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DaVo's 20 Great Jazz Songs

October 11, 2011

Jazz was the first soul American art form. It can simple and sweet or it can be raw and powerful. Jazz's ability to effect my emotions and often convey an emotion without lyrics has always drawn me to it. My exposure to Jazz started early in my life with my parents love of swing and my father's interest in BeBop. I grew up on a diet of Jazz, Jump bands, Rock-a-Billy country, folk with a sprinkle here and there of AM radio pop and rock or the torture of my sisters Columbia record club collection. Also in the 70s there was a bit of a retro movement that revolved around the 40s and 50s. So my exposure to Jazz was early and often. 


As I came into my own and began my quest for the music that spoke directly to my soul, one style seemed to keep pulling me back and that was Jazz. From the powerful joy of Benny Goodman or the craziness of the Birdman it always called to me and was often my guilty pleasure. Even though I was on a heavy diet of the mighty punk rock, I still listened and collected Jazz. 


In the late 80s and early 90s I got into collecting Vintage clothing, In a way it was an extension to my punk rock fuck you clothes. Imagine working in an office with a business dress code that required wearing slacks, long sleeve dress shirt and a tie. Most of my fellow employees would be dressed in a JC Penny's polyester dress shirt with the tail hanging out of the back of their easy fit slack, those loafers with the tossels and a tie long enough to wipe their own ass. Then there would be dressed in a hand tailored wool double breasted suit from the late 30s, crisp 100% cotton French cuff shirt with vintage cuff links, silk tie, perfectly shined wing tips, watch chain and a vintage fedora blocked and stylishly tilted to the side. What could have been more punk rock?


So we are sitting on the Drake Rowing team doc on a Friday night enjoying a case of PBR, which was a normal Friday night and the subject of conversation moves to music. Now we both had a background in Punk, in fact that was how we met but when I mentioned that Sing, Sing, Sing was still the most powerful song I'd ever heard, he agreed and a new bond was created between us and that bound was jazz. This was 89 or 90 long before the swing revival and there just wasn't that many people our age listening to swing or jazz for that matter. There definitely wasn't a movement and really the only bands that were touring were on the dying Ballroom and Dinner Theater circuit. However that didn't stop us from dressing to the nines and trying to find that movement. We didn't know it but we were about 5 or 6 years before the movement would come and I have to say that our collective need to be purests would have gotten in the way of enjoying the Swings, Lindy Hoppers Gap ad that would come. 


Well, enough talk let's get on to the music. when I picked out these 20 songs, I tried to focus on what I would have added 20 years ago and most of it, well all of it pre-dates 1960. Sure there has been a lot that has come since then but most of this dates to a period when this music was called Hot Music. The hardest thing about this is only picking 20.


  1. Sing, Sing, Sing - Benny Goodman & His Orchestra - What can I say after listening to Punk rock and other extreme forms of music for over 25 years, it is still one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. 
  2. St. Louis Blues - Louis Armstrong - This song has been down by so many and so many different ways but it's one of the songs that stick right deep in your head and is buried deep in the roots of jazz. 
  3. This Joint is Jumpin' - Fats Waller - Fats is a legend that always seems to be left on the sidelines for some reason. There is always this vibe in Jazz that some how he was nothing more than a novelty pop singer but the fact was that he may have been the most influences of Jazz. Writing an unknown mountain of sings that he sold for pennies and went on to become Jazz standards. It's claimed that with his contributor Andy Razaf, he wrote and copyrighted over 400 tunes in his short life of 29 years.
  4. The Jumpin' Jive - Cab Calloway - Yet another one of those that seems more know as an entertainer as if that was a bad thing. This maybe because he was a singer but without his singing style this song and many other wouldn't be as distantive or well as great without it. I picked Jumpin' Jive because everyone thinks he's the guy that did the Minnie the Moocher song but I have to say, I like this song much better.
  5. Drum Boggie - Martha Tilton with Gene Kupra - This in a lot of way shows the high water mark of what cool and big band hit in the late 1940s. Plus you have one of the holy three of the greatest jazz drummers, Mister K.
  6. One O'Clock Jump - The Count Basie Orchestra - They called him the Count for a reason and here is one of his signatures in just under 3 minutes.
  7. Boogie Woogie - Tomey Dorsey - There was such a blend with the Dorsey boys you never knew just how many were really play but that was the idea behind the big band, load in the players and dial up the power. Long before Marshall stacks loud was king. This is one of those songs that I dare you to listen to without moving one part of your body, it's just impossible. 
  8. Take the A Train - Duke Ellington - This is one of those song that makes you long for a period in time that you weren't a part of. 
  9. String of Pearls - Glen Miller - There should be a 50 foot high statue of Miller in Clarinda, Iowa. There is an elegance to Miller's sound that makes you feel like you are gliding. This song is one of the best examples.
  10. Stormy Weather - Lena Horne - I think we've all been here at some point.
  11. Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday - I didn't know this until I read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States but the lyrics are in fact a poem written by a teacher named Abel Meeropol and originally published in the Marxist Newspaper The New Masses. In fact both the music and lyrics were written by Meeropol. I must have heard this a hundred times before it really sunk in what the subject matter and the utter hopelessness that the song expresses. 
  12. They Can't Take That Away from Me - Billie Holiday - Yeah Billie gets two. Not only cause it's a great song but no one can sing it like she did.
  13. Flying Home - Lionel Hampton - I remember first noticing the grunts and growls of Hampton and thinking that strange but it added so much to the song. No one like Hampton can grunt with such pure joy. No song expresses the joy that Hampton had as much as Flying Home.  There is such freedom to it and this version at over 11 minutes there isn't a monument of boredom. It also pointed the way to BeBop and Jump.
  14. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy - The Andrew Sisters - The Andrew Sisters were one of the biggest acts of the early 40s but I think too often they are over looked as a novelty or pop act. They had there own style and sound that brought something completely different to the table. 
  15. Woodchopper's Ball - Woody Herman  - Man always loved this song not sure why but it's one of those songs that just sticks out. Maybe it's the build at the end
  16. Salt Peanuts - Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach - I remember the first time I listened to this song. It was with my father on our hug Zennth counsel, one of the last big wooden throw backs to the grand days of the cabinet radios before component systems took over. I must have been 5 or 6 and for weeks I was running around singing "Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts" and driving everyone else nuts. When I played this for Quinn he did the same.
  17. Groovin' High - Charlie Parker - Man the Bird just sings to you. Without saying a word he can tell you a story. 
  18. Move - Miles Davis - This is the birth of cool and it moves at the speed of light.
  19. Flip, Flop and Fly - Big Joe Turner - For the last two I included a couple of that missing link between Jazz and Rock N Roll. Many would consider Big Joe Turner as R&B but if you listen carefully you can hear that connection to Flying Home. In a way the crossroads was Big Bands and Bird, Davis and Dizzy went north and Turner and Jordan went south. Jump was simpler and less dependent on the soul or improve and self expression. Jump would make the introductions that would lead to Rockabilly.  There is few better examples than this song.
  20. Choo-Choo Baby - Louis Jordan - Keep the rhythm and Switch the instruments and you could swing back to jazz or forward to Rockabilly. 

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