Jenny Laurence’s School of Sound: Jazz


By Jenny Laurence

Good day!

And if today isn’t a good day, then I hope to change that with this brief introduction into the sound that is Jazz – the second genre which I’m exploring in my journey through the best music of the 20th Century.

Jazz is a genre that’s hard to define. It has been present for just over 100 years, and developed from the fusion between European and African music over in America. It is arguably one of the most spontaneous genres of music, and truly reveals the type of musician behind the performance. It ranges from Ragtime, right at the beginning of Jazz’s history, through to New Orleans Jazz and the ‘Jazz Age’ in the ‘30s, Bebop in the ‘50s to Smooth Jazz in the ‘80s. However, Jazz can easily be mixed with anything. Jazz musicians and bands are possibly the most frequent users of saxophones, the double bass, trombones, and trumpets, and you will often find Jazz pieces being beautifully played on the bridges of London or in tuxed-up, swish, green-leather restaurants.

Please note that most, but not all, of these songs are performed by a Jazz musician by trade. Many artists dip in and out of Jazz, try different things, and often mix Jazz with Funk or Blues, especially as many believe that the genre has no boundaries. The lyrics are also not the key focus of the song. The experience created by the band is what counts.

So, without further ado, here’s my playlist:

This song has, many a time, lulled me into a jazzy haze. The original was by Bertolt Brecht, but my favourite version is definitely by Louis Armstrong (popularly known for ‘What a Wonderful World’.) It’s Mack the Knife.  (1956 #20 hit single)

Goodnight My Love, was performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman, and topped the US charts in 1936. Ella’s voice isn’t the key element in this song, but it’s still one of my favourites.

The most wonderful sound comes out of Nat King Cole’s mouth. His cover of When I Fall in Love just makes me fall into a romantic stupor (as anyone would) – it definitely deserved the #2 in the UK when it was released in 1957. Amazing.

Now I just have to put in Duke Ellington. The man composed more than 1,000 pieces over a 50-year career, in which films were scored, orchestras were led, and world tours performed. Now, I’m sure you know this one: It Don’t Mean A Thing only reached #6 in the US. But what a great performance.

Okay, now James Brown doesn’t technically pass as Jazz, but he’s coming into this playlist because you need to hear him sometime soon. I shall refrain from putting a feminist comment in here about the subject of this song because I don’t want to get side-tracked, but I strongly advise you to close your eyes when listening to this. His voice and passion surpasses anything a picture or video could do. It’s A Man’s World (1966).

So, Louis Armstrong is coming back into this playlist, but this time with Dizzy Gillespie playing Umbrella Man in 1956 – I love this video in particular. The Jazz bond between the two is great to watch, and you can’t beat ‘50s’ film quality!

My last song is more contemporary than the others listed above, but he definitely needs a mention. Jamie Cullum was key in the small revival of Jazz, and especially Pop Jazz, this side of the millennium ― These are the Days reached Number 12 in the UK in 2004 and is more wordy than others, but nevertheless, it is under the Jazz bracket – if you need one at all.

(Other Jazz artists include Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, and Donald Byrd.)

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