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10 Truly Great Jazz Performances
When this list was submitted I looked back over the past two years worth of lists and realized that we didn’t have a single Jazz list! Therefore I am very please to introduce this one! I’d like to emphasize that this is NOT a top ten best list! Rather, it’s simply a list of some great jazz performances and is more of an overview of different jazz styles. Aside from trying to add a diverse selection of jazz styles, any song making the cut into the list had to have a Youtube video with film footage rather than a picture montage with song accompaniment.
Nina Simone has dabbled in all the jazz genres, and this a little taste of her acid jazz stylings. It’s not lyrically or instrumentally challenging but it’s fun to listen to her sing “My boobies!” I recommend not singing that aloud randomly in public places unless you’re used to receiving odd looks from strangers…
‘Round Midnight is a staple for the late night jazz radio stations. This was originally composed by Thelonious Monk but has had such an influence on the jazz world that nearly every jazz musician has performed his or her own interpretation of the piece.
Does this song need an introduction? It is fairly well known because of swing music’s mainstream revival through bands like The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. If you listen to this version and that of more recent takes on the song, you’ll notice that not much has changed; it’s hard to fix perfection!
Ahmad Jamal is one of the best jazz pianists to ever touch the keys. He has been a professional musician for over 50 years now working with the likes of Stan Gentz, Sarah Vaughn and Miles Davis. Let it be noted that the performance in the video clip is entirely improv.
June Christy’s star power was eclipsed by the likes of Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald so she’s relatively unknown to the casual jazz listener. However, she’s an icon in the cool jazz genre and is often credited with being the original style influence for many modern day jazz singers. In the early part of her career, she sang for Stan Kenton’s orchestra but her style really took off when she went solo. This performance took place just prior to her retirement from the music industry.
Thanks to Pixar, gypsy jazz seems to be reemerging in mainstream popularity. Guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephen Grapelli are the most famous gypsy jazz artists and they both happen to play for this quintet. Be careful with your volume; shortly after the 4 minute mark, the sound quality becomes very bad and very loud.
Afro-Cuban jazz blends New Orleans jazz style with Latin rhythms. It’s usually much more structured than other jazz genres but has a light-hearted rhythm that’s great to dance to, whether it’s fast-paced like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” or slower like the bossa nova styled song “Sway”.
This piece is one of the best songs in one of the best albums created in any jazz genre. The entire album is worth listening to. Without going too deeply into music theory, most improv styles prior were fixed within a chord set (i.e. specific musical notes) but Miles Davis tried a new technique (modal jazz) that vastly opened up the range and allowed for more musical liberties.
This is a great way to cram in as many jazz musicians as possible into this list! Sammy Davis, Jr. did a remarkable job mimicking each singer’s style and mannerisms. The impressions done include Fred Astaire, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Billy Eckstine, Vaughn Monroe, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis…and of course, a little bit of Sammy Davis, Jr.
This is one of the more commonly known jazz songs as numerous musicians have covered the song and it has also played in many television shows and movies. Like the bluesy “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, this was meant as an anti-racism song but unlike “Strange Fruit”, it takes on a hopeful outlook for change in the future.