Top-40 Jazz

September 15, 2007 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

While widely respected as a genre, Jazz has seen relatively few of its artists cross over into the mainstream without their also having largely abandoned the genre. Both Nat King Cole and George Benson – to note two examples – achieved major success as popular artists, but the material with which they did so was popular, not jazz. This is not to be critical of their decisions to seek more popularity or the musical results – their popular music is first rate. George Benson, of course, also remains active as a jazz artist as well.

Occasionally, however, a “real” jazz song recorded by a “real” jazz artist will crack the top-40. This happened a few times in the first half of the the 1960’s.

Three examples of this are:

  1. Watermelon Man, written by Herbie Hancock and released by Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria, which went to #10 in 1963
  2. The Girl From Ipanema, written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and released by saxophonist Stan Getz with Astrid Gilberto on vocals, which went to #5 in 1964,
  3. Mercy Mercy Mercy, written by Joe Zawinul and released by saxophonist Cannonball Adderly, which went to #11 in 1965

Mongo Santamaria (April 7, 1922 in Havana, Cuba – February 1, 2003) was an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist.

Mongo Santamaria

He is the composer of the jazz standard Afro Blue, recorded by John Coltrane among others. Perhaps one of his other claims to fame is that his name is used as a pun in the film Blazing Saddles. When the frightening character of Mongo entered a scene, a character cried in terror, “Mongo! Santa Maria!”.

Watermelon Man is basically a blues with two extra V-IV progressions, resulting in a 16-bar form instead of 12.

Watermelon Man Chart

Its composer, Herbie Hancock, is one of the most influential figures in the jazz world. An outstanding pianist and composer, he was a prominent figure in one of Miles Davis’ most important quintets (also featuring Tony Williams, Ron Carter and Wayne Shorter).

Antonio Carlos Jobim is one of the greatest composer/songwriters of the 20th century, having created an enormous body of work. The Girl from Ipanema may be his best known song. The 1964 top-40 version was edited from an album featuring a collaboration between Stan Getz and Brazilian vocalist Joao Gilberto called Getz/Gilberto. It is a classic album with many other great performances on it. Astrid was married to Joao at the time.

Stan Getz is widely regarded as one of the masters of the tenor saxophone. He was noted for his warm tone and for selecting attractive, pleasing material. He had a very large following, but was also widely respected by critics and jazz purists.

Astrid Gilberto

Astrid Gilberto

Stan Getz

Stan Getz

Mercy Mercy Mercy was written by Joe Zawinul, who was the pianist for alto sax-man Cannonball Adderly at the time. Zawinul later went on to join Miles Davis and then found Weather Report with Wayne Shorter, another Mile Davis alum. With Weather Report, Zawinul penned what is probably his other best-known tune, Birdland. Zawinul just passed away on 9/11/2007 at the age of 75.

Cannonball himself was an alumnus of Mile Davis’ bands. Cannonball was a very facile player who had been a music educator before he became a jazz player.

Cannonball Adderly

The group The Buckinghams also had a hit with Mercy Mercy Mercy in 1964. Their version included vocals and lyrics.

Here are the links to my arrangements:

Watermelon Man Stream Mp3
Girl From Ipanema Stream Mp3
Mercy Mercy Mercy Stream Mp3

All of my arrangements are quite traditional and tied to the jazz traditions of the originals. In The Girl from Ipanema (as I often like to do) I quote from another song in the break. This time the quote comes from the song Watch What Happens by Michel Legrand, from the movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which was also released in 1964.

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Entry filed under: Guitar, Jazz, Music, Oldies, Vintage Instrumentals.

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