Jazz is often thought of as a music that lost much of its popular appeal in the years following the end of World War II, and while it’s true that jazz would never dominate the commercial charts again as it did during the age of swing, it did enjoy a spate of crossover popularity in the early and mid-1960s. Jazz artists such as Dave Brubeck, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, and Cannonball Adderley enjoyed hit songs–often jazz instrumentals with potentially popular hooks and appeal that the artists’ record labels took and edited down to a shorter length that would work for radio airplay as a single. These hit tracks often rippled with a cool and swinging energy that reflected the gathering cultural momentum of the 1960s… a decade depicted in the award-winning television series Mad Men, which follows the lives and careers of advertising agency men and women in a time of stylistic and political change.
Brubeck And Hancock
When it comes to music from the Mad Men era, pianists Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock embody that cool and swinging vibe, and they both enjoyed unexpected commercial success with edited 45s of tunes they had recorded for LPs. Hancock’s composition “Watermelon Man” from his 1962 debut album Takin’ Off would garner even greater popularity with percussionist Mongo Santamaria’s version; we’ll hear Hancock’s 45-single take, as well as a take of a different sort: ”Take Five,” written by Brubeck’s saxophonist Paul Desmond, and a song that has become a signature sound for the early 1960s. The song had come out originally in 1959 on Brubeck’s album Time Out, but Columbia waited two years to release a 45 of it. The title refers to the piece’s then-unusual use of 5/4 time.
Two Saxophonists And A Hint Of Civil Rights
1961 saw hit jazz singles from two black saxophonists whose respective recordings could be linked to the growing civil-rights and black-consciousness movements of the 1960s. Cannonball Adderley scored a chart success with a powerful big-band rendition of “African Waltz,” written by Galt McDermott, a Canadian composer who’d spent some of his youth in South Africa and who would go on to co-write the late 1960s counterculture musical Hair. Eddie Harris and his label Vee-Jay got an unexpected hit with his recording of the theme from the movie Exodus, a film about the creation of the state of Israel. A narrative about the attempts of a persecuted people to assert their identity was certainly something to which black Americans of the 1960s could relate.
The Bossa Nova Boom
When it comes to popular crossover jazz of the early and mid 1960s, you have to talk about bossa nova, a musical style that originated in Brazil, with two of its foremost composers being Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto. Though no one musician can really receive eureka honors for bringing the style to America, guitarist Charlie Byrd deserves some credit, having discovered and enjoyed the music during a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of South America in 1961. Byrd would eventually team up with saxophonist Stan Getz for the 1962 album Jazz Samba, which yielded the top 20 hit “Desafinado”. Getz, whose cool-heat sound was a perfect fit for bossa nova, would enjoy even greater success two years later with “Girl From Ipanema,” featuring Joao Gilberto’s young wife Astrud on vocals.
Cast Your Fate To The Wind, Charlie Brown
As popular as Stan Getz’s bossa nova recordings were, another jazz artist ended up having an even bigger cultural impact with his crossover jazz: pianist Vince Guaraldi, whose soundtrack for the December 1965 Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas has become one of the most widely-known and loved jazz recordings ever released. But Guaraldi was no stranger to commercial success; he’d already scored a hit three years before with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Ironically enough, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” was originally the B-side to a samba-oriented track that Guaraldi’s label owners put out in an attempt to ride the bossa nova wave that Stan Getz and others were propelling. But California DJs latched on to the catchy flipside and played it frequently, resulting in a nationwide hit that Guaraldi would get requests for from audience members for the rest of his life. He said that he never minded playing the song, that it was like “signing the back of a check.” It was “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” that Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson heard one day on the radio, inspiring him to seek Guaraldi out to score the Charlie Brown television programs.
Given that Mad Men follows the lives and careers of some men and women at an advertising agency in 1960s America, it’s only appropriate to play a hit recording by trumpeter Lee Morgan that became the soundtrack for a Chrysler television commercial. The song was called “The Sidewinder,” an infectious hardbop boogaloo that clocked in at over 10 minutes on its original studio version… Blue Note scaled the single back to just over three minutes. For Morgan, who had spent the first couple of years of the 1960s laying low as he attempted to vanquish a heroin habit, “The Sidewinder” was a commercial smash, and it had a significant impact on Morgan’s label Blue Note Records as well, as the company found itself racing to keep up with demand for Morgan’s hit, and subsequently encouraged many of its other artists to include a “Sidewinder” style composition on their albums. We’ll also hear from Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader, doing a song, “Soul Sauce,” that dates back to Dizzy Gillespie’s late-1940s Afro-Cuban period.
Soul Jazz Live and Organ Jazz
Soul-jazz was a very popular genre in the 1960s, a style with broad appeal to jazz’s black audience, and two artists scored hits with rousing, crowd-pleasing recordings that captured the excitement of performances in live settings–a nightclub in pianist Ramsey Lewis’ case, and a studio audience in the case of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Adderley’s keyboardist Joe Zawinul came up with the gospel-heavy “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” which would soar to #11 on the U.S. charts and earn Adderley a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance. Lewis’ “The In Crowd,” recorded at Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C. in 1965, would hit #5 on the strength of its infectious energy.
This edition of Night Lights closes with two longer tracks featuring organ-jazz hits from the 1960s–organ jazz another very popular genre of jazz in these years. We’ll hear Richard Groove Holmes’ take on the Erroll Garner standard “Misty,” which took off for the 35-year old organist in 1966, reaching #44 on the U.S. charts and helping to solidify Holmes’ career. It’s preceded by a hit from the man who influenced Holmes and so many other organ players, the great Jimmy Smith, who stormed the charts in 1962 with “Walk On the Wild Side Parts 1 and 2,” an Oliver-Nelson arrangement of Elmer Bernstein’s theme for the movie Walk On The Wild Side, adapted from Nelson Algren’s novel of the same name. The recording came from Smith’s debut album for the Verve label, Bashin’, and captures the cool swagger of the Mad Men era.
All of the selections heard on the program are also available on the CD The Jazz Hits From The Hot 100