With the release of Joe Jackson’s recent tribute to Duke Ellington, called The Duke, we’re reminded that, for artists as diverse as Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Sting and Norah Jones, the gravitational pull to the jazz idiom can be irresistible.
For years, record producers have brought trophy soloists into the studio to add that certain je ne sais quoi to a project. Would Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” have had the same impact without Phil Woods’s poignant alto solo?
Last year, Lady Gaga placed a tick beside "jazz" on her bucket list. And by the looks of it, Tony Bennett didn't mind his collaboration with the pop ultra-diva one bit.
And it seems Mick 'n' Keith enjoyed what Sonny Rollins did on their 1981 release Tattoo You so much, they invited him to tour with the Rolling Stones. Rollins declined, cordially by all accounts. Apparently, the musical divide was a little too wide to bridge for an extended hook up. Or was it?
Stones drummer Charlie Watts started out with both feet firmly planted in the warm soils of jazz land. As a teen, Watts listened exclusively to 78s of Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Parker and other jazz greats. These days, he’s only too happy to whip out a pair of brushes to impart a cozy feel to a jazz standard played with his own ensemble.
“I just never met someone so snobby in jazz music [as Amy Winehouse].” – from an Associated Press interview with Roots drummer Ahmir Khalib “?uestlove” Thompson.
American drummer and producer ?uestlove has said, “I thought I had my doctorate in jazz.” But it seems Amy Winehouse showed him a thing or two about the genre. The two Skyped MP3s back and forth extensively between New York and London, right up to the time of Winehouse's untimely death last year. And it was mostly jazz flowing from Winehouse, who was lobbying ?uestlove to join her in forming a supergroup to perform jazz repertoire. He talks about the experience in this video.
Sting has always had a strong relationship with jazz musicians, including Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland. He has also been known to show up as a special guest with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.
In 2008, Willie Nelson collaborated on a recording with multi-Grammy-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, as did English guitar icon Eric Clapton in 2011.
And of course, Canada’s own Joni Mitchell was thoroughly convincing in her crossover to jazz on the 1979 album Mingus. She laid down a definitive performance, with original lyrics, of the Charles Mingus elegy to Lester Young, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
For English bandleader Joe Jackson, jazz has been much more than a fleeting fancy. He has long admired the great body of work from the Great American Songbook. In 1982 he released Night and Day, the title of which is inspired by the famous Cole Porter song. The big single from that record, “Stepping Out,” is a gem of a tune that has come full circle, itself becoming, if not a bona fide standard, certainly one worthy of the stellar re-interpretation it received last year by one of America’s major jazz vocalists, Kurt Elling.
Jackson also released the jazz-tinged Body and Soul (1984), and now The Duke, for which he is currently touring in the U.S.A. with guest violinist Regina Carter. The Duke shows off Jackson’s skills at arranging and re-imagination. While respectful of Ellington’s original compositions, the charts also reach out into unexpected directions and collaborations. Case in point: “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” with special guest Iggy Pop.
Jackson performs at the historic Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey on Sept. 25. Tour details are available here.
Measha Brueggergosman's crossover from classical to jazz
Tony Bennett turns down 'What a Wonderful World'
Taking the measure of Mingus
on Sep 25, 2012