When everything gets shut down due to inclement weather, you feel like you’ve been blessed with extra time. In response to a Twitter post from Ted Gioia (jazz historian), who mentioned a thread on Reddit about “the hardest swinging” jazz tunes, I decided to create a playlist. I posted individual YouTube links – one per Tweet – as the ‘snow day’ went along and it was a hoot revisiting some of my long-time jazz favourites.
The core of the list is comprised of pieces that I’ve been fond of for about as long as I’ve been interested in jazz. I consider most of these to be “formative tracks” in a way. For example, Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” and Stan Getz’s rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” are two of the pieces that I remember from my earliest listening sessions. Since I’m a sax player and, as a result, created a list that is “sax heavy” (no apologies for that though!), I rounded it out through a conscious effort to provide some contrast. There are a couple featuring a piano trio (well, one is a quartet that includes an extra percussionist) and a couple large ensemble pieces. The Ahmad Jamal and the Charles Mingus pieces are two that I’ve fallen in love with much more recently
As much as I love other types of music, there’s nothing quite like the “swing feel” in jazz when it’s done really well – in other words, when the music “swings hard.” When I came across Jamal’s live version of “Poinciana” just this past month, I remarked in the YouTube comments just how much the music swings. It’s a remarkable thing when you encounter it really, when the music makes you want to move along to it. I say this to point out a key concept: not all great jazz, even that which can be said to swing, swings as “hard” (or as well) as other great jazz. At least, in my opinion. Also, slower tempos tend to be more indicative of this quality, but not always.
I imagine I’ll make a repeated effort to continue what I’ve started here because it’s such awesome music! But to begin with, here are 10 tracks (with YouTube links) in no particular order:
“I’m An Old Cowhand” – Sonny Rollins
“Bloomdido” – Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
“Poinciana” – Ahmad Jamal
“Wayne’s Thang” – Kenny Garrett
“Moanin'” – Charles Mingus
“Blues for C.M” – Dave Holland Big Band
“The Way You Look Tonight” – Stan Getz
“Autumn Leaves” – Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis
“Night Train” – Oscar Peterson
“Take Five” – Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck