Jazz has a reputation for being soulful and revolutionary, but it can also be a bright spot on a dark day.
When a lot of people think of jazz, they also think of the blues. That is natural, since the blues originated from jazz music and the two are very similar in nature. A lot of the jazz greats actually sang the blues as well, which is why so many jazz fans have the mournful, soulful sound of the blues linked in their minds with their favorite musical genre. However, jazz does not have to be sad and soulful. It can be bright and happy as well.
To make sure you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that jazz is only for your dark days, I’ve compiled a list of 3 happy jazz songs you need in your playlist. I actually play one or more of these songs most mornings just to put myself in the right mindset for tackling my day. Getting the morning started with an optimistic, uplifting jazz song is the best way I know to get the most out of my entire day.
Here is my happy jazz playlist:
This song has been recorded more than 150 times, and one of the best is the one by Stan Getz. The lyrics actually are about taking a new road, which can be an upbeat topic or a downbeat one, but the swinging music keeps my hopes up no matter what.
Recognize this tune? If this song sounds familiar to you, it’s because it has featured in a number of popular shows and plays.
I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby
If you can’t stop thinking about your one true love (and you’re meeting up later in the day for a quick smooch), then Fats Waller’s toe-tapping tune will definitely fit the bill. With easy, sing-able lyrics like “I’m the world’s most happy creature, Tell me what can worry me? I’m crazy ‘bout my baby, Baby’s crazy ‘bout me!” it is hard to stop smiling when this song is ringing in your ears.
What’s in a name? Fats Waller was described as “a bubbling bundle of joy” by his closest collaborator, so it’s no wonder this song makes our list.
I Got Rhythm
Who hasn’t felt the irresistible pull of those famous words, “I got rhythm, I got music, I got my gal, who could ask for anything more?” This song has been recorded and rerecorded by so many jazz greats over the years, but one of my favorites is the Louis Armstrong version of the song, which rose to 17 on the recording charts in 1932. Of course, the song has placed as high as number 1 with other artists, but Armstrong’s version has a special place in my heart.
Carnegie, here we come! This song made “the big-time” in the Broadway production of Girl Crazy, which launched Ethel Merman’s longstanding career in musicals in 1930. Her last New York performance was at Carnegie Hall in 1982.
Jazz is an emotional music genre, perhaps no more so than when you are in the mood for love. Some of the most romantic and meaningful moments of my life are set to the jazz classics – in my memory at least – and many of them had these hits playing in the background when they actually took place. If you are in the mood for love or planning to set the stage for love over a romantic candlelight dinner, jazz is the best “wingman” or “wing-woman” you can have.
Here are 5 jazz classics that never fail at putting the listeners in the mood for love:
Ella Fitzgerald singing “Let’s Do It”
You might have laughed when you read the title of the track, and that is exactly what the songwriter intended. This witty little ditty makes a great icebreaker, especially the way Ms. Fitzgerald sang it. It was originally written in 1928, and you can almost see the First Lady of Song giving you a wink as she sings, “Birds do it/Bees do it/Even educated fleas do it/Let’s do it/Let’s fall in love!”
Anita O’Day singing “Angel Eyes”
This song has been sung dozens of times by dozens of the greats, but one of my favorites is Anita O’Day’s version. While the lyrics in this song are sad (she’s talking about an old lover’s eyes rather than a present-day flame), the passion and seductive sound of O’Day’s voice will send the heat soaring in any room.
Ben Webster singing “When I Fall in Love”
Although Ben Webster was actually a saxophonist, his rendition of Nat King Cole’s 1956 hit, “When I Fall in Love” is incredibly simple, with minimal accompaniment and maximum heart-throbbing soul in every word. Cole scored a “number 2” on the U.K. charts with this song, but Webster will always be number one to many jazz fans when he sings this particular anthem to matters of the heart.
Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”
If you really want to let your companion know how much he or she lights up your world, then add this classic to your playlist. Everyone recognizes this particular melody, and it’s easy to tell the love of your life just how wonderful your world is with them in it when Pops is crooning the words in the background and setting the mood.
Anyone singing “The Very Thought of You”
Billie Holiday sang it. Red Garland sang it. Rod Steward, Paul McCartney, and Frank Sinatra sang it. Play any of them. Play all of them. The words in this jazz classic are timeless: “I see your face in every flower/Your eyes in stars above/ It’s just the thought of you/The very thought of you my love.” Take your cue from the words and take a step away from the ordinary with the one you love.
Can’t get enough of our playlists? Leave a comment below and let us know what type of jazz you’re in the mood to hear. We might make you a list very soon.
Jazz may have originated in the United States, but it has global appeal. That is most recently demonstrated in the wildly popular Hong Kong Freespace Jazz Fest 2019, one of Hong Kong’s newest annual music festivals.
The Freespace Jazz Fest has been held in West Kowloon since 2012, but a little time has not dimmed its luster. The festival promotes a variety of creative arts and encourages an exchange of cultures, which is why jazz features prominently in the title of the festival. The festival is structured to allow musical performers to serve as both focal features and background to audience artistic endeavors. Some attendees opt to mainly act as spectators while others may dance or enjoy the many fine arts and folk craft offerings on display and for sale at the event.
Freespace Jazz Fest has flourished since its inception as a free event in 2012. When organizers began charging admission in 2014, initial public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Many festival-goers feared the loss of free admission would result in attendees going alone rather than with family and friends. There were a number of social media pages set up to protest the admission fee and, in true jazz tradition, the people spoke and the genre adapted to public demands. The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority opted to return to the free-admission policy.
In 2019, a number of musical highlights at the festival have their roots in jazz. For example, a group with “blues-inspired Okinawan roots” will play on the lawn, and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra will perform as well. Attendees can also learn about jazz, jazz dance, and jazz in cinema in a variety of classes on the program before watching what the organizers describe as a “rip-roaring excerpt from the Great Gatsby” on the waterfront promenade.
Hong Kong festival-goers with kids will get the opportunity for their children to learn about jazz as well in an interactive family concert that does have paid admission. (We have to point out here that the family jazz class has a ticket price of HK$280, making it among the highest-valued offerings at the event). The producer of this event explains that it is designed to introduce kids to the “coolness and groove” of jazz. “They might not know anything about jazz, but they will relate,” she said. Part of the show involves jazz-style renditions of locally popular kids’ songs.
Will the unrest in Hong Kong slow the festival down? Not at all. In fact, promoters say the event will be an outlet for kids and parents to “escape from the sadness and anger…we’re experiencing.” Just as jazz has served to lift the spirits of struggling populations since its inception in the early 1900s, it continues to do so today across borders and around the globe.
We all spend about five minutes on Prohibition in U.S. History class sometime in high school. We learn that the temperance movement brought various religious organizations into the discussion to ultimately make the ban on alcohol law, and maybe, if our instructor is really enamored of the topic, we hear that Maine was the first state to outlaw alcohol in 1851 and that the 18th Amendment, which ultimately banned the sales, distribution, and transportation of alcohol, was ratified in 1919. By 1920, Prohibition had begun.
While we usually hear sensational stories about bootleggers, the rise of the mob, and speakeasies, we are less likely to be taught about one of the most beneficial effects of Prohibition: the initial stages of desegregation. That’s right: The desire to imbibe and indulge at will and in volumes determined by our own common sense (or lack thereof) brings people together like nothing else. Of course, jazz was right there in the mix. In many states at the time, clubs, bars and performance halls were segregated by law. However, people of all colors came together in establishments known as “black and tan clubs,” where multiple races socialized, danced, and drank on common ground.
There are countless stories about these clubs. Famous locations include Connie’s Inn, which was owned by a bootlegger, and the Sunset Café, which hosted Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway on multiple occasions. Even the speakeasies that restricted access to white patrons usually broke their own rules to bring in African-American jazz performers and service staff, including the famous Cotton Club, owned by bootlegger Owney Madden.
Interestingly, Armstrong received a great deal of criticism over his lifetime for his decision to remain relatively quiet on the topic of segregation. Many believed he did so in order to continue to receive patronage from clubs that did not allow African-American clientele but did actively court Armstrong and other famous African-American musicians. He never commented on his decision to remain quiet directly, but he did address the topic of segregation directly in an explosive interview in 1957.
Armstrong talked about the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of black students being prevented from attending an all-white school in Arkansas, by famously saying, “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell.” Many people called for boycotts of his shows in the wake of that interview, to which Armstrong responded, “I feel the downtrodden situation the same as any other negro. I think I have a right to get sore and say something about it.” President Dwight Eisenhower ultimately sent soldiers to desegregate Little Rock, but not before being labeled “two-faced” and “no-guts” by Armstrong. This did not ultimately prevent Armstrong from being appointed as an official cultural diplomat for the U.S. in 1960, long after Prohibition had ended. In fact, the 18thAmendment had been significantly “walked back” nearly three decades earlier, and the 21stAmendment officially repealed the 18th in 1933. The winds of change were still moving, however, and jazz would remain a crucial part of it all.
Fats Waller, composer of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” was one of the most prolific jazz musicians of his time. He copyrighted more than 400 songs and was described by collaborator Andy Razaf as “the soul of melody.” Sadly, Waller died at the age of 39, officially a victim of pneumonia, although many historians believe heavy drinking weakened his immune system and made him susceptible to infection.
While everyone has heard Fats’ Grammy-award-winning tunes “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, not everyone realizes there was a lot more to this popular performer. Here are three unusual facts about Fats Waller you probably didn’t know.
#1: His great-grandson is a professional football player.
Darren Waller, who plays tight end for the Oakland Raiders, is Fats’ great-grandson. Darren Waller played college football at Georgia Tech, and was drafted in the 6th round in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, the player has struggled with substance abuse since 2016, but in 2018 he was signed to Oakland and played that season and the one following. He is presently active on the Raiders’ roster.
#2: Fats was kidnapped as part of a surprise for Al Capone’s birthday.
After a 1926 performance in Chicago, Waller was forced into a car at gunpoint by four men. They took him to Al Capone’s Hawthorne Inn, pushed him toward a piano with a gun to his back, and told to play. It turned out Waller was a “surprise guest” for the gangster’s birthday party, and Fats performed for three days before being tipped and released.
#3: He was the first African-American songwriter to compose a hit Broadway musical for viewing by a mostly-white audience.
During Fats’ lifetime, music was nearly as segregated as the rest of society. Being an African-American musician might mean one performed for audiences with mixed racial demographics, but composition was generally still a segregated issue. Therefore, it was highly unusual and truly groundbreaking when Fats was hired to create the musical Early to Bed in 1943. Waller was initially asked to perform in the musical as a comedic act but was soon hired to compose as well.
Unfortunately for his estate, Waller sold the rights to the music for $1,000 while drunk after threatening to leave the production entirely if the producer would not buy them. Acquaintances reported this was “typical” of Waller’s behavior when drunk and that he would often sell off the rights to his compositions for quick cash. As a result of that forced sale, Waller was removed from the performance side of the show and retained only as a composer because the producer felt his drinking made him too big of a risk to a production with eight performances a week. Waller died less than a year later after contracting pneumonia on a train.
We all have a little music inside us, so it probably surprises jazz fans less than most that their favorite genre’s nomenclature means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. After all, we’re all different! Of course, our music is distinct, as well. However, with jazz music, its very name has a storied etymological history that begins several years before the generally acknowledged emergence of this musical genre.
Recently, I spent a little time researching just how jazz got its name. We’ve all heard the conventional explanation, that the word is a combination of sexual innuendo and a description of the energy typical of the music throughout history. However, Rutgers professor Lewis Porter, who now teaches in the New School jazz program, says there is much more to it than that.
“When it comes to the origin of the word ‘jazz,’ it seems each person simply believes what she or he wants to,” he wrote in an article on the topic.
Porter noted that many people believe the word originated in Africa, but an equal number believe equally passionately the word has French origins. “The real story is far less simple,” he concluded.
Here are three things I learned during my research on the topic that I never knew before about how jazz got its name:
The word “jazz,” as spelled today, was first used in 1912 in the context of baseball.
In a California newspaper printed April 2, 1912, the term “jazz” made its official debut as an adjective for a type of curveball. A pitcher named Henderson claimed in an interview he had developed a new type of curveball that “wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it” because it is too “lively.” This is interesting for several reasons, including:
- Conventional jazz history insists the word was first spelled “jass”
- This means the word originated with white Californians
- The “official” history of the word according to the Oxford English Dictionary places its initial use in 1909 in a song recording titled “Uncle Josh in Society.” However, the 1909 version of the song does not include the word jazz; the artist rerecorded the song in 1919 and added the word because by then, everyone was using it.
The word “jazz” probably did not originally have sexual connotations.
Another popular myth in jazz culture is that the word “jazz” was slang for a sex act and derived from the words “jasm” and “gism.” However, jazz did not become slang for sex until around 1918, when this very sexy musical genre was in the process of emerging as the powerful force of energy and passion that it remains to this day. In fact, although “jasm,” which originally meant energy, vitality, or pep, does sound similar to the other word, most etymologists agree the two words were not originally related! They only became conflated because of jazz music in all likelihood, rather than the other way around.
A press agent’s joke in 1917 has confused the issue for more than 100 years.
In 1913, the San Francisco Bulletin published an article on the origins of the word “jazz” and what it meant for the sports world. Four years later, a press agent named Walter Kingsley published a spoof of this article that included “facts” about the term such as that John Milton used it in the late 1600s. In reality, Kingsley fabricated much of his article, but over time, many people lost sight of the humor and accepted his fiction as truth.
Jazz, Ragtime, and Good Promotional Practices
It was not until 1915 that a new kind of music in Chicago, not New Orleans, was dubbed “jazz” by the local papers. Over time, the term migrated south, to New Orleans, where it fell into use to describe the “ragtime” music many of the earliest New Orleans jazz musicians were playing at the time. Duke Ellington, himself, wrote in his autobiography that jazz was named by “white people, not by the black musicians who created it.” However, implications that the name was derogatory are also inaccurate, since the word jazz emerged in the south as a promotional term to emphasize the energy of the music.
The history of jazz nomenclature is as long and varied as the development and evolution of the music itself. These are just three of the many surprising things you can learn about the word “jazz,” and we’ll explore more in a future post.