It’s finally starting to get cold out there, so bust out your finest knit and relax with some of my favorite seasonal swing tunes. From tightly knit trios to brassy big bands, here’s what made the list this fall.
“The Skeleton in the Closet” – Louis Armstrong
The best way to start off the month of November is to make sure you’ve gotten your fair share of Halloween fun to last the rest of the year, so just in case, we’ll put this one at the beginning. The one and only Louis Armstrong recalls some of our favorite ghosts and ghouls in his recording from 1936 with Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra. Play this one at least a few times before putting the skeletons back into your closet!
“The Great Pumpkin Waltz” – Vince Guaraldi
Fall wouldn’t be fall without the glorious Peanuts TV specials. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” first aired in 1966 and has made its rounds every fall since as the best album to play in November, especially if you like to wait until after Thanksgiving to start playing the Christmas one. This waltz is my favorite of the tunes written and performed by pianist Vince Guaraldi and his sextet.
“My Little Brown Book” – Duke Ellington, John Coltrane
The eponymous duo album with Duke Ellington and John Coltrane from 1963 warrants a listen just about any time of the year, but the ballads especially make it feel like a particularly cold day outside. Most jazz listeners have heard “In A Sentimental Mood” but another composition by Billy Strayhorn catches my attention. In “My Little Brown Book,” Ellington brings the tune in with a flourish from his regular trio of bassist Aaron Bell and drummer Sam Woodyard before Coltrane settles it all in on the tenor saxophone.
“Miles Ahead” – Miles Davis
Since the temperature is dropping all around, it would be silly not to include the epitome of cool, Miles Davis. The title track to his 1957 collaboration with Gil Evans, 'Miles Ahead', is an exercise in keeping it laid back. On flugelhorn no less, Davis floats over an assortment of brass and woodwinds that can only be described as blissful and perfectly suited for an autumn stroll.
“‘Round Midnight” – Eldar Djangirov
It’s getting darker earlier now and relaxing night time listening is aided greatly by the classic Thelonius Monk composition, “‘Round Midnight.” This trio version from pianist Eldar Djangirov is truly like stepping into a dream. Bassist John Patitucci and drummer Todd Straight lend a superb backing, but it’s hard to keep the focus away from Djangirov’s virtuosic playing. Soothing to say the least.
“Two Sleepy People” – Fats Waller
This song was written in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael and was an immediate hit. Legendary stride pianist and singer Fats Waller and his Rhythm recorded a version the same year and it eventually became the most popular. It’s easy to see why, as it’s incredibly charming and easy to listen to. Spending time with ones you love is what this time of year is all about, so stay up if you want to.
“Love Is Here to Stay” – Oscar Peterson Trio
No playlist of mine would be complete without a gem from the king of inside swing, the Maharaja of the piano, Oscar Peterson. This time around he’s joined by Sam Jones and Bobby Durham on bass and drums from a 1967 privately recorded home concert entitled “Exclusively for My Friends: The Way I Really Play.” You don’t even need to hear the recording to be jealous that you couldn’t be there in person, but a glimpse into the intimate piano trio setting is more than satisfactory for a cozy night in. Check out George Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay” for a swinging good time.
“Cinnamon Tree” – Esperanza Spalding
To finish off this playlist I wanted to pull a cut from one of my contemporary bass heroes, Esperanza Spalding. For as great as pumpkin is, cinnamon is truly the ultimate fall flavor. This soulful groove from her 2012 album “Radio Music Society” always puts me in a warm and relaxed mood, something I’m sure a lot of us could use right about now.
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