Okay, so I say upfront that it would be nearly impossible to make a list of “best jazz songs”. In fact, it’d be nearly impossible to make a “best songs” list of any genre, but especially for someone who is just getting into jazz music. I’m not a jazz guru (read about that here) by any stretch of the imagination. I’m really nothing more than a newbie to the genre; just a person who is looking to uncover new songs and enjoy the freshness of discovery.
You know that time period where you’re still brand new to something and no matter how much you grow to love it, you’ll never have that same newfound level of appreciation? That’s the stage you can say I’m still at with respect to jazz music. So for any of you hardcore genre boundary setters I’m sorry if I mislabel a song. This is, after all, nothing more than my attempt at 10 songs to help you like jazz music.
*One quick sidenote – you may notice a lot of the tracks come from Grand Theft Auto IV’s JNR soundtrack. The reason behind that is that’s pretty much how I became interested in the genre.
Look for the Silver Lining – Chet Baker
I’d say this is a good song for new jazz listeners for a few reasons. Personally, I really like this song because it’s got such a positive meaning. Who hasn’t heard the “Look for the silver lining” quote before? This song basically puts that into lyrical form, but I love it because it puts it into musical form as well. A great track to test whether or not you like “cool” jazz or vocals in your jazz.
Sing Sing Sing – Benny Goodman
Sing Sing Sing is one of those songs that will make you say, “Oh, I’ve heard that before!” It’s easily one of the most recognizable jazz tracks out there, largely due to its catchiness and the popularity of Benny Goodman, although he wasn’t necessarily held in high regards. Regardless if he was a liked man or not, you should try this track out. It’s got a lot going on and a neat “breakdown” (for lack of a better word) around 2:10 into the song.
Stratus – Billy Cobham
As I mentioned in the link to my previous article in the introduction, I wasn’t really ever able to get into fusion jazz – except for this song. This song has a groove that I haven’t been able to find in any other song, although I can’t quite place what that groove is. If you want to try out some fusion jazz (jazz with guitars and synthesizers), just to see if you like it, this is a good starting point. If you appreciate music in any form though, you’ll probably enjoy the bassline.
Take Five – Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker
Like I said earlier, I’m far from a connoisseur when it comes to jazz, and I’m sure this song has been remade scores of times; these are just the two versions I have. Personally, I like the Dave Brubeck version better because it’s longer than Charlie Parker’s version (at least in my Itunes it is.) I honestly don’t have a problem labeling this song in my top 3 jazz songs, and maybe my favorite overall. If you don’t dig those drums and the pure smoothness of the track then you’re either A) probably not going to be interested in jazz, or B) just not feeling it. Sounds like pure silk on a breezy summer day.
The Coffee Song – Frank Sinatra
Okay, so this may not be jazz. I don’t know if it is to be frank (pun somewhat unintended), so any genre purists out there please don’t be upset with me! The fact of the matter is this is one of the songs that made me say, “Wow! I should dig deeper into that music!” Sure enough, here I am writing a suggestion article. The reason I put this song on here is because it’s fun, and hey, it helped me start into jazz so why wouldn’t I suggest it?
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Maybe the most recognizable jazz song ever, from the most recognizable jazz artist ever. I could have easily given this spot to the song “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”, but I don’t think this one has the same feel as “What a Wonderful World”. If ever there were just a happy and optimistic song, this is it. You’ve probably heard it before, and if you haven’t, do so immediately. You just can’t go wrong with this song.
St. Thomas – Sonny Rollins
I wrap up the list with a track from Sonny Rollins. This song was another one of those I heard while cruising down the fictional streets of Liberty City and coaxed me into exploring the genre. Yet again, nothing to not like about this track, but you may want to check out the others on the list before this one.
It Never Entered My Mind – Miles Davis
This wouldn’t be a complete list without a song from the great Miles Davis. I had trouble narrowing it down to one as it is. I suggest this one just because of its “coolness” and relaxedness (which according to my word processing software, is surprisingly an acceptable word.) If you’re looking for something on the very chill side – something you could easily fall asleep to or just read and study – then this could very well be a great starting point. Even if you’re not fond of this song you should definitely check out more of Miles Davis’ stuff.
Night Train – Oscar Peterson
This is another great track from one of the greatest artists of the genre. I put this song on the list because I love the deep groove of the bass, the flow of the music, and it’s more intensive on the piano side of things than most of the other songs on the list (outside of some of Chet Baker’s stuff). As I’m writing this I’m finding myself bobbing my head and swaying to side to side as it plays through my headphones. It’s got the light drums, the bass, and the sophistication, and there isn’t a single reason this shouldn’t be a on the list for getting into jazz music.
Everyone’s Rooting for You – Sondre Lerche
This track moves onto a more contemporary look of the genre. Again, I’m not 100% sure if it is jazz but I’ll count it in for this purpose. Sondre Lerche reminds me of a modern member of the Rat Pack. He’s got the music behind him, the smooth lyrics, and the jazz feel. Many of his songs will probably earn you some brownie points if you want to put them on a playlist for your significant other, or just for a date. Specifically check out Human Hands as well for another outstanding song.