First of all there are some genres in jazz you should know! They are: dixieland, swing, be-bop, hot jazz, cool jazz, modern jazz, hard-bop, post-bop, modal-jazz, mainstream, free jazz, smoth jazz, funky-jazz, avant-garde, jazz-rock, fusion and some others. My favorite styles are be-bop, hot jazz, hard-bop, post-bop, modern jazz and modal-jazz. Here are some artists and composers in jazz that are great in my opinion:
From swing era - Louis Armsrong, a great trumpeter and singer. His influence to other musicians in any genre of jazz is very important.
Django Reinhardt is also a great musician from swing era, and he was a guitarist. And he was three-fingered guitarist!!! His right hand was normal, but in right hand he had only three worckable fingers. But he was excellent in guitar technic.
From be-bop and hot jazz - Charlie Parker is my favorite alto saxophonist. He is a legend. His ideas in composition, sound, phrasing and improvisation is best. He, with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Christian was founder of be-bop. I know a very good Clint Eastwood's film about the life and music of Charlie Parker, with original Charlie Parker's saxophone in soundtrack. This film is called ''Bird''. I think you would like it.
I also reccomend you Thelonious Monk and Charlie Christian. They played be-bop, too. Thelonious Monk was a pianist, but he played his instrument, like he was a drummer)))))))) Some people think his music is weird and strange. I don't think so. When he lived some people, including good and great musicians, said that he could not play his instrument, and that his be-bop was not the music. So he was in underground a lot of time.
Charlie Christian was a guitarist. He was great and he played in Benny's Goodman big-band.
Dexter Gordon is a great be-bop saxophonist, too. One of my favorites.
There are some other jazz revolutionarist.
Miles Davis, who founded cool jazz, modal jazz, jazz-rock and fusion.
Ornette Coleman, who founded free-jazz. He was in Moscow not a long time ago with his concert, at the age of near 90. His album, named Free-jazz gave the name to this style. It is the album, in which we have only one track. It lasts 37 minutes. The musicians that plays in this track are: two drummers, two contrabassists, two saxophonists and two trumpeters.
John Coltrane was one of the founders of free-jazz and modal-jazz. His composition, named Giant Steps is one of the most difficult to improvise in jazz.
Eric Dolphy is one of the founders of free-jazz and avant-gard. He is one of my favorite musicians.
Horace Silver played funky-jazz. He wrote a very beautiful song called A Song For My Father.
Last summer I met William Parker in Nicolo-Lenivets. He is the great double-bass jazz player. I recommend you his tune, called Old Tears.