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Artist’s Choice: Jazz-Rock-Pop Records Featuring Keys

Marco Benevento chooses 10 great hits that use jazz-inspired keyboards

Ramsey Lewis performing Proclamation of Hope in 2009
Pianist Dick Hyman
Marco Benevento

A lot of these records incorporated effects on the piano (tape delay on Bent Fabric’s “Catsanova Walk,” modified tack piano on B. Bumble’s “Bumble Boogie”) and/or various organ sounds and electric piano sounds (pitch bend on the Lowrey Organ on Dick Hyman’s “The Liquidator” and Wurlitzer on Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”). These jazz-rock records also had amazing production. The sounds that the engineers were able to get on the drums were incredibly warm, very analog sounding, and some sound overdriven (obviously many had been done straight to a tape machine). Some tracks have heavy spring reverb on the guitar that adds a lot to the sound as well. Many of the other pianists are more groove-oriented and their music lends itself more to the rock side or pop side of the incredibly broad spectrum of jazz (Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” and Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”).

“The Liquidator”

The Man From O.R.G.A.N. (Command, 1965)

Very catchy Lowrey Organ tune. The first 10 or so seconds of this tune make up Ben Vaughn’s theme song for his radio show, The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn. This tune incorporates a lot of different sounds: baritone guitar, timpani, various percussion. The organ solo is incredible; the interplay between Dick’s left hand and the guitar is very rhythmic and has an incredible bounce to it. LISTEN.

“Bumble Boogie”


(originally Rendezvous, 1962; currently available on Nut Rocker and All the Classics, Ace Records import, 1995)

Incredibly bright tack piano takes the lead on this track. The baritone guitar adds a lot to this as well. It’s Earl Palmer on drums too! B. Bumble and the Stingers were an American instrumental ensemble in the early 1960s, who specialized in making rock and roll arrangements of classical melodies. Their biggest hits were “Bumble Boogie” and “Nut Rocker.” The recordings were made by session musicians at Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles, but when they became successful, a touring group was formed led by R. C. Gamble as Billy Bumble.

“Coffee Cold”

Galt MacDermot and His Mid Manhattan Rhythm Section (Kilmamock, 1966)

The grooviest of all-this features Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Jimmy Lewis. Galt wrote all the music for Hair and not many people know about him, but those who do know that this record is one of the best!

“Catsanova Walk”

Alley Cat (ATCO, 1962)

His full name is Bent Fabricius-Bjerre. He is more well know for his recording of “Alley Cat,” but this song features one of the first tape-delayed pianos ever recorded.

“Lonesome Traveler”

Lonesome Traveler (Cadet, 1966)

Cool hi-hat-driven drum beat. Ray’s solo really gets more into the jazzier side of things than the rock. It’s very melodic and has some incredible little quick riffs here and there.

“The In Crowd”

The In Crowd (Argo, 1965)

I love the live vibe of this tune. You can hear people talking and hyping up the band. The band uses dynamics well and gets louder and quieter during some of those sweet live moments in the tune.

“Mas Que Nada”

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (A&M, 1966)

What a catchy tune. The piano riff that opens is known by most people out there. I’ve always been a fan of Brazilian music, especially when it crosses over into the ’70s rock side of things. This tune has some of the most incredible comping! The piano pokes itself in and out between the vocal melody beautifully.

“The Ghetto”

Live (ATCO, 1972)

Incredible Wurlitzer electronic piano solo right out of the gate! The Wurlitzer electronic piano is one of my favorite electric pianos to play and has such a vibe. People think of Donny as soul, but he had so much jazz in his playing. Donny’s voice always gets me going too. Man, he can sing!


I Wrote a Simple Song (A&M, 1971)

Ouch! This is definitely the funkiest thing on the list. What incredible clav work. Billy Preston is one my favorites mainly because of his rhythm and the incredible positive vibe that emits from the speakers when I hear it. The short wah-clav solo at the end is off the charts. It sounds like some singing!

“Soulful Strut”

Soulful Strut (Brunswick, 1968)

Yes, this is the same rhythm section as the Ramsey Lewis record. Salena Jones recorded a vocal version of this that’s incredible too. This song is so catchy, I feel like people should play it more at jam sessions and on gigs!

Originally Published