Tell the truth now: you’re really fed up with what our world-class media sends streaming your way way as you stuff the turkey, roast the chestnuts, mince the pie, and do everything else you need to do before Thanksgiving.
If you have the TV on, it means a slow fade from too many high-school marching bands to a cornucopia of sports clichés accompanying a glut of football. If it’s the radio, you know that Thanksgiving has become the day to officially start annoying you with Christmas music.
But hark! What’s that in the distance? Charlie Parker? Lee Morgan? Charles Earland?
Yes, it’s time for your Chicago Jazz Examiner’s third annual Thanksgiving Jazz Playlist. Laboratory tested during years of on-air radio work, and carefully tweaked to include more recent selections, it’s guaranteed to provide an appropriate and well-sequenced soundtrack for preprandial preparations. As always, all the tracks are fully downloadable; just click on the titles. As befits our annual homage to alimentary excess, trhis year’s list brims with musical depictions of food. And except for one well-chosen tune title, there’s not a turkey in the bunch.
Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, A November Afternoon: One of the great hard-bop bands, captured toward the end of their brief (three-year) run, performing a bright, crisp, and appropriately named tune – yet another of saxist Golson’s anthemic jazz compositions.
Charles Earland, Thanksgiving: Earland, the one-time Chicagoan and full-time organ-jazz powerhouse, could make the Hammond B-3 sing and swing on any occasion, including the one that gives this tune its title.
Cab Calloway, Everybody Eats When They Come To My House: And the Swing Era’s rambunctious “Hi-de-ho man” managed to find a rhyme for each of them in this kitschy artifact: “Try the salami, Tommy. Pass me a pancake, Mandrake.” Etc. (Hey, I didn’t say they were great rhymes.)
Charlie Parker, Carvin’ The Bird: The legendary alto saxophonist and co-creator of bebop, Parker could slice, dice, burn, and shred any tune he turned his attention to. This one’s a medium-fast blues, with an all-star L.A. cast in 1947.
Booker T & The MGs, Soul Dressing: The classic pop organist takes the lead on this lean but flavorful plateful of funkified southern cooking. (WARNING: contains no green onions.)
Mongo Santamaria, Sweet ’Tater Pie: Few folks did more to promote Latin jazz than this top-notch conguero, whose version of “Watermelon Man” remains the one everyone remembers. This is something Latin, bluesy, delicious and nutritious, from the man who is still the only percussionist to serve as the punch line in a Mel Brooks movie.
Lee Morgan, Cornbread: Smoking hot, fresh from the hard-bop oven and just in time for the church picnic. The much-missed Morgan – one of the music’s great melodists and a central post-bop figure – pretty much perfected the soul-jazz trumpet sound.
Rodney Jones, One Turnip Green: Even one lowly, lonely vegetable goes a long way in the hands of the veteran guitar man Jones, with no small help from his all-star compeers: soul avatars Arthur Blythe (alto) Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ), and Idris Muhammad (drums).
Cyrus Chestnut, Soul Food: It’s pretty hard to go wrong when the pianist’s own name suggests a favorite recipe for the stuffing.
Sonny Stitt, Quince: I’ll take any excuse to hear the glittering bebop of Sonny Stitt, but especially when the tune he’s playing fits so nicely into the dessert portion of the evening. You just have to ignore the fact that “Quince” is in fact short for “Quincy” (as in Jones, who wrote this tune for the Basie band) and think of pie instead.
Organissimo, Pumpkin Pie: Since you may not have heard this Michigan-based organ trio before, count this track among your well-deserved stocking-stuffers. Sweet? Hell yes – with an irresistible country-blues beat, and a typical ridiculously adept organ solo from Jim Alfredson.
Eddie Harris, That Is Why You’re Overweight: The brilliant saxophonist also had a wicked sense of humor: he even issued one comedy album. Here he raps his way down your basic 9,000-calorie-per-day diet.
Jim Pepper, Dakota Song: No Thanksgiving playlist should fail to acknowledge the people who hosted the first feast – in this case via the music of Pepper, the only full-blood Native American to build an international jazz career. This adventurous saxophonist blended a penchant for avant-garde improvising with an adherence to his roots – no more so than on this simple paean to one of the great tribes. It’s no longer for sale, but you can download it for free (with sign-up).
Oregon, Witchi-Tai-To: The acoustic, cool-fusion quartet Oregon first recorded this song – an indelible theme written by Jim Pepper (see above) – in the early 70s, as they successfully sought a different path from the rock-jazz excesses of that era. This latest version comes from a live 2002 recording.
Charles Lloyd, Amazing Grace: No hymn ever received a more quietly impassioned, tastefully yearning treatment than this classic from saxophone legend Lloyd – a sure reminder of what the day should be about.
Ray Bryant, Cold Turkey: Leftovers! And a heartfelt (heartburn?) reminder of what the day has become.