The 100 Greatest Jazz Songs
Here’s our list of classics from the Forties to present time
100.‘The Train And The River’ by Jimmy Guiffre and Jim Hall
The Sound of Jazz, Columbia, 1958
This is the theme song from the classic and very popular jazz documentary film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, made at the Newport Jazz Festival 1958. The most wonderful experience in watching the film is in the introduction, where a train is lazily chugging by a river enroute to Newport. The music, which matches the progress of the train is played on clarinet and tenor sax by Jimmy Guiffre while the meandering river is depicted by Jim Hall’s guitar.
99. ‘Fine & Mellow’ by Billie Holiday
The Sound of Jazz, Columbia, 1958
This took place in 1957 when a video film called The Sound of Jazz was made at CBS studios in New York. Apart from Billie Holiday, the band included great tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster, baritone sax man Gerry Mulligan, Vic Dickenson on trombone, Doc Cheatham on trombone, Mal Waldron on piano and legendary drummer Jo Jones on drums. This was one of Billie Holiday’s last recordings.
98. ‘Dear Ruby (Ruby My Dear)’ by Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae Sings Monk, RCA Victor, 1988
One of the greatest ever vocalists in jazz, Carmen McRae, was blessed with a perfectly chiselled voice and a sense of timing that few others emulated. ‘Dear Ruby’ is, of course, Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’. Carmen is accompanied by Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Eric Gunnison on piano, George Mraz on bass and Al Foster on drums on this 1988 RCA Victor album.
97. ‘Sister Sadie’ by The Woody Herman Band
Woody Herman, Echo Jazz/Philips, 1963
Horace Silver composed this catchy tune and played it with great success. Clarinetist and band leader Woody Herman endowed the tune with some oomph of his own. Sal Nistico on tenor sax has a rousing solo and has very fine support from Bill Chase on trumpet, Phil Wilson on trombone and Nat Pierce on piano.
96. ‘Mean What You Say’ by The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra
Presenting Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra, Solid State, 1966
The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra was a hard-driving, high-energy band. This band had great individual musicians such as Eddie Daniels, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Knepper, Joe Farrell and others. ‘Mean What You Say,’ a studio recording, is a throbbing, vibrant number where the different horn sections are heard working with precision to create a single sound.
95. ‘It Could Happen to You’ by The Keith Jarrett Trio
Tokyo ‘96, ECM, 1998
Keith Jarrett with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums played like a well-oiled machine, fully sensitive to each others’ music, resulting in ‘It Could Happen to You’ which is simply delicious. The piano-playing is magnificent and the interplay between the three musicians is most impressive.
94. ‘Out to Lunch’ by Eric Dolphy
Out to Lunch, Blue Note, 1964
His ‘Out to Lunch’ from an album of the same name was a 1964 Blue Note record. This original tune of Eric Dolphy’s is a brilliant piece, complex and yet energetic. The musicians on this set are an all star cast. Freddie Hubbard plays trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson, vibes, Richard Davis is on bass and the brilliant Tony Williams is the drummer on this set.
93. ‘Bright Moments’ by Roland Kirk
Bright Moments, Rhino, 1974
‘Rahsaan’ Roland Kirk was a saxophone player. Unlike any other from any sphere of music, Kirk could, and often would play two or even three saxophones simultaneously. Kirk played straight jazz but combined many elements from the history of jazz music. He was straight, mainstream and avant garde, all almost simultaneously. For all these seeming contradictions, Kirk’s music was original and of consistently high calibre. We have chosen ‘Bright Moments,’ a Randy Weston tune from Roland Kirk’s album of the same name.
92. ‘Take the A Train’ by The Duke Ellington Orchestra
Duke Ellington’s 70th Birthday Concert, Blue Note, 1969
‘Take the A Train,’ a great standard was written by The Duke’s loyal and trusted arranger, Billy Strayhorn, has become the Duke’s best known offering in jazz This tune would almost always open or close a concert by Ellington’s band and would be welcomed with gusto.
91. ‘Straight, No Chaser’ by Thelonious Monk
Straight, No Chaser, Columbia/Legacy, 1967
‘Straight, No Chaser’ undoubtedly refers to an order placed in a bar by Monk at some time in his career. Thelonious’ long standing quartet included the faithful Charlie Rouse on tenor sax.
90. ‘Night and Day’ by Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker with Strings, Verve, 1995
‘Night and Day’ is a famous Cole Porter composition sung and played by leading jazz musicians. Here, Charlie Parker makes it his own and leaves his indelible stamp on it. The most remarkable aspect of this beautiful work is that Parker was playing a plastic saxophone. He had pawned his usual horn and could not redeem it for the session. He had been given this red, transparent plastic horn almost as a lark, which nobody was able to get a sound out of and proceeded to play this great session.
89. ‘Lady Be Good’ by Kenny Burrell
On View at the Five Spot Cafe, Blue Note, 1959
The George Gershwin composition, ‘Lady Be Good,’ an easy-going, melodic composition, is taken on a rollercoaster ride by this band. The group is led by guitarist Kenny Burrell with Art Blakey on drums, Bobby Timmons on piano, Ben Tucker on bass and the seldom recorded but swinging tenor man, Tina Brooks.
88. ‘Autumn Leaves’ by Cannonball Adderley
Something Else, Blue Note, 1958
Cannonball Adderley was, of course once a sideman in the great Miles Davis Sextet in the late Fifties. However, they recorded one album together where Adderley was the leader and Davis a mere sideman. This has Hank Jones playing piano, Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey on drums. The arrangement is quite different from the original; the opening, the tempo of the music and the feel of ‘Autumn Leaves’ is really something else.
87. ‘I Remember Clifford’ by Benny Golson
Stockholm Sojourn, OJC, 1964
Tenor saxophonist and composer Benny Golson wrote this most poignant tune, ‘I Remember Clifford,’ in dedication to Clifford Brown. A most touching, sensitive song, this has become an established jazz standard.
86. ‘Moanin’’ by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Moanin’, Blue Note, 1958
‘Moanin’’ is an established jazz tune, written by pianist Bobby Timmons and almost every edition of The Jazz Messengers has played the tune. We have picked the version with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on tenor sax and Bobby Timmons on piano. The individual performances are quite inspired and the session is extremely lively.
85. ‘Three O’Clock in the Morning’ by Dexter Gordon
Go, Blue Note, 1962
‘Three O’Clock in the Morning’ has Dexter Gordon in a blue, reflective mood and it really sounds as if he is describing that time of night. His playing is lyrical, yet swinging on this piece.
84. ‘Monk’s Mood’ by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane
At Carnegie Hall, Blue Note, 2005
A sensational discovery in Washington, about 4 years ago unearthed some “lost tapes” from a recording of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane in a 1957 concert. To ‘Monk’s Mood,’ Coltrane adds new hues to the mood of the composition. Monk is also heard in a buoyant, extended solo.
83. ‘My One and Only Love’ by Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Impulse, 1963
Johnny Hartman was a most underrated and neglected jazz singer. John Coltrane is superlative on this track – sensitive and explorative at the same time while Hartman is truly inspired. This is a must-have album in any jazz collection.
82. ‘I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good’ by Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington
Ella Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, Verve, 1964
This great composition of Duke Ellington has Ella Fitzgerald making you believe that she really “has it bad.” Ben Webster plays his characteristic low notes on his gruff tenor sax which seem to scratch through your speakers.
81. ‘My Foolish Heart’ by Kurt Elling
Live in Chicago, Blue Note, 2000
‘My Foolish Heart’ is a jazz standard which has been sung and played by such notables as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans and others. The treatment given to it by Kurt Elling is quite remarkable. In an extended version of this song, Elling opens in conventional style and pays his due respects to the song in the first few bars of the song. He then takes off into stretching the limits of the scope of the tune with breathtaking improvisations and delivers an end product, surely beyond the visions of the original songwriters, Washington and Young.
80. ‘Yardbird Suite’ by Charlie Parker
Complete Dial Sessions, Stash Records, 1947
While Parker was the past master of bebop and a master of the ballad, he was always conscious of his blues heritage and it was always evident in his approach to music. ‘Yardbird Suite’ was a signature Parker tune. These are happy blues played by Bird. Nothing more need be added.
79. ‘You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To’ by Art Pepper
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Contemporary/OJC, 1957
The story goes that Art Pepper, living in California at that time, was asked to record with Miles Davis’ rhythm section, which was passing through to meet Davis in Las Vegas. Not familiar with each other’s music, Pepper suggested that they record well-known standards which they all knew well. The result was this flawless recording of ‘You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,’ with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Pepper sounds sensitive yet authoritative on the alto sax.
78. ‘Little Sunflower’ by Christian McBride
Number Two Express, Verve, 1995
Freddie Hubbard wrote this piece and it was received with critical acclaim but moderate success when he released his version in early 1970. The tune has a lot of potential not just as a sweet ballad but in its chordal complexity. Christian McBride, a contemporary bassist saw this potential and played an extraordinary version of ‘Little Sunflower.’ His band for the session included Kenny Barron on piano, Jack DeJohnnette on drums among others.
77.‘Birdland’ by Weather Report
Heavy Weather, Columbia, 1977
The group Weather Report, led by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter enjoyed popular success for a while. The tune ‘Birdland’ is the group’s tribute to the best known jazz club, Birdland in New York. It enjoyed huge commercial and popular success and has become a modern jazz standard.
76. ‘Song for My Father’ by Horace Silver
Song for My Father, Blue Note, 1964
Horace Silver pioneered the hard-bop style of jazz in the Fifties and is popular with many of the young leaders of the present jazz fraternity. ‘Song for My Father’ was performed with Joe Henderson on tenor and Carmell Jones on trumpet. It has a slow, lilting rhythm and features intricate piano-work from Silver.
75. ‘Misty’ by Sarah Vaughan
The Complete Mercury Recordings of Sarah Vaughan, Polygram, 1987
‘Misty’ is a great jazz standard written by pianist Errol Garner and performed by almost every jazz group and vocalist. Sarah Vaughan’s version of ‘Misty,’ backed by an orchestra comprising of strings, occupied top billing on many pop charts.
74. Cookin’ at the Continental’ by Lambert Hendricks and Ross
The Hottest New Group in Town, Columbia, 1962
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (LH&B) were probably the most electrifying vocalese group ever in jazz. ‘Cookin’ at the Continental’ is a Horace Silver original. The pace is hectic and the vocalists do full vocal justice to the instrumental solos of Silver (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Junior Cook (saxophone).
73. ‘Un Poco Loco’ by Bud Powell
The Amazing Bud Powell, Blue Note, 1949
From Bud Powell, perhaps the grand daddy of bop jazz pianists, this is a spectacular recording. ‘Un Poco Loco’ has a frenzied pace with a broken rhythm played by Bud Powell on piano with the wizard Max Roach pushing the tempo up with his insistent use of the hi-hat on his drum kit.
72. ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ by Cannonball Adderley
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Columbia, 1966
Joe Zawinul recorded some amazing tunes of his own composition with Cannonball Adderley’s band. This was a live session and one of the most exciting outputs from the group. Introducing ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,’ Adderley tells us, “it sounds like what you’re supposed to say when things go all wrong in life.” Hear it and you will see exactly what he means.
71. ‘Midnight Special’ by Jimmy Smith
Midnight Special, Blue Note, 1960
Jimmy Smith transported the organ from the church onto the jazz scene. It has since become an accepted accessory among jazz instruments. In ‘Midnight Special,’ the listener could feel that he is invited to kneel and pray in church. With the strong tenor sax of Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell’s guitar backing him, Smith takes us through the groove.
70. ‘Manha De Carnaval’ by Gerry Mulligan
Night Lights, Phillips, 1963
This album has an all-star cast with Art Farmer on trumpet, Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone and Jim Hall on guitar. The sextet plays the most beautiful version of ‘Manha De Carnaval,’ taken from the film Black Orpheus and written by Brazilian Louiz Bonfa. It has a most subtle, sensuous rhythm and superlative work by Mulligan, Farmer and Hall.
69. ‘Blame It on My Youth’ by Art Farmer
Blame It on My Youth, Contemporary Records, 1988
Art Farmer made consistently good recordings during his long career. ‘Blame It on My Youth’ is a beautiful ballad where Farmer’s trumpet enunciates each phrase with warmth and beauty. James Williams on piano, Rufus Reid, bass, Victor Lewis, drums and Clifford Jordon on tenor sax complete the band.
68. ‘Parisienne Thoroughfare’ by Clifford Brown/Max Roach
Clifford Brown & Max Roach, EmArcy Records, 1955
Clifford Brown and Harold Land (tenor sax) open the number with the sounds of car horns in traffic before breaking into the melody. Bud Powell’s brother Richie is heard on piano in this fantastic session and Max Roach’s work on the drums seems way ahead of the times.
67. ‘Better Get It in Your Soul’ by Charles Mingus
Mingus Ah Um, Columbia, 1959
Charles Mingus has been one of the most vital of all jazz musicians and ‘Better Get It in Your Soul’ is a crackerjack. His sidemen for this session were John Handy on alto, Booker Erwin and Shafi Hadi on tenor sax, Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis on trombone, Roland Hanna on piano and Danny Richmond on drums.
66. ‘Compared To What?’ by Les McCann and Eddie Harris
Swiss Movement, Rhino, 1969
In 1969 the album, Swiss Movement was made from a live recording of Les McCann’s group playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A masterful rendition by the band of the soulful, ‘Compared To What?’ was the highlight of that performance. The quintet included Benny Bailey on trumpet and Eddie Harris on electric tenor sax. Neither Harris nor Bailey had ever played or rehearsed with the band before nor had they been given the music in advance. It all just came together on stage.
65. ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ by Miles Davis
Someday My Prince Will Come, Columbia, 1961
Miles Davis had included Hank Mobley to play tenor sax in place of John Coltrane who had left to form his own band. Understandably, Mobley, who was most excited to be playing alongside Davis, had practised a lot for this recording session. He played a beautiful solo on ‘Someday My Prince Will Come.’ By coincidence, Coltrane was visiting the studio at the time. He walked in to the session and played a stunning solo to leave Mobley crestfallen. Mobley learnt the hard way why jazz is called “the sound of surprise.”
64. ‘Invitation’ by John Coltrane
The Stardust Sessions, Prestige, 1958
On The Stardust Sessions John Coltrane played his version of ‘Invitation,’ which is brilliant. The rhythm section consists of Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. A trumpet player, Wilbur Harden is added to the group. John Coltrane plays an inventive and aggressive solo.
63. ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’ by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Ella and Louis Again, Verve, 1957
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded a couple of ‘five star’ albums with the Oscar Peterson Trio. ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm’ is an Irving Berlin composition and treated here with a warm touch by Fitzgerald and Armstrong in a flawless performance.
62. ‘Night Train’ by The Oscar Peterson Trio
Night Train, Verve, 1962
‘Night Train’ made a considerable impact when it was released. Oscar Peterson is playing at his very best. Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen provide strong support.
61. ‘Flying Home’ by Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton (1942-1945), MCA, 1990
‘Flying Home’ is an exuberant big band number and is famous for the long, swinging solo of Illinois Jacquet on tenor sax. This was recorded in 1942 and released on several compilations of Lionel Hampton’s music. It was so popular that both Lionel Hampton and Jacquet always played ‘Flying Home’ throughout their long playing careers.
60. ‘Freddie Freeloader’ by Jon Hendricks
Freddie Freeloader, Denon, 1990
In 1990, Jon Hendricks recorded the album, Freddie Freeloader for Denon. He had invited Bobby McFerrin, George Benson and Al Jarreau for the session. The title track, ‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a fine vocalese version of Miles Davis’ famous tune. Each vocalist has chosen a solo from Miles’ instrumental version. McFerrin sings pianist Wynton Kelly’s piano part, Jarreau does Davis’, Benson takes on the Cannonball Adderley part and Hendricks comes in to do the John Coltrane solo. This is a most memorable recording.
59. ‘Dark Eyes’ by Dizzy Gillespie
For Musicians Only, Verve, 1956
Dizzy Gillespie assembled an unusual group of musicians and recorded a most exciting album, with Stan Getz on tenor, Sonny Stitt on alto sax and John Lewis on piano. The playing throughout this album is at a frenetic pace. It is bebop at its best. While Gillespie and Stitt are at home with bebop, Getz is a revelation, keeping pace with the other two. ‘Dark Eyes’ is recorded in two takes, both released on this album.
58. ‘Waltz For Debby’ by Bill Evans
Waltz For Debby, Riverside, 1961
Bill Evans’ most exciting group included Paul Motian on drums and the brilliant Scott LeFaro on acoustic bass. LeFaro was tragically killed in a car crash in 1961 at a young age. ‘Waltz For Debby,’ taken from a 1961 album of the same name, is a song written by Evans for his daughter. The interplay between the three musicians, particularly the Evans-LeFaro passages is a pleasing aspect of this sensitive ballad.
57. ‘Easy To Love’ by Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker with Strings, Verve 1995
Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, originator of bebop, a saxophone player known for his fast play and rapid changes, was also a great master when it came to playing ballads. This Cole Porter ballad has been treated majestically by Bird. Every time I hear it, it sounds as fresh as ever. Bird was just a magician on the alto sax.
56. ‘Cocktails For Two’ by Ray Charles and Betty Carter
Ray Charles and Betty Carter, ABC 1961
In life it is said, Ray Charles and Betty Carter did not like each other. Put together to sing this album of duets, they have created a stunner. Backed by Russ Garcia’s Band, the music is a consistent tapestry of beautiful vocals. Two songs stand out; one is ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ and the other, ‘Cocktails for Two.’
55. ‘Mumbles’ by Clark Terry with The Oscar Peterson trio
The Oscar Peterson Trio plus One, Verve, 1964
On ‘Mumbles,’ Clark Terry abandons his trumpet and decides to sing. He literally mumbles his words. They may be nonsense lyrics but the listener gets the feeling that they might be in some foreign language. Clark Terry doesn’t just scat; he seems to sing in a new, unknown language.
54. ‘Nardis’ by Cannonball Adderley
A Portrait of Cannonball, Riverside, 1958
While he was playing with the Miles Davis Sextet, Cannonball Adderley recorded this album, with Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Bill Evans on piano. ‘Nardis’ was written by Davis and has interesting chord changes in the tune. Cannonball negotiates these changes with dexterity and brings an almost mystical mood in the performance.
53. ‘Bennie’s Boogie’ by The Oscar Peterson Trio
Oscar Peterson Live in Paris, Pablo, 1977
In 1977, Oscar Peterson played a concert at the Salle Pleyal in Paris which is better than anything we have heard from him. Oscar is on piano and had acoustic guitarist Joe Pass and Danish bassist, Neils Pederson. No drums were used, nor did they seem necessary. On ‘Bennie’s Boogie,’ Peterson starts with an unaccompanied but long opening, followed by both Pass and Pederson also playing long unaccompanied passages to a swinging boogie composition. The climax is a crescendo of the trio playing in harmony.
52. ‘Back to the Land’ by Lester Young
The Lester Young Story, Verve, 1950
One of the greatest saxophone stylists, Lester Young headed a school of tenor play that has plenty of following. He liked to play on the after beat and was the most illustrious of Count Basie’s musicians. ‘Back to the Land’ has Nat Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums and was recorded in 1950.
51. ‘Come Fly With Me’ by Frank Sinatra
Sinatra at the Sands, Reprise, 1966
Frank Sinatra was perhaps the greatest ever singer of American music in the last century. Although he was much sought after in the popular and entertainment sphere, Sinatra was held in high esteem in the jazz community as well. On ‘Come Fly With Me’ he has the backing of the Count Basie Orchestra in this live Las Vegas recording. The band arranger was Quincy Jones. We love his reference to “a bar in far Bombay” in the song.
50. ‘Oleo’ by Phineas Newborn Jr
A World of Piano, Contemporary Records, 1961
A brilliant, if unheralded bebop pianist, Phineas Newborn Jr was an undoubted genius. ‘Oleo,’ written by Sonny Rollins receives special treatment from Newborn Jr and he just dazzles with speed and dexterity.
49. ‘My Romance’ by Ben Webster
Ben and Sweets, Columbia, 1962
‘My Romance’ is a classic George Gershwin tune chosen by Ben Webster for very special treatment. On this album Webster asks Sweets Edison to sit out while the rhythm section, led by pianist Hank Jones, creates the mood for this great performance. Some of the notes produced by Webster are so low that they may not be heard on less than very good music systems.
48. ‘Mack the Knife’ by Ella Fitzgerald
Ella in Berlin, Verve, 1960
Backed by a quartet featuring pianist Paul Smith and guitarist Jim Hall, Ella Fitzgerald sang ‘Mack the Knife,’ a Kurt Weill composition. This is a highly inspired version where she forgot the lyrics during the concert, and then sang her own improvised words without missing a step and concluded the performance with an imitation of Louis Armstrong.
47. ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ by Billie Holiday
Velvet Mood, Verve, 1954
A tragic figure in jazz, Billie Holiday sang with plenty of pain and feeling as is evident in her recordings. On ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ the band backing her is an assembly of all-stars with Benny Carter on alto sax, Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Barney Kessel on guitar and Jimmy Rowles on piano. The song is a Duke Ellington composition and Miss Holiday tells you precisely what the composer wanted conveyed to the listener, with spellbinding phrasing.
46. ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ by Stan Getz
Getz-Gilberto, Verve, 1964
Jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, fascinated by the bossa nova rhythms, spent time in Brazil with Antonio Carlos Jobim who originally wrote this song. Joao Gilberto was the Brazilian guitarist on this album. His wife, Astrud Gilberto was the translator for the group but was not a singer. Stan Getz liked the way she voiced the English lyrics of the song (originally in Portuguese) and invited her to record with the band and coming up with a huge hit.
45. ‘Desafinado’ by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Jazz Samba, Verve, 1962
This is the anthem of jazz samba. using guitarist Charlie Byrd, two acoustic bass players and two drummers, Stan Getz creates a pulsating, driving background upon which he plays a swinging saxophone. When released, ‘Desafinado’ took the jazz world by storm and immediately had any number of musicians hop on to the bossa nova bandwagon. Nobody however, has been able to match the beauty and feel of this Getz original.
44. ‘Only Trust Your Heart’ by Benny Carter
The Benny Carter Songbook, Music Masters, 1995
Benny Carter was indeed a jazz legend and a rarity in that he played both the alto sax and trumpet. He was also a very fine composer, bandleader and arranger with great enthusiasm for live performances. ‘Only Trust Your Heart’ is a beautiful ballad played on the alto by the maestro with able backing from cornetist Warren Vache and others. This tune, written by Carter, has a contemporary sound and a gentle bossa nova background.
43. ‘Tin Tin Deo’ by Dizzy Gillespie with The Double Six Of Paris
Dizzy Gillespie and The Double Six of Paris, Polygram, 1963
On this album, the French vocalese group Double Six harmonises with Gillespie on trumpet and Bud Powell on piano, creating a little bit of jazz magic. The tune, ‘Tin Tin Deo’ is one of Dizzy’s Latin-tinted compositions and the Double Six lend vocal support almost as a brass section in a big band, behind fairly long and involved solo forays from Gillespie on trumpet and wizard bop pianist Bud Powell.
42. A Night In Tunisia’ by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
Jazz at Massey Hall: The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever, Original Jazz Masters, 1953
This number is from the legendaryconcert at Massey Hall, Toronto. The line-up consists of Charlie Parker on alto sax, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Charles Mingus on bass, Bud Powell on piano and Max Roach on drums, each of them perhaps the top instrumentalist in his field. The timing of the concert was unfortunate. A world heavyweight boxing fight was on at the same time and it drew away the audience from the jazz. To make matters worse, Gillespie was keen to follow the bout and would often step off the stage for updates. Added to this, Parker and Gillespie were not on talking terms. The result was explosive music. Gillespie’s famous tune was played, stretched and fully explored by the band. It would appear that scores were being settled by the soloists in a kind of live battle through the set. The end product is unbelievable.
41. ‘Blue ‘N’ Boogie’ by Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly/Johnny Griffin
Full House, Riverside, 1962
When you put ace jazz musicians together in the setting of an improvised live session, the result can be quite fascinating. Such an event occurred when guitarist Wes Montgomery, pianist Wynton Kelly, tenor man Johnny Griffin, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones got together in 1962. The rhythm section had played together as a trio with Miles Davis but the other two stalwarts were strangers to the setting. This resulted in a lively recording of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Blue ‘N’ Boogie.’ The introduction has Wynton Kelly doing an elaborate piano chorus only to be interrupted by an enthusiastic Johnny Griffin playing the opening line of the tune.
40. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ by Louis Armstrong
Satch Plays Fats, Columbia, 2000
Pianist and composer Fats Waller wrote this piece on a dare and earned about $15 and no royalties for the composition. Louis Armstrong, jazz ambassador at large and one of its most dominant influences ever, has taken ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ to great heights by putting his soul into interpreting the lyrics.
39. ‘Autumn Leaves’ by Sarah Vaughan
Crazy and Mixed Up, Pablo, 1982
In listening to this version of ‘Autumn Leaves,’ one gets the impression that Sarah Vaughan and her group are exploring an introduction or entrance to the song but then get so carried away with the endeavour that they completely omit the lyrics and tune to the song as actually written.
38. ‘I’ll Remember April’ by The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet
At Basin Street, Polygram, 1956
This is a jewel in the jazz firmament played by arguably the best group ever to play jazz. Leader and drummer Max Roach is at the peak of his creativity and opens the number with a brilliant drum introduction, setting the pace for fiery attacks on the trumpet by Clifford Brown and tenor by Sonny Rollins.
37. ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’ by Joe Williams and The Count Basie Band
Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings, Verve, 1955
Joe Williams’ debut album with the Basie Band, recorded in 1955 is a momentous album. While Williams could not quite come up with the high pitched sound Jimmy Rushing provided on the blues, he was superb on sentimental and romantic material. On ‘Everyday I Have the Blues,’ the band and vocal combination is delightful.
36. ‘Society Red’ by Dexter Gordon
Doin’ Alright, Blue Note, 1961
This is featured in the jazz film, Round Midnight, where Dexter Gordon plays an American jazz musician in Europe. (He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role.) ‘Society Red’ was composed by Gordon and Freddie Hubbard and pianist Horace Parlan give admirable support to him on this track.
35. ‘A Child Is Born’ by Bill Evans
Quintessence, Fantasy, 1976
This is a composition written by trumpet player and band leader Thad Jones for the birth of his tenor sax player Eddie Daniels’ first child while they were touring with the band. While their band played a nice version, Bill Evans recorded a wonderful version of ‘A Child is Born’ in his album Quintessence.
34. ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington
Live at the1956 Stratford Festival, Music & Arts Program of America, 1999
No other single jazz musician has had a greater contribution in making jazz America’s classical music as Duke Ellington. One of his most classy compositions is ‘Sophisticated Lady’ with a complex bridge along the way. Although it was recorded several times during Duke’s long career, we recommend the version from Duke Ellington Live at the 1957 Stratford Festival.
33. ‘Equinox’ by John Coltrane
Coltrane’s Sound, Atlantic, 1960
John Coltrane was born on September 23 which is the vernal equinox, when night and day are exactly equal. The tune ‘Equinox’ could be alluding to this phenomenon. It is a jazz standard par excellence and Coltrane is at his eloquent best with the backing of McCoy Tyner on piano.
32. ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ by Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan, EmArcy, 1954
This exceptional record was made in the heyday of the jazz vocal period, when Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Carmen MacRae dominated the scene. “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan, with the stellar backing of Clifford Brown (trumpet), Herbie Mann (flute) and Paul Quinechette on the sax with Jimmy Jones on piano and as set arranger, has created a pure gem. This is a classic, though sadly a one-time-only line-up.
31. ‘Organ Grinder’s Swing’ by Jimmy Smith
Organ Grinder Swing, Verve, 1965
If someone wants to do a jazz show, there could be no better opening tune than Jimmy Smith’s ‘Organ Grinder’s Swing.’ This is from Jimmy Smith with Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums. The organ player is at his best and defines “funk” in jazz.
30. ‘El Matador’ by Kenny Dorham
The Matador, Blue Note, 1961
An important but relatively unsung trumpet master, Kenny Dorham recorded with Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson and others. He had a pure, rich tone. ‘El Matador’ is a composition in several moods.
29. ‘My Melancholy Baby’ by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker
Bird & Diz, Verve, 1950
Although they co-created the jazz genre of bebop, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker broke up as a band in the Forties due to personal differences. They were so well-matched in their virtuosity that almost all their recordings together are classics. At the peak of their powers, they recorded the album from which this song is taken. Thelonious Monk was the pianist with this quintet.|
28. ‘Manteca’ by Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy’s Diamonds: The Best of Verve Years, Polygram, 1992
Dizzy Gillespie is a jazz institution and has been responsible for the innovation of such movements as bebop and latin jazz. He worked with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo to create several very popular jazz tunes, such as ‘Tin Tin Deo,’ ‘Manteca’ and ‘A Night in Tunisia.’ Dizzy’s ‘Manteca’ is a magnificent composition and is extensively recorded.
27. ‘Blue 7’ by Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus, OJC, 1956
In a very long career ranging from the early Fifties to the present day, Sonny Rollins has always been a dominant and important tenor saxophonist. He has experimented with various styles. He once went into a self-imposed exile for three years to try and evolve a new style. Later he experimented with a piano-less ensemble. From all these avatars, Rollins is in great form on ‘Blue 7’ aided and abetted by the backing of a sophisticated Max Roach on drums and Tommy Flannagan on the piano.
26. ‘Jive Samba’ by The Cannonball Adderley Sextet
Jazz Workshop Revisited, Blue Note, 1963
Cannonball Adderley did everything with flair. His playing had flair, and his choice of musicians in his band (Joe Zawinul, Yusef Lateef etc) spoke of this approach as did most of all his little speeches introducing songs in live recordings. You could almost feel the music coming before they played it, after Cannonball spoke. ‘The Jive Samba’ is written by his brother, Nat Adderley, who plays cornet on this piece and featuring Yusef Lateef on flute and oboe. It is based on the bossa nova beat and has long and soulful solos from Cannonball, Lateef, Nat and Joe Zawinul. The tune traverses the genres of jazz, gospel, R&B and is a pure gem.
25. ‘Canadian Sunset’ by Gene Ammons
Boss Tenor, Prestige, 1960
Like Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons was also a Chicago tenor sax player. They have recorded together and together have defined the Chicago Style of sax playing, characterised by a full-bodied, uninhibited style of blowing. However, Ammons’ style marries the two diametrically opposite styles of Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.
24. ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’ by Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt at the DJ Lounge, Argo, 1961
Sonny Stitt was often thought to be a mimic of Charlie Parker’s. A contemporary of Bird’s, he also played the alto sax in a very similar style. Stitt vehemently denied any influence from the master. This ballad has been taken to great heights by Sonny Stitt on his tenor sax. A real loss for jazz fans everywhere that this recording is out of print.
23. ‘Parker’s Mood’ by King Pleasure
King Pleasure Sings, Prestige, 1953
Vocalese is a very exciting jazz art form where lyrics are put to instrumental solos, thus creating a song. Eddie Jefferson was the pioneer of this art form closely followed by King Pleasure (real name, Clarence Beeks) who sang a number of memorable jazz vocalese songs and standards. His version of ‘Parker’s Mood’ does full justice to the spirit of Parker’s original.
22. ‘Parker’s Mood’ by Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker Memorial, Savoy, 1947
Charlie Parker was perhaps the greatest sax player ever. He created the genre of bebop in jazz, known for very fast tempos and unbelievable improvisations; but in ‘Parker’s Mood’ he plays a slow, introspective blues piece of incredible beauty. It was apparently composed and played spontaneously during a recording session.
21. ‘’Round About Midnight’ by Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk: The Columbia Years ’62-’68, Sony, 2001
If one tune were to be universally chosen to represent jazz, it is ‘’Round Midnight.’ This is the essential jazz anthem. It has been recorded by practically every jazz musician, from the late Forties – when it was composed by Thelonious Monk – to the present day.
20. ‘Stormy Monday’ by Lou Rawls
Live!, Capitol Records, 1965
At the beginning of his singing career, Lou Rawls made two very impressive jazz albums. Then he veered off into the lucrative domain of pop and R&B. His album, Stormy Monday, with pianist Les McCann in 1962 was much acclaimed when it was released. However, Lou Rawls’ version of ‘Stormy Monday’ in a 1965 album, Live!, is even better.
19. ‘Blue Bossa’ by Joe Henderson
Page One, Blue Note, 1963
In his 35-plus year career beginning in the early Sixties, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson played in a beautiful, warm, lyrical style with no obvious influences from past masters. ‘Blue Bossa’ is a clever marriage of the blues and the Brazilian rhythm made popular by Stan Getz’s bossa nova albums.
18. ‘Watermelon Man’ by Herbie Hancock
Takin’ Off, Blue Note, 1962
Herbie Hancock is the most vital contemporary pianist in jazz. He is responsible for a whole new style of playing jazz piano. ‘Watermelon Man,’ is a Hancock creation from his early days in the business where he defines his own distinctive piano sound.
17. ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ by Johnny Hodges
Johnny Hodges Soloist, Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra’, Verve, 1961
Being in Duke Ellington’s bands for several years, Johnny Hodges was one of the most distinguished alto sax players ever to play jazz. However, there were a few tunes where the Duke spotlighted Hodges. ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ is one such tune.
16. ‘Moonlight Serenade’ by Kurt Elling
Flirting with Twilight, Blue Note, 2001
Kurt Elling is one of the most exciting jazz vocalists on the current jazz scene. He has sung vocal versions of jazz tunes by either writing or using existing lyrics. Dexter Gordon’s ‘Tanya’ was one such example but in his album, Flirting With Twilight, Elling has pulled out an old chestnut, Glenn Miller’s classic, ‘Moonlight Serenade’ and has emerged with a modern jazz masterpiece.
15. ‘September in the Rain’ by George Shearing
Lullaby of Birdland, Verve, 1954
For almost a decade in the Fifties, this blind British pianist led several extremely popular jazz combos, playing jazz in various styles ranging from bop to cool and Latin. He created a unique sound by electronically connecting his piano to a vibraharp and thus expanding the sound of his various groups. ‘September in the Rain’ is a delightful, uncomplicated version of the jazz standard.
14. ‘Blue in Green’ by The Miles Davis Sextet
Kind of Blue, Columbia, 1959
Here is yet another nugget from Kind of Blue. This is a mellow piece written by pianist Bill Evans. Evans is at his introspective best in an extended solo – a style that was his hallmark in the years to come.
13. ‘One O’Clock Jump’ by The Count Basie Orchestra
The Essential Count Basie, Verve, 1961
The Count Basie Orchestra was one of the most swinging bands ever. Basie’s sense of using the after-beat, the use of his guitarist, Freddie Greene and the presence of superb individual musicians made this a very happy band. ‘One O’Clock Jump’ has been a signature tune of the Basie Band.
12. ‘As Time Goes By’ by The Dexter Gordon Quartet
Manhattan Symphonie, Columbia, 1978
Perhaps the greatest of all the bebop tenor saxophonists, Dexter Gordon was also a master of the jazz ballad. On ‘As Time Goes By,’ the towering tenor of Dexter Gordon sizzles through this ballad which is from the Hollywood classic film,Casablanca. Dexter captures the mood of the song perfectly, in a wistful, drawn-out style.
11. ‘Spain’ by Chick Corea
Light as a Feather, Polydor, 1972
One of jazz’s most exciting pianists of the last 30 years, Chick Corea has been a constant innovator, not afraid to explore his musical curiosity. His use of synthesisers has been extensive, without straying into the realm of fusion. Taken from his group, Return to Forever’s 1972 album, Light as a Feather, ‘Spain’ is considered Corea’s greatest work.
10. ‘Django’ by The Modern Jazz Quartet
Pyramid, Atlantic, 1960
In the Fifties, The Modern Jazz Quartet was a very popular band – John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraharp, Percy Heath on drums and Connie Kay on drums. ‘Django,’ composed by Lewis, is a tribute to the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
9. ‘Poinciana’ by The Ahmad Jamal Trio
Ahmad Jamal At the Pershing, Argo, 1958
Ahmad Jamal is a unique pianist, one of the very few from the Fifties who did not sound like Bud Powell. His use of the space between notes and of raising and lowering the volume of his playing makes his sound instantly. In this live recording, Jamal indulges in piano pyrotechnics in his long solo.
8. ‘All Blues’ by The Miles Davis Sextet
Kind of Blue, Columbia, 1959
The album, Kind Of Blue is probably the foremost jazz album ever, and ‘All Blues’ is its leader, Miles Davis’ great composition. Through his career as a trumpet player, Miles went through several stages in his development. ‘All Blues’ is a fine example of his “modal” phase.
7. ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ by the Duke Ellington Orchestra
Festival Season, Columbia,1959
Duke Ellington had about 5,000 compositions to his name and it would be possible to fill this list of 100 by just his work. This song was a signature tune for the Ellington Orchestra. In live concerts, the Duke would involve the audience, inviting them to finger-snap with him to the catchy rhythm. It swings throughout, serves as a vehicle for many a jam session and never fails to please.
6. ‘The Sidewinder’ by Lee Morgan
The Sidewinder, Blue Note, 1963
As with ‘Take Five,’ ‘The Sidewinder’ is a crossover tune which was popular with non-jazz listeners for whom it served as an introduction to jazz. This tune started the ‘boogaloo’ (dance) trend which was popular for several years.
5. ‘Take Five’ by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time Out, Columbia, 1959
This is arguably the most recognised jazz number of all time. Dave Brubeck is living proof that creative jazz and popular success can co-exist. It has been suggested that The Dave Brubeck Quartet compromised by watering down their music to reach a wider audience but this is not true.
4. ‘In The Mood’ by Glenn Miller
The Essential Glenn Miller 1939-‘42, RCA, 1995
Glen Miller led what was perhaps the most popular band worldwide in the period 1935- 42. They played jazz which was predominantly melodic in the swing era.
3. ‘Begin The Beguine’ by Artie Shaw
Begin the Beguine, Bluebird/RCA, 1941
Played on the clarinet by this big band leader, this is a fascinating piece is played masterfully by Artie Shaw who has been one of jazz’ finest ever clarinetists. Recorded in 1938, this was a surprise hit. Even today, this hit sounds fresh and new.
2. ‘Body And Soul’ by Coleman Hawkins
The Essential Coleman Hawkins, Verve, 1939
Described once as “the man for whom Adolphe Sax invented the horn,” Hawkins is heard playing a jazz masterpiece. This piece is one of the earliest instances of a saxophone-led jazz band. Subsequent vocal versions of ‘Body and Soul’ all seem to have been influenced by Coleman Hawkins’ masterpiece.
1. ‘Ole’ by John Coltrane
Ole Coltrane, Atlantic, 1961
Coltrane on soprano saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Eric Dolphy playing flute, create a heady atmosphere with a Spanish flamenco flavour. ‘Ole’ resonates with the mystical sounds of North African Moors who once ruled the region.