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Monday, August 10, 2015

My Top 10 Jazz Songs of All Time

I finally got a new laptop this past month, which means that I am ready to jump back into the world of blogging (which should excite the 2-3 loyal readers I have). To start things off, I decided to pick a relatively benign topic.

For those who know me well you are probably aware that my favorite musical genre is jazz. I'm not picky on the style (after all, what exactly IS jazz), so long as it stays true to art form.  Jazz combines the best of two worlds: European classical sophistication and Black Africa's rhythm and syncopation. What you are left with is a musical stale that (in my opinion) crushes all competitors. Plus, it's worth noting that jazz is as American as you can possibly get.  The best American musicians, by and large, have come from jazz and have done more to shape American culture than most realize. Whether it's the playing of Charlie Parker or Louis Armstrong, or the vocals of Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, jazz is a musical innovation that continues to influence our world today.

So, without further delay, here are my picks for best 10 jazz songs of all time:

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10.) Strange Fruit (1939) -- Billie Holiday
Strange Fruit was, in it's time as today, a powerful protest of racism in America, and particularly the practice of lynching that was still common during the Jim Crow era. Holiday said it was the most difficult song she ever sang and she preferred to not sing it live. The song was inducted the Grammy Hall of Fame and was included in the list of "Songs of the Century" by the National Endowment for the Arts.


9.) Swingin' at the Haven (1985) -- Branford Marsalis
Marsalis not only has the pedigree of a great jazz musician but he also has the chops.  He's one of the best alive today.


8.) Caravan (1937) -- Duke Ellington
This song was originally written by Juan Tizol and was first performed by Duke Ellington.  It's a jazz classic that has also experienced a resurrection as of late, thanks to the movie "Whiplash."


7.) Stardust (1931) -- Louis Armstrong
The song was originally written by Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote a number of hits like "Georgia on My Mind," "Heart and Soul," and this classic that was made famous by the incomparable Louis Armstrong.


6.) Take Five (1959) -- Dave Brubeck
Many (to include the folks at jazz24.org) consider Take Five to be the greatest jazz song ever.  Not only is it the best selling jazz song in history but it is one of the most played songs in the history of radio.


5.) In the Mood (1939) -- Glenn Miller
In the Mood was #1 on the charts for almost all of 1939 and eventually made its way into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  NPR named it one of the 100 most important songs in American history.


4.) Take the "A" Train (1940) -- Duke Ellington
Originally written by Billy Strayhorn and made famous by "The Duke" himself, this song dominated the charts in 1940 and is widely considered one of the top 5 jazz songs ever by jazz enthusiasts.


3.) Embraceable You (1947) -- Charlie Parker
A classic written by the Great George Gershwin in 1928 and made into a jazz number by a myriad of artists, but none did it better than Charlie Parker!


2.) Sing, Sing, Sing (1937) -- Benny Goodman
Just a rocking awesome song!  A home run in every way that speaks for itself.  Sing, Sing, Sing, was #1 in 1937 AND 1938, and helped to catapult Goodman to the top of the Big Band stage.


1.) Mister Magic (1975) Grover Washington
As the undisputed champion of jazz funk, Grover Washington had a number of great hits, but none was better than Mister Magic.  His saxophone solo alone (which starts at minute 3:45 of the song) is worth listening to if you haven't before. In an era dominated by rock and disco, Mister Magic made the Billboard Pop Top 10 in 1975, the first jazz song to do so in over a decade,  Washington's saxophone (rivaled only by the Great Charlie Parker) made him a legend in his day and an icon in jazz.  In my opinion, this is the greatest jazz song ever written, which is why it serves as my ringtone.  =)

There you have it!  My Top 10 Jazz Songs of All Time!

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