith falls just short of tenth place on the list but earns a mention for both a broad sampled catalogue and for two key recordings in particular: Of most relevance to the subject matter of this article is 1975's jazz-disco fusion classic 'Expansions' which provided the inspiration for Stetsasonic's ode to the merits of sampling, the aptly named 'Talkin All That Jazz'. Smith's most sampled track though is, ‘A Garden of Peace’ from the 1983 release Dreams of Tomorrow. This haunting downtempo track has been borrowed by artists ranging from Rick Ross and Nas to DJ Krush, and most famously of course Jay Z.

Inspired by a new jazz rediscovery and want to learn even more? Has this post got you aching to listen to some cool West Coast jazz, hard bop, or jazz funk? You can browse through the intricate sub-genres of jazz and the artists who sampled them in the 'Blue Break Beats' section of Blue Note Record's official spotify app powered by WhoSampled!

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