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Phil's Jazz Pleasures November 2020

Jazz in Popular Music!

Everybody knows the incredible sax solo at the start of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street - as easily recognisable as it is enjoyable. Less people know, I would guess, who the sax player is. It is Raphael Ravenscroft – an English soft fusion jazz musician. On John Martyn’s extraordinary track Solid Air there is another quite haunting tenor sax solo provided by another British jazz star, Tony Coe.
This month I want to look at jazz musicians that have made guest appearances in more popular genres of music. Another superb jazz sax rift is on David Bowie’s Young Americans by the always fresh sounding David Sanborn. Phil Woods also provides a delightful alto solo on Billy Joel’s Just the Way you Are. Sonny Rollins, no less, guests on The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You album’s Waiting on a Friend. Steely Dan, a band steeped in jazz influences, invited legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter to join them on Aja to great effect.
One of my very favourite albums is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Van’s father, George, had a huge collection of jazz and blues records and it is very evident on this album little Van grew up macerated in them! The vibes player on that album, Warren Smith asked, fifty years after the recording, why it had been such an iconic album (19th in Rolling Stone’s all-time list) simply explained that Van had “got the right people.” All the musicians are great jazz players – Connie Kay, the Modern Jazz Quartet’s drummer, playing so subtly alongside the brilliant Jay Berliner on various guitars and the bassist Richard Davies. Just listen to the opening bars of the title track.....no ....listen to the whole album....and sigh with delight!  
Speaking of world class jazz guitar playing let’s go next to Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album and focus on Joe Pastorius’s breathtaking bass lines – quite extraordinary sounds from an electric bass. Just wallow in his playing on the title track. Hairs standing up on the neck stuff; not usual for a bass guitar. Helped, - of course, by Joni’s extraordinary voice and lyrics!
The superb Brecker Brothers were no strangers to being asked to guest on other famous musicians albums. Randy on Springsteen’s Meeting across the River and Michael on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy after all these Years and James Taylor’s Don’t Let me be Lonely Tonight are good examples. Michael also played on Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light album.
Finally, three exceptional trumpet players. First, Chet Baker features on Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding. This song has further jazz connections as it was written and initially recorded by Bristol born Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine’s original drummer. The song is about the shipyards reopening to build warships for the Falklands War and has very moving lyrics. Second, Hugh Masekela, who helped bring South African influenced jazz sounds to Britain, played on the Byrds’ So You Want to be a Rock Star. Finally, but by no means least, is the surprising fact that the trumpeter on Stevie Wonder’s Do I Do is no other than the late great Dizzie Gillespie. What an amazing sound he makes too!
This Month’s Playlist – not all tracks mentioned above are in this but easy to find.

  1. Solid Air by John Martyn on Solid Air
  2. Young Americans by David Bowie on Young Americans
  3. Waiting on a Friend by The Rolling Stones on Tattoo You
  4. Aja by Steely Dan on Aja
  5. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison on Astral Weeks
  6. Hejira by Joni Mitchell on Hejira
  7. Meeting Across the River by Bruce Springsteen on Born to Run
  8. Still Crazy after all these Years by Paul Simon on Still Crazy after all these Years
  9. Shipbuilding  by Elvis Costello on Punch the Clock
  10. Do I Do by Stevie Wonder on The Definitive Collection