I don't think of jazz artists as pop stars. The very thought makes me uneasy. Art isn't for the masses. It's for individuals who are sensitive enough to feel and understand the artist's message. Yet over the past half-century or so, about 30 jazz artists have reached the masses with Top 40 hits. In most cases, the recordings were attempts to capitalize on dance crazes, movie themes, or pop trends. In other cases, they just happened.
Since 1955, the recipe for chart success by jazz artists seems to have been recordings of highly upbeat or funky songs that were suitable for parties or dances. Yesterday, I featured the 10 most-popular singles recorded by jazz artists. Today I'm featuring the next set of 10.
Yesterday and today's lists are based on research using the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. I simply isolated jazz artists and put them in order of how well their singles charted. Below, you'll see No. 11-20 on my Jazz Hits list, including the song's title, the artist, the date the single entered the Billboard Top 40 and the highest position reached on the chart:
11. Hi-jack—Herbie Mann (4/1975, #14). This single by Mann was extremely popular just before the formal emergence of disco in the early summer of 1975. The song was an instrumental with limited lyrics ("Hi-jack, your love" and I'm gonna steal ya") and was an early example of the Latin hustle beat. Leave it to Mann to be one step ahead yet again in the Latin market.
12. Desafinado—Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (10/1962, #15). Also known as Slightly Out of Tune, this single was recorded a year and a half before Getz's Girl From Ipanema. But unlike Ipanema, Desafinado was a skippy, mood-setting instrumental. The combination of Stan's airy tenor sax backed by Byrd's rhythmic acoustic guitar was like ear candy. This bossa nova hit should have climbed higher than #15 considering it was up against singles like Monster Mash, He's a Rebel and Big Girls Don't Cry. Clearly, the secret to charting higher was the addition of a sultry, innocent female voice (Astrud Gilberto).
13. Sweet Baby—Stanley Clarke and George Duke (6/1981, #19). The bassist Clarke and keyboardist Duke are usually thought of as mainstream jazz-fusionists—Clarke with Return to Forever and Duke with Frank Zappa and Steps Ahead. But in the early 1980s, they joined forces for the Clarke/Duke Project and recorded an album of mostly jazz-funk tracks inspired by success of The Ohio Players. Sweet Baby was the album's change up—a ballad that had a Reasons (Earth Wind & Fire) feel. Sweet Baby also was an early example of "light jazz."
14. Memories of You—Benny Goodman and Rosemary Clooney (3/1956, #20). Recorded in November 1955, this mid-tempo single featured Buck Clayton on trumpet, Urbie Green on trombone, Goodman on clarinet, Dick Hyman on piano, Aaron Bell on bass and Bobby Donaldson on drums. Just prior to April 1956, mainstream pop acts dominated the Top 40 chart, including Nelson Riddle (Lisbon Antigua), Kay Starr (Rock and Roll Waltz) and Dean Martin (Memories Are Made of This). Then in April, Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel rocketed to No. 1 and remained there for eight weeks. Big bands and pop vocalists never knew what hit them.
15. Mack the Knife—Louis Armstrong (2/1956. #20). This tune from Three Penny Opera was first given the jazz treatment by Sidney Bechet in 1954. Louis Armstrong's hit version was recorded with his All Stars in the fall of 1955 and was perfectly suited to Pops' jazz-entertainer style. Mack the Knife was just one of three Top 40 hits by Louis.
16. Walk on the Wild Side—Jimmy Smith (6/1962, #21). Arranged by Oliver Nelson, the single featured Smith on the organ backed by a big band and odd use of sleigh bells. It was a slick and slinky number, in keeping with bachelor culture of the Kennedy Administration years. Walk on the Wild Side originated as the title song for a 1962 film of the same name. Written by Elmer Bernstein, the song was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Days of Wine and Roses (Henri Mancini).
17. Summer Samba—Walter Wanderley (10/1966, #26). This masterful Brazilian organist released many bossa nova albums on the Verve and A&M labels but none of his singles went as far up the charts as Summer Samba. Also known as So Nice, this Marcos Valle song was perfectly suited to Wanderley's ferociously graceful and hip organ style. The album on which it was released—Rain Forest—reached platinum status (1 million sold).
18. April in Paris—Count Basie Orchestra (2/1956, #28). From its big opening fanfare and smooth sax section work to its novelty ending ("One more time!"), April in Paris was a jukebox hit just before rock 'n' roll's surge. The single was helped by Thad Jones' whimsical Pop Goes the Weasel tag, and the recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
19. Gonna Fly Now—Maynard Ferguson (5/1977, #28). Also known as the Theme From Rocky, the song was written by Bill Conti and recorded for the 1976 movie by Conti with a big band. Ferguson upped the ante considerably with a hard disco beat, wah-wah bass, hungry brass section and soaring solo work, giving an inspirational comeback song more muscle and appeal.
20. More—The Kai Winding Orchestra (7/1963, #28). Yes, Kai Winding had a Top 40 hit. This song was the theme to the film Mondo Cane, an Italian documentary featuring shocking cultural customs from around the world. What this version had going for it wasn't so much the trombone of Winding. Instead, what caught the ear was the mixing of a galloping Marlboro Man beat, Kenny Burrell's big surf guitar sound, and what appears to be a toy electric piano set to "strings" running the melody. The single was off the album Soul Surfin'.