Just on the end of this, but don't leave out some good Gospel Blues - it's worth a listen. Ffor the origional stuff, go with Blind Willie Johnson, for later, go with Kaiser/Mansfield, Larry Howard or Gary Davis.
You'll be amazed at the depth and raw power
Now, is it ok for me yell THEATRE! in a crowded fire?
I'm not an "expert", but I did host a blues/jazz radio show for two years. So here's my two cents...
I'm not a big fan of Texas style blues (Johnny Winter, etc), more of a fan of delta and Chicago style blues.
The list is in no particular order:
Charles Brown Tah Mahal Corey Harris Olu Dara Cafe R&B Screamin' Jay Hawkins T-Bone Walker Howlin' Wolf Leadbelly Otis Rush Bo Diddly Muddy Waters Bukka White BB King (live from Cook Country Jail is a MUST own) Albert King
As far as labels go, Rounder, Alligator, Blind Pig are good places to start. Rhino also puts out a multi-volume, "Blues Masters: The Essential Blues Collection", where each volume is a cross sampling of a certain style or theme.
Jazz is tougher, because everyone pretty much likes what they like - and while there might be some cross over, it's not necessarily consistent. Personally, I prefer stuff a little more outside:
Miles Davis Thelonius Monk John Coltrane Pharoah Sanders Rhassan Roland Kirk Yusef Lateef Ornette Coleman James "Blood" Ulmer
More "conservative" stuff:
Count Basie Duke Ellington Ella Fitzgerald Charlie Parker Nina Simone Sarah Vaughn Wes Montegomery Modern Jazz Quartet Joe Pass (odd for my taste, but again) Johnny Hartman (amazing vocalist)
But that's me.
IMPULSE is a great label to start with, although it can be hit or miss. The release a bit of everything, from Diana Krall (yuck) to John Coltrane's Interstellar Space and Meditations (WAY out there).
This is where I would recommend starting - and then look at who's playing on what albums you get, and try to pick up things they've done as the "headliner". ANd in all cases, try to push your tastes a little bit. I never would have gotten into late Coltrane if I hadn't picked up Pharoah Sanders, etc...
squiz and TheCow also had some good recommendations. And the Alligator Anniversary is also a great idea.
"Who are these f--king people anyway? What more do they need to make a decision?" - Jason "George Costanza" Alexander on Swing Voters
Oh, also, and very very highly recommended: Junior Kimbrough.
The definition of raw Mississippi Delta blues. Plaid most of his time in an old shack. "All Night Long" was recorded in an old converted Church and is just so full of emotion and rawness and beauty and just moving notes you can't ignore.
There's no frilly stuff here, just one man and his Blues, and you listening.