Jazz history if full of important songs with interesting stories as well as songs that left a mark with their compositions, taboo-defying ideas and magical melodies. From miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” to Joe Venuti’s “4 String Joe”, here are 10 songs that won a place at jazz history through their stories.
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black”
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, written by Nina Simone for her close friend, scenarist Lorraine Hansberry, following her death; is much more than a mere homage. The song, which carries the same name with the play penned by Hansberry and directed by Simone’s ex-husband Robert Nemiroff, became a sort of a anthem for the African-American youth who is fighting racism in United States.
“Blue In Green”
One of the most important albums of Jazz history, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue includes the “Blue in Green” track, which brought an interesting story and controversy. The question in regards to if the track was written by Miles Davis or Bill Evans is still unanswered. Even though Davis said in his autobiography that he wrote all the songs in the album by himself, Evans put the trio version of the song in his album and credited it as “Davis – Evans”. Evans also stated in an interview 20 years after the album that he wrote the song but Miles Davis took all the credit and royalties.
“I Wish It Would Rain”
Another band that comes to mind when talking about Motown is The Temptations and their classic hit “I Wish It Would Rain” is remembered with its tragic story. The lyrics, which are narrated from the perspective of a man who was despised and heart-broken by his wife, was written by Roger Penzabene days after he found out about his wife’s affair. In 1967, 10 days before the release of The Temptation’s striking track “I Wish It Would Rain”, Roger Penzabene, who has written many songs for Motown projects, couldn’t bear the emotional pain and took his own life.
“Ooh Baby Baby”
Motown legend Smokey Robinson and his band The Miracles became known with the “Ohh Baby Baby” chant they used to repeat with various harmonies during the breathing breaks for the orchestra. This was one of the most anticipated moments of their concerts. Smokey Robinson took that phrase, which was receiving a lot of attention from their fans, and made it a hit song.
“The Music Goes Round And Around”
Known mostly by Ella Fitzgerald and Tommy Dorsey versions, “The Music Goes Round And Round” is one of the most interesting songs of jazz history, which includes many interesting stories conveyed through songs. Composed by Mark Riley and Ed Farley and written by Red Hodgson, “The Music Goes Round And Round” is about how the play a French horn. Becoming an instant hit after it was played in a New York night Club in 30’s, the song is also adapted to different instruments through time by changing some of its lyrics.
“Here, My Dear”
The opening song with the same name of Marvin Gaye’s 1978 album, “Here, My Love” is devoted to legendary musician’s first wife Anna Gordy and their unsuccessful marriage. In the song, which was written after his short marriage to Anna Gordy, the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Marvin Gave talks about how he had to make this album since recording a new album and giving all the benefits from this album to his ex-wife Anna Gordy was a part of their divorce settlement.
“4 String Joe”
Legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti is known with his weird jokes as much as his music. A story that was verified and told by many musicians is also the inspiration behind Venuti and Eddy Lang’s “4 String Joe”. The story goes like this: One day Venuti summoned 30 bass players and told them he needed them for a concert in New York and they should come back the next day with their basses. And the next day he greeted them in his car and gave them berries. Afterwards, Venuti was fined by the musicians union to pay the concert’s fee to all the bass players who were victims of his joke.
“Take the A Train”
Pianist Billy Strayhorn, who was doing orchestral arrangements for Duke Ellington in the early 40’s, wrote the jazz standard “Take the A Train”, which has been performed by various jazz musicians since then. One of the most popular songs of the day, “Take the A Train” was inspired by the subway ride into New York’s Harlem and Strayhorn told that the song was like a letter to an old friend.
“The Girl From Ipanema”
The second most recorded song of the history, “The Girl From Ipanema” was co-written by composed Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes. The duo, who used to meet in a bar named Veloso in the coastal neighborhood of Ipanema in Rio de Janerio, wrote the song with the inspiration they took from a girl who used to pass by the bar all the time. The girl, who discovered to be 17-year-old Heloisa Enedia Menezes Paes Pinto, became famous after the song. Vinicius de Moares described Pinto, who inspired one of the most interpreted songs of the history, as a “gift from life”.
Written by a teacher named Abel Meeropol in 1937, “Strange Fruit” is mostly remembered by Billie Holiday’s magnificent vocals. Written in protest to the racism and lynchings towards African American people in United States, “Strange Fruit” has that chilling effect every time you listen to it. Also sang by UB40, Annie Lennox and Nina Simone, the song was turned into a short animation by Shimi Asresay and Hili Noy.