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?”