By the very nature of the process of making the music, any tune can become a jazz tune. Some well-known standards, which I need not mention to further popularize them, are done so often that they are beyond tiresome. But jazz compositions stick with you for other reasons. The melody may be striking, or perhaps you’ve witnessed a performance that left you with goosebumps. The reasons will vary from listener to listener.
Just for fun, I started thinking the other night about my most favorite jazz tunes.
Here are the top 12 – right now. The first five are ranked by personal preference. The others are close behind but not listed in any particular order.
|Ahmad Jamal at Newport, 2010|
1 - “Poinciana” - Ahmad Jamal has been playing this 1930s tune, popularized in the 1952 film “Dreamboat,” since the mid-1950s. It became his become his signature tune thanks to a two-year ride on the top 10 charts after his 1958 recorded version was released in 1963 on his Live at the Pershing album. I’ve heard him perform it live many times – and never the same way twice. He always finds new things to explore and share.
2 - “Con Alma” - Dizzy Gillespie is better known for his standards “Manteca” and “Night in Tunisia,” among others. This ballad, with a Spanish name that translates as “with soul” has always been a favorite. It is a beauty - and is so different than the music we normally associate with Dizzy.
3 - “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)” - This Joaquin Rodrigo composition is the opening segment - dare I say highlight? – of the landmark Miles Davis and Gil Evans Sketches of Spain project. It is one of my favorite Davis albums. Little-known fact: When the album was first released in 1960, the packaging did not include the band personnel. One of them was drummer Elvin Jones - who played the mood-setting castinets.
4 - “Peace” - This Horace Silver ballad’s finest rendition, to my ears, is by pianist Tommy Flanagan on his 1978 Something Borrowed, Something Blue album. The esteemed jazz broadcaster Eric Jackson used this version as his “Eric in the Evening” theme song for many years on WGBH-FM in Boston.
5 - “Blue in Green” - This Bill Evans composition was one of only two ballads on Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue album. Evans wrote the tune, but Davis got the compositional credit - and royalty checks. Its modal melody sticks with you.
- “To Wisdom, the Prize” - Bassist Dominic Mancini hipped me to this pensive Larry Willis tune. He’d first heard it on a Joey Calderazzo trio album The Traveler (Blue Note, 1993). It debuted 10 years earlier on trumpeter Nat Adderley’s On the Move album when Willis was the band’s pianist. That session was recorded in October 1982 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner jazz club.
- “Little Sunflower” - This Freddie Hubbard classic is quite the contrast to his more uptempo material.
- “Jeannine” - Duke Pearson wrote it around 1960. Many jazz bands have covered it and continue to do so today. It’s boppish energy make it a great springboard for improvisers.
- “Afro-Blue” - Mongo Santamaria composed this Latin jazz gem. John Coltrane covered it, so did McCoy Tyner, whose big band arrangement is riveting.
- “The Sidewinder” - Lee Morgan’s 1964 album title track stands out as a genre-defining tune for the 1960s soul jazz scene, much like another personal favorite, Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” Both have become jazz standards.
- “Joy Spring” - Trumpeter Clifford Brown composed it as a tribute to his wife. It was recorded in1954 on the EmArcy recording Clifford Brown& Max Roach – two years before Brown died in a car crash at age 25. Thanks to music like this, his jazz legacy endures 60 years later.
- “Moanin’” - This Bobby Timmons tune was first recorded by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1958. It has a catchy call-and-response melodic segment that indeed caught on – and helped turn it into a jazz instrumental standard. Singer Jon Hendricks added lyrics.
So, what’s on your list?