THE DOZENS: WHEN JAZZ CATS MEET ROCKERS by S. Victor Aaron

Jazz Cats Meet Rockers

Jazz musicians performing sidemen roles on recording dates of non-jazz performances is a practice nearly as old as jazz itself. For instance, Louis Armstrong played on some sessions for blues singers Ma Rainey and Sippie Wallace back in the 1920s. Even more so today, you find examples of noted jazz players on records by popular mainstream artists of contemporary music. Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and the late Michael Brecker are just a few who have contributed to such records in recent times. While these diversions are not representative of their careers, it also isn’t such a shock to see their names on the credits list of pop records.

On the other hand, there are some surprising guest appearances on rock or pop recordings by jazz luminaries who aren’t known for doing such a thing. This issue of The Dozens is intriguing for just that reason. Since not all of these mostly crossover recordings became hits, you may find some unfamiliar performances among the better known.

The rarity angle isn’t the only thing that makes these recordings fascinating. These tracks offer glimpses of accomplished, visionary artists transporting their genius to unexpected settings, and shining through despite not only being outside their element, but often having no creative input into the songs. As such, these examples show varying degrees of success—here defined as the number of new fans attracted to these jazz musicians’ own music, among listeners who intended merely to take a little taste of rock ‘n’ roll.


The Rolling Stones (with Sonny Rollins): Waiting On A Friend

Track

Waiting On A Friend

Group

The Rolling Stones

CD

Tattoo You (7243-8-39521-2-0)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (guitar, vocals), Mick Taylor (guitar), Bill Wyman (electric bass), Charlie Watts (drums), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax),

Nicky Hopkins (piano)

.

Composed by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

.

Recorded: Kingston, Jamaica, late 1972-early 1973 and April 1981

Albumcovertherollingstones-tattooyou

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

"Waiting On A Friend" was a meeting of an all-time top-three rock 'n' roll band and an all-time top-three tenor saxophonist. This laid-back, breezy tune, which became a Top 15 hit for the Stones in 1981, was uncharacteristic for them in that it contained none of the nastiness and frazzled blues edges that defined the band. Jagger later wrote lyrics to the original demos that matched the friendly melody with a rare openness and sincerity about the virtues of true friendship.

There's still not that much jazzy about this song, but bringing in Sonny Rollins to supply some sax to it made sense. After all, the originator of "St. Thomas" wasn't going to be such a bad fit for a song that possesses a mild calypso flavor. Rollins's effortless expression and reedy tone blended with Jagger's "ooo's" and "yeahs" as naturally as did Hopkins's light piano or the rich rhythm guitars.

The Rolling Stones and Sonny Rollins met in a musically neutral location for a song that doesn't represent a high point for either side, but is nonetheless a pleasant diversion by both.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Stevie Wonder (featuring Dizzy Gillespie): Do I Do

Track

Do I Do

Artist

Stevie Wonder (vocals, piano)

CD

Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I (Motown)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Stevie Wonder (vocals, piano), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet),

Rick Zunigar, Ben Bridges (guitars), Isaiah Sanders (Fender Rhodes), Nathan LaMar Watts (bass), Dennis Davis (drums), Earl DeRouen (percussion), unidentified horn and string sections

.

Composed by Stevie Wonder

.

Recorded: circa 1982

Albumcoversteviewonder-originalmusiquariumi

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

Not long after the disco craze fizzled out, Stevie Wonder decided to make a disco song. In the new-wave era of 1982, "Do I Do" managed to reach #13 on the American charts. With his Motown melody-making mastery intact, Wonder could've set this song to Bulgarian folk dance music and still had another Top 40 hit on his hands.

Not on the single version is the part where he proudly announces: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to present on my album, Mr. Dizzy Gillespie! Blow!" and bop's co-creator and greatest ambassador proceeds to do just that. Dizzy's lines aren't bad, but he sounds somewhat tentative and uncomfortable in this environment. Wonder's trademark harmonica that follows right afterwards only accentuates the contrast in enthusiasm between the two legends' approach to this song.

"Do I Do" is a dance song that still sounds good today simply because of Wonder's knack for writing good pop songs and arranging them such that they transcend time. It's nice to boast about having Gillespie on your record, but here he was hardly needed.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Billy Joel (featuring Phil Woods): Just The Way You Are

Track

Just The Way You Are

Artist

Billy Joel (vocals, acoustic piano, electric keyboards, synthesizers)

CD

Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II (Columbia)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Billy Joel (vocals, acoustic piano, electric keyboards, synthesizers), Phil Woods (alto sax),

Richie Cannata (tenor & soprano saxes, clarinet, flute, organ), Steve Khan (guitars), Hiram Bullock (electric guitar), Hugh McCracken, Steve Burgh (acoustic guitars), Doug Stegmeyer (bass), Liberty Devitto (drums), Ralph McDonald (percussion)

.

Composed by Billy Joel

.

Recorded: probably 1977

Albumcoverbillyjoelgreatesthits-volumei-volumeii

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Billy Joel might have created the consummate piano lounge song here if he hadn't already done so four years earlier with "Piano Man." This ditty alone must have paid for a couple of houses in the Hamptons plus a few divorce settlements, as it still gets played every day at wedding receptions, karaoke bars and oldies radio stations. For a song that was schmaltzy and mushy to begin with (but eminently hummable and catchy), producer Phil Ramone pulled out all the stops to make it even more so, with a warm electric piano, heavily reverbed sound, infinitely layered choral backing vocals and, of course, a sultry saxophone.

At least Ramone chose wisely when it came to who would play that most romantic of instruments. Alto giant Phil Woods, having made his mark in bop decades earlier, had already proved remarkably adaptable to pop on Steely Dan's "Doctor Wu." Now he outdid himself. His sweet, sympathetic lines fit Billy Joel's pop standard so perfectly, they become essential to it. Woods delivered arguably the most recognizable sax solo in all of adult contemporary music.

Despite its mawkish tendencies, "Just The Way You Are" does hit the bull's-eye on soft rock, even if that might be a dubious dartboard for some. But Woods's sax work is an unequivocal delight.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Steely Dan (featuring Wayne Shorter): Aja

Track

Aja

Group

Steely Dan

CD

Aja (MCAD-37214)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Donald Fagen (vocals, synthesizers, police whistle), Walter Becker (guitar), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Steve Gadd (drums),

Tim Schmit (vocals), Joe Sample (electric piano), Michael Omartian (piano), Larry Carlton, Denny Dias (guitars), Chuck Rainey (bass), Victor Feldman (percussion)

.

Composed by Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

.

Recorded: 1977

Albumcoversteelydan-aja

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Steely Dan's claim to fame is high-minded jazz-rock presented in a radio-ready format. "Aja," the title cut from their blockbuster 1977 album, is what results when Becker and Fagen forget about airplay. Fraught with more subtleties and tempo shifts than a symphony, this song contains highly unusual chord changes for the genre, yet with a melody that always manages to find its way back home. This is also a showcase for some of the era's finest studio musicians, featured in an extended instrumental segment that gives these cats room to untie one of the knottiest compositions in all of rock.

The three guitarists do great work in that stretch, but the climactic interaction between Wayne Shorter and drummer Steve Gadd is one for the ages. Gadd's muscular, off-center flurry of fills ranks near the pinnacle of this renowned session-drummer's career. Shorter doesn't compete with Gadd, but opts instead to gradually build momentum with many notes held long, some cascading down and often running just slightly behind the beat. A short slower interlude gives him just enough windup time to bring his solo to a peak that invokes the angular blues-based tough tone of his Blue Note years.

When performing such a complex song, Steely Dan recognized that only the very best will do. Even if the best—Wayne Shorter—normally doesn't do session dates.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Cameo (with Miles Davis): In The Night

Track

In The Night

Group

Cameo

CD

Machismo (836 002-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Kenny Garrett (alto sax),

Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant (vocals), Merv De Peyer (keyboards, drum programming), Larry Blackmon (vocals, possibly percussion and bass)

.

Composed by Larry Blackmon & Merv De Peyer

.

Recorded: early 1988

Albumcovercameo-machismo

Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

Miles Davis's sideman appearances post-Kind Of Blue are about as rare as Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl appearances, but incredibly, both actually happened. In the case of the jazz icon, he showed up one day in the late '80s at a recording session by Cameo, one of the hottest funk bands of that time. Miles came with his sax foil at the time, Kenny Garrett, in tow.

The best part of this mostly instrumental funk-jazz workout comes in the opening seconds, when Miles alone spits out a few notes that are unmistakably his just about a measure ahead of the beginning of the backing track. His open horn playing has that clear but ruminating quality he is famous for, but on the second sequence of vamps, the muted horn appears along with Garrett, and it gets somewhat funkier. Soon afterwards, the horn players battle for space against each other and overdubbed versions of themselves, which makes a pretty good jam session just a little messy.

That can be forgiven; while this performance isn't "Right Off" caliber, you'll know from both the trumpet and sax playing that this ain't no Rick Braun/Gerald Albright summit meeting, either.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Rick Derringer (featuring Chick Corea): Rock

Track

Rock

Artist

Rick Derringer (vocals, guitar, electric sitar)

CD

Spring Fever / Sweet Evil (WOBR 3423)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Rick Derringer (vocals, guitar, electric sitar), Chick Corea (Moog synthesizer),

Edgar Winter (piano, electric piano), Johnny Winter (slide guitar), John Siegler (bass), John Siomos, Bobby Caldwell (drums)

.

Composed by Rick Derringer

.

Recorded: New York, probably 1975

Albumcoverrickderringer-springfever-sweetevil

Rating: 82/100 (learn more)

In 1975, Chick Corea's success with his jazz-rock combo Return To Forever was at its peak, while Rick Derringer was preparing the follow-up to his own biggest success, All-American Boy, the album that spawned the hit "Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo." Since Corea was already halfway there to rock, appearing on Derringer's next record, Spring Fever, was perhaps another logical step away from jazz.

Featuring an electric sitar, lively rock beat, lyrics like "shake it shake it, turn me on," and an arena-ready Derringer guitar solo, "Rock" has all the ingredients for mid-'70s bombastic rock. Corea had to find space for his blurting synth within the intervals between the lyrics. Like the song as a whole, his Moog might have knocked a few people's socks off at the time, but it's not particularly memorable today. To be fair to Corea, it wasn't the ideal setting for a foray into straight-ahead rock. Give him more challenging material and room to stretch, and then we could have seen some real competition for Rick Wakeman.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Pat Metheny Group (with David Bowie): This Is Not America

Track

This Is Not America

Group

Pat Metheny Group

CD

The Falcon And The Snowman (Original Movie Soundtrack SV-17150)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Pat Metheny (electric guitar, synclavier guitar), David Bowie (vocals), Lyle Mays (piano, synthesizers),

Pedro Aznar (voice), Steve Rodby (bass), Paul Wertico (drums, percussion)

.

Composed by Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays & David Bowie

.

Recorded: London, September 1984

Albumcoverpatmetheny-thefalconandthesnowman

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Pat Metheny's discography is so full of contradictions that you'd swear he relishes collocating crossover jazz with advanced, impenetrable music. Just a year after the semi-Ornette Coleman tribute Rejoicing and a year before the Ornette Coleman collaboration Song X, Metheny and his Group had a charted single (#32 USA, #14 UK) that boasted David Bowie's vocals.

The only track with lyrics, "This Is Not America" is the centerpiece of PMG's The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack. Metheny's and Mays's ethereal, streamlined songcraft, which would become more prominent a couple of years later, provides the vehicle for Bowie's earnest singing. Both music and lyrics convey the somber mood of espionage and betrayal depicted in the movie.

That said, this track doesn't present PMG at anywhere near its best; they are improvisers, yet there's no improvising here. The drums, nominally credited to Paul Wertico, sound programmed, and there's a lot of '80s sheen in the production. Bowie himself has had plenty of more memorable moments than this one.

"This Is Not America" isn't a bad song, but as a collaboration between colossal talents, it could have been much better.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Carole King (featuring Wynton Marsalis): I Wasn't Gonna Fall In Love

Track

I Wasn't Gonna Fall In Love

Artist

Carole King (vocals, piano)

CD

Love Makes The World (RCD220072)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Carole King (vocals, piano), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet),

Steven Tyler (backing vocals), C.J. Vanston (piano), Paul Brady (piano, electric piano, backing vocals), David Foster (piano, keyboards), Randy Waldman (keyboards), Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds (keyboards, backing vocals, guitar, drums), Gary Burr (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Steve Hamilton Dean Parks (acoustic guitars, electric guitars), Rudy Guess, Michael Landau, Rusty Anderson, Paul Jackson, Jr. (electric guitars), Greg Wells (guitar, drums), Charlie Larkey, Nathan East, Armand Sabal-Lecco (basses), Russ Kunkel (drums), Michael Fisher, Duke Mushroom (percussion)

.

Composed by Carole King & Carole Bayer Sager

.

Recorded: Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY, circa 2001

Albumcovercaroleking-lovemakestheworld

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

Wynton Marsalis's vast legacy isn't about to be diluted by a single appearance on a superstar pop artist's track. Still, I have to chuckle at this studio date, considering how Wynton famously got on his older brother Branford for touring with Sting some 15 years earlier.

The Carole King of 2001 wasn't quite the Carole King of Tapestry, although her distinctive vocals and knack for pop hooks never completely left her, either. The problem with this song lies mostly in overdone 1990s urban contemporary production values and sub-par lyrics. Marsalis's muted trumpet sounds pretty as he valiantly tries to play it around the dense layers of King's vocals, but frankly his talents are wasted. One gets the feeling that he was brought in to add another big name to a roster already overflowing with heavy hitters.

Big Brother was most likely amused by this turn of events. The rest of us can be relieved that it was an isolated one.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Huey Lewis & the News (featuring Stan Getz): Small World, Pt. 2

Track

Small World, Part Two

Group

Huey Lewis & the News

CD

Small World (VK-41622)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Huey Lewis (vocals, harmonica), Stan Getz (tenor sax),

Lee Thornburg, Greg Adams (trumpets), Emilio Castillo (tenor sax), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax), Sean Hopper (keyboards, vocals), Chris Hayes (guitar, vocals), Mario Cipollina (bass), Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, vocals), Peter Michael (percussion)

.

Composed by Chris Hayes & Huey Lewis

.

Recorded: probably 1988

Albumcoverhueylewisandthenews-smallworld

Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

"Small World, Part One" was a minor hit for Huey Lewis, peaking at 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and coming at the end of a nice run of hits for one of the more well-liked pop acts of the Reagan era. It's typically big, bodacious '80s pop, with a catchy keyboard riff, pulsing rock beat and big-haired rock guitar to match.

Separated from the single by three tracks on the album with the same name as the bisected song, "Part Two" is a straight continuation of "Part One," fading in where "Part One" faded out, right in the middle of guitarist Chris Hayes's solo. When he's done, everyone stops on a dime, signaling the great tenorman's entrance. As Getz gains traction so does the supporting cast, which includes the Tower of Power horns supplying some Chicago-styled charts. He gets to blow away for nearly the entire four minutes of this extended coda turned into a jam. At age 61, Getz showed a surprising amount of vitality and, even more surprisingly, easily adapted his cool West Coast style to Lewis's mainstream pop tune.

Here's where Stan Getz could have easily mailed it in. Instead, he decided to have some fun.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Yoko Ono (with Ornette Coleman): Aos

Track

Aos

Group

Plastic Ono Band

CD

Plastic Ono Band (RCD 10414)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Yoko Ono (vocals), Ornette Coleman (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), David Izenzon (bass), Ed Blackwell (drums).

Composed by Yoko Ono

.

Recorded: rehearsal tape, February 1968

Albumcoveryokoono-plasticonoband

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

This is a summit meeting of sorts between two of the best-known figures of the avant-garde. For most of the song, Yoko Ono's gloomy wordless vocal improvising serves as a viable companion for Ornette Coleman's minimalist trumpet (yes, trumpet). About 4 minutes into this 7-minute song, her peacefully dissonant sighs quickly escalate into full-throated screaming, equivalent to having one's eardrums punctured by an ice pick. Coleman's band quickly gets behind her sudden release, ratcheting up their own ferocity for about 45 seconds, until the song settles back into its prior dirge.

"Aos" shows that Ono's voice can work as an instrument if placed in the right setting. If only she would refrain from all that dead-gummed yelling.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Billy Joel (featuring Freddie Hubbard): Zanzibar

Track

Zanzibar

Artist

Billy Joel (vocals, acoustic piano, electric keyboards, synthesizers)

CD

52nd Street (CK 69385)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Billy Joel (vocals, acoustic piano, electric keyboards, synthesizers), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet),

Richie Cannata (sax, clarinet, organ), Mike Mainieri (vibes, marimba), Steve Khan (guitar), Doug Stegmeyer (bass), Liberty Devitto (drums)

.

Composed by Billy Joel

.

Recorded: 1978

Albumcoverbillyjoel-52ndstreet

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

The storyline is that Billy Joel went for a jazzier approach on 52nd Street, the chart-topping sequel to his breakout The Stranger. In reality, he made only some nods in that general direction on three or four cuts, because Billy Joel was/is an unabashed pop practitioner of the grandiose style.

One of those nods came on "Zanzibar," which has more going on under the hood melodically than the showy confection of tracks extracted for radio play. While Joel sings that he's "got a jazz guitar," he does not play one. Instead, he lets Freddie Hubbard play a jazz trumpet. Good move.

Also a good move is shifting the song from a mid-tempo rocker to double-time, bass-walking classic bop for the trumpeter. Hubbard gets not one but two of these instrumental breaks. He does nothing in these brief interludes but cook and glide through the changes in his trademark virtuoso style.

Hubbard's appearance on a Billy Joel song isn't as unforgettable as Phil Woods's because his solo doesn't blend into the overall song as effectively. But Freddie was well worth creating the space for.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Jack Bruce (featuring Carla Bley): Spirit

Track

Spirit

Artist

Jack Bruce (bass, vocals)

CD

Spirit: Live At The BBC 1971-1978 (Import 5305568)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Jack Bruce (bass, vocals), Carla Bley (keyboards), Mick Taylor (guitar),

Ronnie Leahy (keyboards), Bruce Gary (drums)

.

Composed by Tony Williams

.

Recorded: live at BBC TV Centre, June 6, 1975

Albumcoverjackbruce-spirit-liveatthebbc-1971-1978

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

One of the more intriguing forays into rock by a jazz musician was Carla Bley's brief membership in Jack Bruce's band in 1975, a band that also included the vastly underrated guitarist Mick Taylor. Imagine that: one of the foremost composers, arrangers and big band leaders of modern jazz relegating herself to a sidewoman role in a band featuring Cream's bassist/vocalist and The Rolling Stones' lead guitarist!

This supergroup, like most supergroups, didn't hold together long, as Bley and Taylor left Bruce on the eve of recording what would have been the first album with this lineup. Before that, the group toured Europe extensively in late spring of 1975. The only official document of Bruce's dream band was an appearance on the BBC-TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The set consisted of tunes culled mostly from Bruce's post-Cream output. The music blends the dynamism of '60s rock with complexity and unpredictability of '70s prog rock. As for Bley, she doesn't make much of an impression until the instrumental fusion piece "Spirit."

"Spirit" is rooted in a funky, ascending chord bass riff, which of course Bruce exploits to the hilt. Taylor gets plenty of room to lay down some tasty licks, something he felt constrained from doing in his former band. Bley on a Moog joins Taylor on some unison lines, and after Taylor solos, Bley shows off her own improvising skills. Overlooking the fact that it's being done with a painfully dated spacey analog synth, Bley acquits herself nicely, displaying a soulful intensity that wouldn't have been out of place on a Jeff Beck record of that period.

If Escalator Over The Hill didn't prove that there's nothing Carla Bley can't do, jamming convincingly with British rock superstars should.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Add your comments here

Check out more ‘Dozens’ here