Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas List 3: Best Jazz Compositions

One way to give the gift of jazz is to prepare your own mixer tape of best jazz numbers from several different recordings. A possible theme would be great covers of great jazz compositions. That, of course, requires a list of great compositions. I will put some items on the list over the next few days. Maybe it will be in time for Christmas.

I was tempted to do a countdown series, ending with the number one best composition by a jazz hero. I won't do that, because I am too disorganized and lazy. I will start with number one. Here I have empirical data. I scrolled down the list of songs in my iPod, and one stood out from the crowd. I had to twiddle my thumb about three times to get through all the covers of "Round Midnight," by Thelonious Monk. I am guessing I have about thirty versions of that tune.

"Round Midnight" stands, I think, as the best single composition by a working jazz man. It is deeply romantic and, if you can remember hearing it for the first time, musically surprising. But more than anything else, it conjures up what I take to be the essential jazz setting: a dark city street, moisture on cobblestone, and a heart full up with tragedy. Hell, it even served as the title and theme for a movie. Dexter Gordon starred in Round Midnight. It got panned, but I loved it.

The composition has been done hundreds of times, I would guess. So which version is best? That would be a week long project. I have a couple of suggestions. I have already posted on version on my site: Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan. Here you have the composer and an excellent horn player beside him.

But if you are looking for something new, try this one, from Joe Henderson, The Standard Joe. Rufus Reid on bass and Al Foster on drums. Henderson is trying to find new nuggets in well sifted soil here, but I think he finds them.

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