I am going to share my top five jazz favorites on this page, though with all the incredible jazz that has been performed beginning in the early 1910s (preceded by ragtime and blues), it is a difficult proposition, reflective of my personal tastes and history with music. Over time, I may change as selection or two, but if any readers want to share something phenomenal that I have not included, I am certainly willing to add to this list. Please take the time to explore and enjoy the music on this page, and if possible, share your own favorites.
#1) My One and Only Love by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
This song, originally released by Frank Sinatra in 1953, was written by Guy Wood (music) and Robert Mellin (lyrics) and has been covered many great singers, including Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, George Benson and many others. Owing to Trane’s smooth, mellow tenor saxophone introduction and Hartman’s rich, deep and soulful baritone vocals, the song below in not just my favorite cover, but my favorite jazz song of all time.
Because I am a saxophonist, John Coltrane has always been one of my favorites, but I especially appreciate his spiritual inspirations, beginning with A Love Supreme, introduced in his own words: “I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.” To this very moment, I continue to be happy… and inspired!
#2) Louis Armstrong’s Live Performance in Copenhagen (1934)
No jazz list would be complete without paying homage to the most influential figure in the genre. When I was younger, I was a little put-off and embarrassed by Satchmo’s on-stage antics (which I thought played to the prevailing stereotype), so it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized I was watching a living legend, the true father of jazz, as we know it. He lived for music. In 1934, he was perhaps the first black musician to have a real cross-over appeal. Yet that accomplishment is overwhelmed by his virtuosity as a musician and performer. He re-taught the world how to sing. I chose this performance for the trumpet solos, which have never been rivaled.
#3) I Got Rhythm by Dorothy Dandridge
There are numerous parallels between Dorothy Jean (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) and Norma Jeane (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962), as both were bona fide sex symbols, black and white, both were talented actors, singers and dancers, and both were beautiful women, beset by tragedy (Dandridge: brain-damaged child, failed marriage, failed affair, swindled out of $150,000; Monroe: troubled childhood, three failed marriages, studio conflicts, scandal and depression). They even shared a link: director Otto Preminger. Both women died of prescription drug overdoses three years apart as corresponding “candles in the wind.”
I Got Rhythm was written by George and Ira Gershwin for the 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, which also contained the songs Embraceable You and Not For Me.The song has been covered by many musicians, including Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Teddy Wilson. The video below showcases Dandridge’s great voice and her style for jazz.
#4) The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra
I cannot imagine a top five list for jazz without the inclusion of at least one Sinatra song. This song came from the film, Swing Time, and was originally sung by Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers in 1936. In a laid-back style while singing slightly ahead or behind the beat, Frank made the song a jazz/swing classic, covered by Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and many others. Great song, wonderful arrangement!
#5) Overjoyed by Esperanza Spaulding
I have a preference for older works, but because jazz is constantly innovating, I am always curious to explore different trajectories and to see fresh talent. Born in Portland, Oregon, Esperanza is a Grammy Award winning artist known for jazz, bossa nova and R & B, lending vocals, double bass, bass, guitar, violin and cello to her compositions, singing in English, Spanish and Portuguese. This particular song was performed in the East Room of the White House in honor of Stevie Wonder (Gershwin Prize, Library of Congress). Esperanza is the real deal, so you will do well to keep up with this rising star!