This weekend may be Memorial Day weekend, but today, May 29th, is also National Jazz Day. I put together a playlist of 15 of my favorites. It’s really just a hodge podge of selections from different jazz subgenres and different decades: Latin jazz, classical-jazz fusion, hard bop, boogie woogie, ragtime, gypsy jazz, Dixieland revival, swing revival, ’40s swing, electro swing and even some pop songs restyled (in almost a parody style) as retro jazz.
I do not consider myself a jazz expert, especially as there are some big names in jazz whose work I don’t know very well, but I do find myself attracted to a lot of music under the jazz umbrella. This list is definitely not all inclusive, is probably missing some very popular pieces but is still fairly diverse.
I discovered this in the soundtrack of the movie Hitch, starring Kevin James and Will Smith. I’m not sure I even paid much attention until the the second or third time I watched the movie. I thought, “I recognize that tune, but it’s a little different here.” I looked it up, and it is “Carmen Cubana” by the Klazz Brothers and Cuba Percussion, a kind of Latin jazz rendition of “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen.
Baroque and Blue
I first heard this piece “Baroque and Blue” by Claude Bollling on an album belonging to my sister-in-law while she was a music major in college and I was a junior higher. You don’t expect to hear a flute leading in a jazz piece, but you can definitely hear both jazz and classical influences in this one.
Charlie Brown Medley
Of course, I grew up hearing “Linus and Lucy” and other “Peanuts” pieces by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This “Peanuts” medley by The Piano Guys is a lot of fun, and their nursing home audience definitely seem to be having fun with them.
Où est Ma Tête?
“Où est ma tête?” performed by Pink Martini is adorable, especially as, according to the storytelling in the video, it seems to be a love song for a man and his dog. You might be able to make out the French lyrics even if you’ve only had French I. I won’t fully translate it for you, but I’ll give you a few lines for the idea. “I lost my head in la rue St. Honore (St. Honore road.) I looked here and there. I didn’t find it. Tell me, where is my head? I lost my arms in La Place de l’Opera. I didn’t find therm. I looked here and there. Tell me, where are my arms? Since I lost you, I am in pieces on the avenue, and I can’t pick up the pieces by myself. Repair me, my dear, because I am not whole. I need you — only you — and in addition, I love you.”
Baby Elephant Walk
So, I recently posted an elephant poem and a cute baby elephant video. Here is more elephant cuteness with Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” which was written for the movie Hatari.
“Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock might be an oldie from the ’60s, but it was new to me a few years ago when I heard it as a community reporter covering a dance class. This piece stuck with me, and I asked the instructor for the title.
Here is another piece from the same era and similarly food-themed, “Cotton Candy” by Al Hirt. Where “Watermelon Man” is considered hard bop, “Cotton Candy” is Dixieland revival. It has a very cheerful sound. I love the slide bits.
Bad Romance (Restyled)
Postmodern Jukebox is a fun group that seem to specialize in restyling pop and rock songs into styles from past decades — often some form of jazz but not always. They’ve also restyled songs into tango, bluegrass, doo wop and other genres. This is ’20s style jazz rendition of a popular Lady Gaga song, with some rhythmic tap dancing.
Super Trouper (Restyled)
Max Raabe and his Palast Orkester perform jazz songs from the ’20s and ’30s but also a few comparatively more modern songs like ABBA’s “Super Trouper” in that style. (He also did Britney Spears’ “Oops, I did it Again.”) Max Raabe does seem to have the perfect look for it.
The Bare Necessities (Ragtime)
Jonny May plays a lot of ragtime and boogie woogie, include ragtime versions of Disney songs. “The Bare Necessities” was already a cool jazz song, but he plays a ragtime arrangement of it.
Here is some more retro fun, with the Avalon Jazz Band, performing a ’30s French gypsy jazz piece, as sung by Charles Trenet.
Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)
Swing music and dancing are a lot of fun to hear and watch. This group is dancing to Benny Goodman’s piece, “Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing.)” The scene is from the movie Swing Kids, which tells the story of underground swing clubs. Swing music was forbidden in Hitler’s Germany, as the innovators and performers of swing were often African-American or Jewish.
Gimme That Swing
This next one was just a YouTube recommendation that was somehow right: a beautiful ethereal vocalist, a nice swing, fun dancing and a feeling that is both modern and retro.
You’re the Top
One of my Pandora stations began to introduce me to Ella Fitzgerald. This is one of my favorites sung by her, as I enjoy both her voice and the clever lyrics by Cole Porter.
Some swing revival bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy came out in the ’90s. Here is a fun song performed by them, “Why Me?”
This is in response to dVerse’s poetry prompt, Meet the bar waltzing. Bjorn, this was an interesting prompt indeed.
Some of you may know that I am a fan of Gershwin, so I thought of this scene from An American in Paris, Gershwin’s tribute to Strauss. The original lyrics (not included in the movie) include a little joke on himself,
“Away with the music of Broadway! Be off with your Irving Berlin Oh, I’d give no quarter To Kern or Cole Porter And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin.”
And for some actual Strauss and beautiful waltzing …
I found this music survey on a blogger friend’s post over at ARHtistic License. She also found it elsewhere here at A Guy Called Bloke. I thought it would be fun to answer myself.
1.) How important is music in your life?
I would say it’s fairly important. I sing in a church choir — currently on break due to the pandemic — and have sung in choirs or musical groups pretty much continuously since I was a high school freshman.
Below is a song I’ve sung with my church choir. (This isn’t my choir performing.)
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I have recently been venturing out into solos. I took a few music electives in college including private voice lessons. Music can inspire me in different ways for different things that I do.
2) What is your favorite type of music and what is your least favorite?
I agree with Andrea of ARHtistic License that I like all sorts of music. This is partly what makes it difficult to define my tastes to someone else or even to myself at times. Lately, I listen to a lot of classical, jazz, folk or folk rock, so maybe those are favorite categories, although those are fairly broad categories. I also like world music, opera and “popera”/classical crossover music. I listen to music in a bunch of different categories and from different time periods, including decades that predate me.
To make things more confusing, I also like music that is a fusion of different styles …
or songs that have been flipped from one style to another.
Earlier, I would say that heavy metal was my least favorite style of music, and that is still, probably, mostly true. I discovered that Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band I like, is considered “symphonic metal,” so there are exceptions. I’ve also found I can appreciate some operatic, symphonic or folk metal, but I explore these cautiously, because the themes are often dark or pagan. Sound wise, these can be interesting. Rap is probably not something I would normally listen to, but there have been exceptions there too. I wouldn’t listen to “cop killer rap” or something that was full of curse words, etc.
There are songs or singers I don’t really like even under the categories I like the most, so my interests are broad and yet discerning. As I said, it is difficult to pin down.
3) Do you have a music collection or do you listen to whatever on whatever?
I do have a CD collection, but lately, I listen to more music on YouTube or Pandora radio or on Alexa. YouTube is how I discovered Peter Hollens and his acapella multitracking videos …
and this crazy woman, Malinda Kathleen Reese, and her funny Mad Lib style Google Translate Sings videos.
In the late ’90s, I worked in a bookstore. A coworker of mine was very interested in ska music, and, at the time, I thought it wasn’t for me. Then, in more recent times, I learned that one of the Wii Just Dance songs I like a lot is from a ska band. So, I went on a YouTube binge discovering ska songs I like.
One rock subgenre I like is surf rock. I kind of associate that style with the ’60s, but YouTube helped me discover a current band that is creating new music in that style. You can see though that they are going with a retro ’60s feel with their hair, outfits and setting.
4) Are you a singer, hummer or whistler?
Yes, I would say I do all three at different times, but I try not to be bothersome to those around me by humming or whistling. I do remember whistling absentmindedly recently, and my dad suddenly turning to me.
This song has a pretty whistled chorus …
5) Show through links your five best songs.
This is a hard one. It’s not that I don’t have favorites. It’s just hard to narrow it down to what are the top ones out of all the favorites. Since my musical interests are fairly wide, it’s also hard to compare apples to oranges, favorites in different categories. I will link different picks throughout this post, which will, hopefully, give you some idea. I do think of “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin as my favorite classical/orchestral piece.
7) Have you ever been to an outdoor concert?
Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a major concert that was outdoors, but, as a reporter, I sometimes covered local outdoor concerts. Some towns sponsored outdoor summer series of concerts, and I attended some of them and wrote about them. Right now, I’m having difficulty remembering which groups I saw perform, but I know I saw a local band called The Infernos.
8) Do you ever go out to see music live? When was the last time you went to a concert/gig?
Maybe, a month or two ago, I went with a friend to an outdoor church worship band experience. I’m not sure it was exactly a concert. It was more of an interactive singalong. Since then, a brass band performed, again outdoors, at my own church, but, sadly, I had a migraine and missed it.
8) Do you sometimes feel like dancing when you hear music? Under what circumstances, do you dance?
I love dance fitness. I have tried dance fitness from DVDs or videos in many different styles: Latin, jazz, ballet, ballroom, country line dance, hip hop, reggae, African, disco, retro, club, etc. However, I’m an introvert, and, for me, dancing is something I do alone for my own health and happiness. The chances of me breaking out the dance moves at a crowded party are pretty much nil. If you happen to catch me in the right mood with a small circle of friends, you might see me dance. If I’m in a good dance fitness habit, I am more and more inclined to want to dance when I hear music. I might spontaneously make up my own choreography if I’m alone. I have even semi-danced in the grocery store aisle while shopping, but my introverted self would only do this if I was alone in the aisle.
9) When do you listen to music?
I would probably listen to music more often if I didn’t need to worry about bothering anyone else with it. I’ve been having trouble lately with headphones too. I do often listen to music while I’m dressing and getting ready for the day (something energizing,) while I’m exercising (also energizing,) when I’m relaxing before bed (something mellow) or even to help me sleep, (something very, very mellow.) For a while there, I had Alexa playing music for me while I was cooking. You can ask her to play “music for cooking,” and she comes up with some interesting playlists.
This is a funny, food-themed jazz song “she” played for me one time while I was cooking.
10) If you answered yes to 6 & 7 — who did you go and see?
I answered these as parts of 6 and 7. I’ve seen Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Fernando Ortega, a few others.
11) Is there a song that makes you emotional?
There are probably several songs that would be fitting, but the first one that came to mind when I thought about it was “Bring Him Home” from LesMiserables.
12) Do you feel that you have a special connection with some types of music? Which types?
Hhhhmm…. I think that would be folk. I’m interested in several subgenres under this umbrella. I think that if were a songwriter, my songs would fall under this category. As a singer also, I think lyrical songs in this category would suit my voice.
Lately, I’m enjoying some modern folk groups/singers like The Lumineers.
13) Have you ever tried singing in a karaoke bar? What was that experience like?
As I’ve explained, I have had some private voice lessons in college and have sung in choirs for years. More recently, I have begun venturing out in some solo singing, but it took me a while to overcome my stage nerves. (I can’t say I’m completely rid of them yet.) I have gone out with friends once or twice for karaoke, not so much to a karaoke bar but a karaoke pizza place. I didn’t get up the courage to sing, but a friend of mine sang and gave a pretty good Cher impression.
14) Do you listen to music when writing? If so which?
I don’t often listen to music when writing. I seem to need quiet to focus. If I do listen to music, it would be instrumentals, either classical, movie soundtracks or YouTube playlists created for writing. There are songs with lyrics that have inspired my writing, but I will listen to those right before writing a scene, not really simultaneously.
Movie soundtracks can be inspirational. I really enjoyed the soundtrack to The Man from U.N.C.L.E, the 2015 movie. It might help with certain creative stages like imagining the action scene, but I think, would be a little too exciting for me for the actual typing and sentence forming.
15) Have you ever gone to see a musical? Provide link please.
I am actually quite a musical enthusiast, which is interesting, because I forgot to even mention this category in the opening of this post. I could have gone back and edited that, but I thought it was more interesting to take note of that omission and the complication of giving an overview of my interests.
I’ve seen several musicals at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. These include The King and I, The Sound of Music and The Fiddler on the Roof. I saw Les Miserables live in London. A friend and I went to see two Disney plays on Broadway: Mary Poppins and The Lion King. I saw Big River, based on Huck Finn, at another playhouse local to me. Additionally, I’ve seen several others in smaller high school productions, such as Bye Bye Birdie.
16) Do you know all the lyrics to all the music that you listen to?
I have a pretty good memory for lyrics, but I can’t say I have a perfect memory for it. I’d probably be fairly decent at a game that asked you to remember lyric to songs … provided I was familiar with the song.
17) When you are listening to music — are you listening to the music itself or the lyrics too?
It depends on how distracted I am, if I am listening to music while doing other things. I listen to both. I can sometimes enjoy simple songs with simple lyrics, but the writer in me enjoys music with more complex lyrics. I can also be pretty analytical of songs and their meanings, even with songs I don’t particularly like.
18) Do you listen to music when you go cycling/jogging or working out at the gym? [or any other physical activity?]
Yes. I do a lot of YouTube workouts. Sometimes, the fitness instructors don’t have the license to use very interesting music in their workouts, so I’ll find my own music to play on another tab.
19) Many operas are in French, Italian or German. If you listen to opera, do you understand the libretto (text) or are you happy to get the main idea (gist)?
A little bit of both. I actually enjoy a lot of different music in foreign languages, not just opera, and it isn’t completely necessary for me to understand everything to appreciate it. I do appreciate an English translation and will often look it up if it’s not provided. I have studied both French and German so know a little of both. I’ve never studied Italian but have picked up on a few words and phrases from Italian restaurant menus and studying librettos side by side with the English translation. Some years ago, I saw a Metropolitan Opera film of Les Comtes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach. I liked it so well that I borrowed the soundtrack from the library. Because French was already somewhat familiar, after looking at the French and English side by side, I found it much easier to understand than other operas.
This is just an aria from that opera in a concert format, but I love this one with a mechanical doll that winds down and has to be wound up again.
Here is another foreign language song, in Arabic, that was just recommended to me by YouTube. It sounds so different from western music but so pretty. She has a lovely voice. The English translation is provided.
20) Are you deleting any questions? If so, which ones?
This one … I guess.
21) Do you enjoy watching music videos? What music videos do you enjoy watching most?
I think it should be obvious by now that the simple answer to that question is “yes.” Some music “videos” on YouTube aren’t really videos at all, just the sound with a still picture as in the video I posted for the soundtrack of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s always fun when you can find a music video that has great music and is visually interesting. I like Katie Melua and think she has a unique quality to her voice. This video is interesting, and someone has commented that the effects are odd. I guess it is a bit surreal, but I think it is meant to represent her traveling in her mind/dreams.
With such things as Pandora radio and YouTube making recommendations based on music you’ve played or liked, your musical wanderings can sometimes take you to some interesting places, introducing you to new artists and new songs, possibly even new instruments or cultures. The more curious you are and open to new things, the more you will be introduced to more interesting new sounds.
This playlist features songs that have some relationship to folk or world music but aren’t purely so (with the exception of the first one.) It may be modern songs played with traditional instruments or western songs played with eastern instruments or some other mashup of cultural sounds. This first one by the Gothard Sisters is not so much of a mashup or twist, but it fits the theme of “wandering” so well, with the video featuring scenes from the group’s world travels.
In this next one, YouTuber Luna plays an American rock song, “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors on a gayageum, a traditional Korean instrument with 12 strings. It really has an interesting sound that some commenters described as “spooky.” It appears she had to play three different parts at separate times and do some overdubbing.
I’ve seen a few videos now from Paola Hermosin, Spanish guitarist. She is not just a “Spanish guitarist” in the sense of guitar style. She is also from Seville, Spain. Although all of her introductions are in Spanish, there are English subtitles, and I always learn miniature lessons on music history, composers and singers and song structure. In this one, she has arranged a song composed for the koto, a Japanese instrument somewhat similar to the gayageum, for the guitar.
This YouTuber, who calls herself Alina Gingertail, is from Russia. She is a multi-instrumentalist who plays all sorts of interesting traditional and folk instruments. She often covers video game theme music.
You would expect a bagpiper to come from Scotland or Ireland or to be someone with that heritage. You wouldn’t expect one to come from India, where this bagpiper, who calls herself the Snake Charmer, does. In this original song, she pays tribute to both Irish and Punjabi culture and even collaborates with a rapper, Raoul Kerr. I love watching all of the traditional dancing from both cultures.
I first discovered Twelve Girls Band from China in a PBS special. They play western music with traditional Chinese instruments. The instruments played include the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle, the pipa, a four-stringed instrument, the zhongruan, also known as a moon guitar, the dizi, a traverse flute, the yangqin, a hammered dulcimer, the guzheng, a zither, and the duxianqin, a one string plucked instrument. Here, they cover “El Condor Pasa” made famous in the English speaking world by Simon & Garfunkel, but the song has an older history than the folk duo. It was composed by a Peruvian composer, Daniel Alombia Rombles, in 1913. The Simon & Garfunkel version featured a different folk instrument, the pan flute, which originated in ancient Mayan and Incan civilization.
Patty Gurdy plays a hurdy gurdy. I’ve met a lot of people who play instruments, but I can’t say I’ve ever met someone who can play the hurdy gurdy. It’s a folk instrument that is hand cranked to turn a rosined wheel against strings. Keyboard buttons also press small wedges against strings. In this video, Patty Gurdy covers an ’80s song by the Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams.”
The next video is from B&B Project, a duo from Ukraine, who seek to popularize their folk instruments, the bandura and button accordion. Here, they cover “Clubbed to Death” from The Matrix soundtrack.
Below is one of the most unusual yet, a Mongolian folk metal band, The Hu, (not be confused with The Who.) They use a singing technique called Mongolian throat singing, where the singer can sing more than one note at once.
I first got acquainted with music by Ahmed Alshaiba when he collaborated with Peter Hollens. Alshaiba is a Yemenite, and he often covers pop songs, giving them a bit of a Middle Eastern sound, with his oud and guitar. Here he covers “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd.
Alex Boye is originally from London, England and now living in the U.S. He was born to Nigerian parents and likes to perform what he calls Africanized covers of pop songs. Here, he plays “Royals” by Lorde and has a little fun with African tribal masquerade and a little humor with a Christmas wreath. I discovered him on YouTube, but at that point, he had already gained some fame on America’s Got Talent. I love his harmonies on this one.
I first heard this cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor on one of my Pandora radio station, and I tuned in. It almost gave me chills. I’m not sure why. It is not my favorite song by the Beatles, and I’m not sure I agree with the message behind it. I think it’s partly due to the beauty of Spektor’s voice. This version with its unique Japanese instrumentation also seems oddly emotive. It was made for the soundtrack of Kubo and the Two Strings, a movie I’ve never seen. The song features the shamisen, a three stringed Japanese instrument.
Perhaps, I am more open than the average person to world sounds, but I hope you enjoyed your tour of interesting musical mashups. Which did you find the most interesting? Which did you like hearing the best?