10 All-Time Great Jazz Quartets

From Goodman to Shorter, some of the best jazz has carried the sign of four

There’s something special about a quartet. Not that anything’s wrong with other group configurations, but the balance that can be achieved between four musicians—as between four seasons and four elements—often yields unique rewards that feel both surprising and deeply right. That’s why we’re inaugurating our new weekly list series, The JazzTimes 10, with a look at 10 all-time great jazz quartets. We’re not ranking them or saying that these are the absolute best, but we are saying that they’re all crucial to the history of jazz. If you aren’t as familiar with some of them as you’d like to be, you know what to do.

Benny Goodman Quartet

To team two white musicians (Goodman and Gene Krupa) with two black ones (Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton) was, sadly, a bold move in Depression-era America. But the Goodman quartet of 1936-37 isn’t just remembered for its racial makeup; it was, above all, a dazzling showcase for four absolute virtuosos, as the red-hot tracks on After You’ve Gone: Benny Goodman Trio & Quartet Sessions, Vol. 1 (Bluebird/RCA) make clear.

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