Back in March and April, I did a pair of posts about my favorite classical and jazz pieces. Basically, the way I determined which pieces would make the list was to go through my classical and jazz collections on my music player, then write down the names that stood out to me. I then narrowed the list down to ten songs, which appeared in each post. In doing so, however, I realized that I had left off many amazing songs by some amazing artists, and I regretted doing so. So, now that you’ve had a few months to digest my previous posts, I submit for your approval the best tracks that didn’t make either list. These songs didn’t necessarily miss the cut because they’re not good, but rather because there’s simply too much good music, and I had to cut off the list somewhere. But I think these deserve their day in the sun.
Air Mail Special, by Ella Fitzgerald (1957)
The first time I heard this, my mouth dropped open. I know she’s just scat singing, but the sheer speed at which she is unleashing her vocals would be amazing even if she was just singing “watermelon” over and over again. In addition, she not only sings fast, but sings with a precision that you wouldn’t expect. She manages to keep her voice clear and poised despite the speed. Incredible.
Concerto in A Minor, by Antonio Vivaldi (1711)
It only makes sense, with Bach being one of my favorite classical composers, that I would also be drawn to the music of one of his greatest influences, Antonio Vivaldi. I have a special attachment to this piece, because I learned and performed the first and third movements at two of my own violin recitals in high school. The two peppy and fast movements contrast with a slower and nuanced second movement to form a highly cohesive concerto.
I Should Care, by Thelonious Monk (1957)
Thelonious Monk had a way of putting his own spin on popular standards. Take I Should Care, which is an adaptation of a pop song about splitting up with a lover. The main character of the song “should care” that he and his girlfriend are done and no longer friends, but he finds that he doesn’t. Monk slows the song down a little and introduces some dissonant chords. I imagine this might grate on the ears of some, but like the man himself the piece is unique and interesting.
Farandole (from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2), by Georges Bizet (1872)
Georges Bizet was one of those great musicians that left this world too soon, but not before leaving his mark on the Romantic era. The L’Arlesienne suites were composed as incidental music for plays of the same name, and the Farandole is probably the most famous part of the suites. It has a sort of elegant marching pace to it that I’ve always enjoyed listening to and performing. Interestingly, this piece was arranged and published four years after Bizet’s death, but credited to him since he wrote the overarching themes and basic orchestration.
Dead Man Blues, by Jelly Roll Morton (1927)
Jelly Roll Morton had a certain wit and energy about him, even when the situation didn’t necessarily call for it. Dead Man Blues starts with a somewhat lighthearted exchange about two characters who believe the only reason church bells would be ringing at noon would be for a funeral. The piece starts off with an adaptation of Chopin’s funeral march, fusing the classical and jazz worlds in yet another new way. The piece that follows is somewhat energetic with a tinge of melancholy.
Minuet (from String Quartet in E Major), by Luigi Boccherini (1771)
Some pieces of music have the ability to conjure mental images and take you back to earlier events in your life or human history. Boccherini’s famous minuet does that for me. Its elegance transports me in my mind to an 18th Century ballroom, with all the men in dapper suits and the women in large gowns that take up half the room. I’ve always been fascinated by that quality of this piece, and it thus has a special place in my music player.
West End Blues, by Louis Armstrong (1928)
I felt bad not including Satchmo in my initial list, but none of his songs grab me the way some of the others do. If I have a favorite, it’s probably this one. I like how it transitions from a bouncy, peppy feel to more drawn-out, legato notes. Armstrong’s scat vocals add a nice grace note to the end. Armstrong is notable for staying relevant in the music world for a remarkably long time, and one of his most famous songs, What a Wonderful World, was recorded only four years before his death in 1971.
Night on Bald Mountain, by Modest Mussorgsky/Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff (1867/1886)
I credit this to Mussorgsky because he wrote the original version, but the one most famous (and the one you hear when you click the link) was arranged by Rimsky-Korsakoff after Mussorgsky’s death. I’ve often described this piece as “Flight of the Bumblebee hits puberty,” due to its same frenetic opening section, but with lower notes than in Flight, which incidentally was also composed by Rimsky-Korsakoff. The piece does a good job of building a menacing crescendo toward several musical peaks.
Acknowledgement (from A Love Supreme), by John Coltrane (1964)
John Coltrane was an absolute virtuoso on the sax, and it comes out in this piece. The smooth opening with the ride cymbal of the drums cascading over your ears is absolutely exquisite. A variety of other instruments enter and exit, such as a piano and string bass, giving this song a “full band” feel even though it’s all credited to Trane.
Symphony No. 5, by Ludwig von Beethoven (1808)
Even the most novice music enthusiasts have likely heard the first movement of this piece before, as it’s one of Beethoven’s most recognizable. Depending on how it is played, it can convey a sense of anger or triumph. Most people associate it with Beethoven’s increasing anger over his deteriorating hearing, but it was referred to as “The Victory Symphony,” many times during and after World War II, and was associated with the Allies’ “V for Victory” campaign. The “dit-dit-dit-dah” rhythm opening bars of the symphony was even used later as the letter V in Morse Code, though many believe that was coincidental.