Jazz for Readin’/Teachin’/Intellectualizin’


As a genre, jazz can often prove a difficult backdrop for other activities. By its very nature, it demands attention – syncopation and swung notes; improvisation; nuanced harmonies; technical phrases, solos. These qualities can make it a distracting medium should you find yourself simultaneously trying to be somewhat productive. As an elementary teacher, I had a few different classroom playlists that I created to both expose the kids to good music and to maintain a desired ambiance conducive to reading or independent work. I found that compiling jazz tunes to fit the bill (especially for immature jazz ears) was a difficult, but rewarding task. For today’s post, I’ve recycled some of the same material, with updates to include some recent finds. So here you go: a jazz playlist that is full of goodies, but optimally chilled for silent reading time, studying, or hammocking.

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Blue in Green – Miles Davis

This song (off the timeless Kind of Blue record) really needs no introduction. It is one of my all-time favorites. I once heard a jazz expert (I believe that was his title) give a brief lecture on the album, and he described the timeless feel of this song as having a ‘heroin pulse’. Here’s a review found on allmusic.com by Thomas Ward:

“Blue in Green” is arguably the most beautiful piece of music on Kind of Blue. The ensemble playing reaches new levels of subtlety and transcendence, and the work benefits greatly from the introduction of pianist Bill Evans, one of Miles Davis’ greatest collaborators. Indeed, his piano part is magnificent, and his solo is a masterpiece of his unrivaled lyricism. The tempo of the tune is audaciously slow, and it’s easy for the listener to think that it will fall apart at any moment. It doesn’t,  however, due to the genius of the ensemble. “Blue in Green” is also a greatly important piece; it shows that the values of “cool jazz” can have huge artistic value – it’s not just laid-back music for the sake of it, it’s music of extraordinary depth of feeling.

Starmaker – Roy Hargrove

This album, Earfood, is one of my favorite jazz albums of all time. If you don’t know Roy Hargrove, get familiar. He’s one of the most talented trumpet/bandleaders out there right now. Unfortunately I understand he’s got an issue with heroin as well, which can (negatively) impact his live performances. This highly sensual song exemplifies everything I like about his playing: tasteful, lyrical phrases teased out with impeccable tone.

Toy – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

This is the first of three songs on this playlist from the exceptional record, Know What I Mean. I like Cannonball’s style for its expression. He sounds like he’s talking! He’s especially playful on this one, appropriate given the title of this Cliff Jordan cover.

Waltz for Debby – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

Now that the pasta is boiling, or your projects are otherwise on auto-pilot, the music relaxes a bit. Ha, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention – that bit comes from my last post. You can hear Bill Evans’ flourishes a bit more on this tune than the last. Very pretty song.

Julia – Medeski, Martin, Scofield, & Wood

An incredibly beautiful Beatles cover. Deeply emotional and rich. The subtle changes made by John Medeski on the chords played are brilliant. This may be my favorite song of all time.

Take Five – Dave Brubeck Quartet

After Dave’s recent passing, I had to include this timeless gem.

My Funny Valentine – Miles Davis Quintet

Frequently covered, but this is my favorite version. I love the piano intro.

Behind Closed Doors – John Scofield

Again, Scofield’s tone is sensational. I was previously unaware that this was a classic country cover. Worth a listen to compare: Charlie Rich – Behind Closed Doors. His ability to mold a country song in such a way makes me think it was his idea to do the cover of Julia (above).

Nancy (With the Laughing Face) – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

Originally a Sinatra recording, this song makes me feel like I’m walking through an art museum. ‘Cause I would walk around about that that fast, without any urgency.

Be Good (Lion’s Song) – Gregory Porter

I tried to make the playlist strictly instrumental, but I couldn’t resist this one. Indy got a sneak peek at this one and said it reminded him of a modern Nat King Cole. I see the similarity, though I think Porter’s got more of a sensual, smooth sound. If you like him, I also recommend this tune about asking for a girl’s hand: Gregory Porter – Real Good Hands

The Stroke – The RH Factor

Roy Hargrove’s group from the early 2000’s. This song has an incredible intimacy.

Naima – John Coltrane

Coltrane’s wife inspired this ballad, which serves as a stark contrast to the more upbeat songs on the Giant Steps album.

Peace Piece – Bill Evans

You can tell that I like Bill Evans. Heard this on the radio on MLK day, on a jazz program dedicated to playing songs that reminded the DJ of Dr. King. The octave and fifth intervals that pervade remind me of Debussy. A truly peaceful tune to conclude the set. I hope you enjoyed!

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Music for Hosting Ol’ Friends


For this week’s playlist, I wanted to continue the trend that Indy started with Week 1 – that is, a functional playlist. Filtering all those musical gems that you’ve unearthed over the last few months into a cohesive playlist that doesn’t just sound like your ‘My Top Rated’-on-shuffle-mode can be a difficult task. For me, it helps to have some activity or setting in mind while building a playlist. This is why I’ve recently been so smitten with music app Songza, as they specifically focus on this aspect of music enjoyment. To that end, you can use the app to build a custom playlist based on your choice of activity – activities that range from coding, to cooking, to baby-making. To my knowledge, Songza does not have a playlist for hosting old friends (and no, this is not a playlist for entertaining the elderly – Keith’s working on that playlist for another week), so this will fill a clear need during the holiday season, when we see folks that we may not have seen in a while. This playlist will tell assure them that you have maintained a healthy appreciation for good tunes, or at least have a friend that made you a dynamite playlist. Hope you enjoy:

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Til I Met Thee – Cody Chesnutt

Scene: Your company has arrived, has wine glass(es) in hand and is ready to start helping out in food preparations. This song will get your feet moving; before long you will be chopping onions and mincing garlic to the beat. So this is definitely my jam of late. This is the guitarist from The Roots, famous for his singing on The Seed 2.0. The outro is powerful.

Keep on Pushing – The Impressions

I’m ashamed to admit that I just discovered these guys, although some of their hits like It’s All Right and People Get Ready are familiar. This is the group that gave Curtis Mayfield his start, before he went solo in the early ’70s.  The harmonies on this song will even make those sizzling onions sing along.

Don’t Leave Me – Regina Spektor

This is my favorite track off her new record. This upbeat track will maintain a lively feel in the kitchen as you continue final food preparations.

Valerie – ’68 version – Amy Winehouse

Now that the pasta is boiling, or your projects are otherwise on auto-pilot, the music relaxes a bit. This cover is absolutely beautiful. The laidback strummy sound on the guitar is a perfect complement to Amy’s free, expressive style. This comes off a wildly underappreciated posthumous compilation album, Lioness – Hidden Treasures. I like this stuff way more than her mainstream LP’s.

Heartbreaker – The Walkmen

These guys are one of my recent faves. Singer Walter Martin has a distinctive voice, which I happen to like a lot. Cool story here is that these guys have been playing together since the 5th grade.

Love the Way You Walk Away – Blitzen Trapper

While I’ve not been blown away by their stuff generally, I think this song is just great.

Roscoe – Midlake

I think this is one of a couple songs from this playlist that I Shazam’ed off KEXP’s morning show with John, which is consistently solid. Also, SoundHound > Shazam. It has real-time lyrics, and you can sing/hum the song if you can’t play the real thing! I just couldn’t use SoundHound in verb-form…

Changes – Sandro Perri

Those that know me and my jammy tendencies will understand why I’m in love with this tune, starting at 3:40 (but the whole song is lovely). And not to neglect the whole hosting/cooking dialogue…this track and the next are the transition points – transporting food to table and getting settled down to eat.

Alvear Orilla/Estancia Santa Maria – Chango Spasiuk

Arguably the most talented accordion player in the world, Chango’s style blends obvious technical skill with great songwriting craft.

Midnight in Harlem – Tedeschi Trucks Band

Talented singer (and infamous cougar) Susan Tedeschi teams up with hubby Derek Trucks on the most epic track from their recent record, Revelator (recommended). Classy background music for mastication.

Smoke Ring Halo – The Wood Brothers

I’ve been digging on these guys for a while, but I still can’t get enough of their sound. Listen for the mounting, swelling organ near the end which is effective as a crescendo.

The Good Life – Railroad Earth

You’ll notice by this point that the playlist has taken a country/bluegrass/americana turn. A song celebrating life, appropriately wedged in the space where you’re in the midst of great drink/eats/and guests. The bass line in this song is fun.

Poor Fool –Justin Townes Earle

This song is just downright pleasant. Steve Earle gave his son Townes Van Zandt’s name as a middle name. Justin makes pretty good music in his own right.

What It Is – Mark Knopfler

The opening track off of another under-appreciated album, Sailing to Philadelphia (on which the elegant title track features James Taylor!). This lively gem will help avert food coma, and reinvigorate your company for the next stage of the party, whatever that may be…