The Jazz Band Countdown

Sorry if my title misled you, but this post is not about Coltrane, Charlie Parker and such.  No.  It’s about that high school institution, an offshoot from marching and symphonic/concert band, known simply as “Jazz Band”.  These bands generally play jazzed-up versions of popular songs, rather than ragtime, swing, bebop and whatnot.  At least, that’s what my jazz band did.  Well, I call it “my jazz band”, but sadly, I wasn’t actually in it, since there wasn’t a need for a jazz flutist.

More on jazz flute later, I promise.  Back to Jazz Band.  My best friend, Janie, was the drummer after Screwy Louie graduated.  Janie was my fellow digger of boy music and she played the heck out of those drums, practicing virtually non-stop.  She taught me a little about drumming, which has come in handy over the years, lending authenticity to my desk-top and air-drumming sessions.  So I attended all performances of  The Jazz Band, hanging out at their practices, running for burgers and so forth.  They had quite a repertoire by the end of the year, but there were three numbers that really smoked, and these three songs are the countdown that I am sharing with you today.  I’m giving you the original songs, but if you want to do so, they are all still being performed by high school jazz bands and you can watch them on YouTube.  Some are pretty good and some are terrible, but I’m still rooting them on because they are part of our brotherhood of musicians and music lovers everywhere.  Besides, who knows what the future holds for them?  They might be the next Miles Davis.  Now on with the countdown.

In third place, we have “Son of a Preacher Man”, by the beautiful and talented Dusty Springfield.  Now if you think of this song as just a little pop ditty, give it another listen.  First of all, in the hands of a good jazz band, it absolutely sizzles.  It starts with a smoldering, sultry sound and builds to a sexy crescendo.  Speaking of which, The Jazz Band almost was not permitted to play this song because of the “suggestive and scandalous” lyrics, but the band director went to bat for us and freedom prevailed. I mean, good grief, it’s not like the lyrics were even going to be sung. Here’s Dusty…The only boy that could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man, yes he was…

In second place, we have “Hey Jude”.  What can I say about “Hey Jude”?  We all know how amazing this song is.  It took the concept of building to a powerful climactic ending to a new level in popular music.  The Jazz Band could practically move the audience to tears with this song – it was so thrilling.  I’ve actually tried to figure out what it is about this song that makes it so compelling to the human psyche, dissecting it musically.  But I can only say this – when my daughter was just barely a toddler, I would play the Beatles around the house a lot, sort of like some people do with Mozart and babies, and I recall that when I would play this song, she would sway her little head back and forth at the beginning, and as the tension built, she would pull herself up on the coffee table and bounce and sway her whole body.  I can’t think of a better illustration of the innate power of music than that.  Here’s “Hey Jude”, the full studio version.

As great as The Jazz Band’s version of “Hey Jude” was, there was one song that topped even that, and that song was “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. It was utterly euphoric and energizing. To this day, I can’t listen to this song without joyously drumming on my laptop-table or mom-dancing wildly around the living room. The Jazz Band knocked this one out of the ball park: they tore it up: they blew us all away.

Questions?  Comments?  Were you in high school Jazz Band?  Please share!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Jazz Band Countdown

  1. I went through a phase around 1976/7 of really liking Chicago despite them being unfashionable amongst teenagers. This one’s a great song. Dusty and The Beatles – you can’t get better than that!

    • Hi Jamie, yeah, Chicago started getting really wimpy later, but this was before that happened. Most kids in the marching band dug them mightily at that time. 😉

  2. Chicago are an example of a band whose later work sadly overshadows the sparkle and energy of their early catalogue. Those first 3 albums are terrific and ’25 or d t0 4′ (whatever that means) was and is a great song that I can imagine rocking any school concert hall.

    When you say ‘more flute later’, does that mean you are going to write about your Herbie Mann phase? Can’t wait!

  3. I agree, Bruce. They started out strong, but then they got struck with that “suddenly sucking” syndrome in the eighties and beyond. So sad. “25 or 6 to 4” was a song about songwriting in the middle of night – at 25 or 26 minutes till four in the morning. Makes sense now, right? It was like a light bulb coming on when I read that somewhere.

    By “more flute later”, I mean at some point I’ll talk about my struggles to play the flute parts from Traffic and Jethro Tull, heh heh.

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