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15 Best Jazz Songs

Reckon jazz is just for connoisseurs and is merely a niche genre these days? Then think again, for if it wasn’t for jazz, we wouldn’t have the blues or the myriad of different styles of music that have rocked our world ever since.

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Best Jazz Songs
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Reckon jazz is just for connoisseurs and is merely a niche genre these days? Then think again, for if it wasn’t for jazz, we wouldn’t have the blues or the myriad of different styles of music that have rocked our world ever since. Finding its feet during the US Great Depression in the 1920s, jazz has continued to evolve and mutate into the 21st Century and whether it’s swing, hot, cool, Bebop, gypsy, modal, free or fusion, uDiscover salutes this remarkable genre with the 15 Best Jazz Songs.

While you’re reading, listen to our Best Jazz Songs playlist here.

Miles Davis – ‘So What’
The opening track on legendary trumpeter Miles’ landmark 1959 album Kind Of Blue is one of the best-known examples of modal jazz. That term’s too technical to explain in a soundbite, but the track is simply sublime. Rack up the volume and wallow.

Frank Sinatra – ‘Fly Me To The Moon’
Originally penned by Bart Howard in 1954 and also recorded by Nat ‘King’ Cole, Peggy Lee and more. The definitive version, though, is surely Frank’s 1964 recording.

Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra – ‘Mood Indigo’
According to Duke’s biographer, ‘Mood Indigo’ is “an imperishable classic” and who are we to disagree? With lrving Mills having added the lyric, this remarkable 1930 standard has since been covered by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Joe Jackson and Kelly Hogan.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – ‘Take Five’
Written by the band’s saxophonist Paul Desmond, ‘Take Five’ first appeared on Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album Time Out and it reportedly remains the biggest selling single of all time.

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – ‘The Girl From Ipanema’
Featuring a timeless vocal from Astrud Gilberto, this sultry 1964 bossa nova is widely believed to be the second most recorded pop song in history, after The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’.

Cab Calloway – ‘Minnie The Moocher’
Riddled with veiled drug references and famous for its nonsensical, ad-libbed “scat” lyrics, this 1931 standard sold over a million copies. In 1980, Calloway famously performed his signature tune in the smash hit movie The Blues Brothers.

Louis Armstrong – ‘What A Wonderful World’
Seemingly part of the very human fabric, Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’ wonderful standard was first (and arguably definitively) recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1967 when it also topped the UK Top 40.

Billie Holiday – ‘Strange Fruit’
One of the greatest protest songs in any given genre, the chilling, anti-racism ‘Strange Fruit’ was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. Her version was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1978 and it’s since been covered by the likes of Robert Wyatt, UB40 and Annie Lennox.

Ray Charles – ‘Georgia On My Mind’
Though penned by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930, most people associate this sublime standard with Ray Charles’ transcendent 1960 recording which topped the US Billboard 100.

Nina Simone – ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’
Originally released in 1961, a British perfume commercial using this stellar tune in 1987 afforded Nina’s remarkable career a much-deserved renaissance.

Thelonious Monk – ‘Round Midnight’
Believed to be the most recorded jazz standard recorded by a jazz musician, the perennial ‘Round Midnight’ was the work of inspirational American jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – ‘Summertime’
There are, reputedly, around 25,000 known recorded versions of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s standard ‘Summertime’. From Ella & LouisPorgy & Bess (1958), this is one of the best.

John Coltrane – ‘Giant Steps’
Most fans would agree ‘Trane’s classic LP is 1964’s suite-like A Love Supreme. His fifth album Giant Steps (1960), however, was his first to feature all self-composed material and it remains a must-have record for all series jazz fans.

Norah Jones – ‘The Nearness Of You’
The concluding track from jazz/pop fusionist Norah Jones’ multi-million-selling 2002 debut Come Away With Me, this Hoagy Carmichael standard was first recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1940.

Tony Bennett & Amy Winehouse – ‘Body & Soul’
Released to celebrate the legendary crooner’s 85th birthday, Tony Bennett’s Duets II gave him his first Billboard 200 chart topped. From it is this transcendent, Amy Winehouse-enhanced version of the 1930 standard, also covered by legends such as Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Etta James.

Format: UK English
11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Christopher Nowak

    December 21, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES, GENTLE RAIN, APRIL IN PARIS, AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, AUTUMN LEAVES, BURGUNDY AND THE VIRGIN SNOW, SEPTEMBER SONG, KILLER JOE, SONG FOR MY FATHER, OBLIVION, COLD DUCK TIME, COMPARED TO WHAT?,MEMORIES, WINELIGHT, YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING, SOLAR (really SONNY), SUNNY, WATERMELON MAN, FULFORD STREET ROMP,DOXY, RECADA BOSSA NOVA, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM, MISTY, DREAMSVILLE, BLACK ORPHEUS, TAKE 10, DON”T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN, BLUE BOSSA, MAIDEN VOYAGE, JUST FRIENDS, THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, BLACK AND BLUE and CASA FORTE.
    Notice that I did NOT SAY C JAM BLUES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sorry

  2. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    December 21, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    My last sentence (the window was too short for my last comment):
    Sorry but C JAM BLUES must be the simplest song (melody) in the history of music.
    All of Duke Ellingtons’ other songs are good to exceptional.

    • Russell T Calhoun

      June 11, 2020 at 12:52 am

      But the beauty of C Jam Blues is the inventiveness each player can have while there soloing. It’s not about the melody. The title literally implies that is is for jam sessions which typically involve simple melodies and a lot of soloing.

    • Russell T Calhoun

      June 11, 2020 at 12:54 am

      C Jam Blues is for jam sessions which require a somewhat simple melody. The idea is it puts the emphasis on each players ability to solo and allows them a lot of freedom to do so. I’d include C Jam Blues due entirely to its simplicity.

  3. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    December 22, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    For all you musicians who like exotic scales, I suggest that you listen to this one:HUNGARIAN GYPSY BLUES. The whole song (chords and harmony) are based on THE HUNGARIAN GYPSY scale (C, D, E flat, F sharp, G, A Flat and B):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGt8vcGsYfk&list=OLAK5uy_k7M-0PcT5vtPSusxNDlUYOkkVOJEwZ5vM&index=8&t=0s

  4. Christopher Nowak

    December 25, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    As a guitarist (although I did not play guitar on my tunes above), I was hoping that WES MONGOMERY’S BUMPIN’ ON SUNSET would be included.
    He is the only electric guitarist I have ever heard incorporate 15ths (double octaves)in his playing (1:49-2:50):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqn3PF_DcSg

  5. Mickey from Naples

    January 8, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Um TAKE FIVE by Dave Brubeck is the most obvious miss.

    • Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

      February 6, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      TAKE FIVE is in fact included (look again).
      I personally feel that BLUE RONDO A LA TURK is more inventive than TAKE FIVE but both are still good.

  6. F. Comden-Greene

    February 3, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    I am surprised that Ella Fitzgerald’s only mention is one of her duets with Louis Armstrong. She can certainly stand on her own.

    • Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

      March 26, 2020 at 4:00 pm

      AS CAN BILLIE HOLIDAY!!!!!!
      I am surprised that her only mention is STRANGE FRUIT.

  7. Russell T Calhoun

    June 11, 2020 at 12:49 am

    There’s a lot of factual inaccuracies in this article. For one, we wouldn’t have jazz WITHOUT the blues, not the other way around and the Great Depression was in the 1930s. Also jazz first had small amounts of popularity in the turn of the century in New Orleans.

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