The Golden Age Of American Popular Music is fast-becoming as successful series as our Golden Age of American Rock’n’Roll. This spin-off from the main series is a collection of Jazz Hits from the core years of 1958-1966. We’ve slightly widened the brief to include some hits from Billboard’s “Bubbling Under” chart that was published as an adjunct to the Hot 100 in these years.
Although some of the titles will be known by pop fans, as ever these are leavened by the much less familiar and sometimes quite rare. We’ve also insisted on the single versions of the tracks, which haven’t been available elsewhere, such as ‘Watermelon Man’ and ‘The Sidewinder’.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Golden Age of American Popular Music was the sheer diversity of the charts. At any given time, Billboard’s Hot 100 might contain a range of musical styles that is impossible to envisage in today’s market. Billboard’s editorial would frequently identify trends based on the perceived popularity of certain idioms which fell outside normal pop categorisation. In 1961, when three jazz singles – Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’, ‘Exodus’ by Eddie Harris and ‘African Waltz’ by Cannonball Adderley – broke into the pop charts more or less simultaneously, Billboard ran a story headlined: Indie Labels Alerted As Jazz Crashes “Hot 100”.
By 1962, as soul-based jazz grew in popularity, organ players such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Hank Marr began showing up on the pop charts. Pianists such as Vince Guaraldi, Les McCann and later, Ramsey Lewis, also scored, the latter most spectacularly with ‘The “In” Crowd’, a live recording which marked commercial the peak of jazz in the swinging 60s.
1962 also saw Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd kick off America’s love affair with Brazil’s bossa nova with their left-field hit, ‘Desafinado’. Getz would follow through with the equally impressive ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ featuring Astrud Gilberto in 1964. Ray Barretto (‘El Watusi’) and Mongo Santamaria (‘Watermelon Man’) demonstrated the irresistible danceability of latin-jazz in the pop market.
The best part is that nobody sold out. Virtually every record on this set became a hit through circumstance rather than design. For these artists it was business as usual but with the greater rewards and exposure that a hit can bring.
Looking as good as it sounds, “The Jazz Hits” comes in an illustrious package designed to stimulate the listener almost as much as the audio itself.
By Rob Finnis