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Artist’s Choice: John Mayall’s Jazz Influences

The legendary British bluesman looks back

Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre (photo: Chenz/Dalle)
Lionel Hampton, Timex All-Star Jazz Show #2 Rehearsal, CBS Studios, New York. © 2009 Jerry Dantzic Archives. All Rights Reserved
Ray Charles
Eddie Harris
John Mayall

This list could go on forever as there are so many special pieces of music in my life, but here are 11 jazz or jazz-influenced tracks that influenced me as I was coming up in England and still have a lot of meaning to me.

Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio

Mosaic Select: Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano (Columbia; rec. 1939, compilation rel. Mosaic, 2009)

Pianist Albert Ammons was my first boogie-woogie hero and it was an unusual move for him and trumpeter Harry James to team up on a couple of tracks.

Spirits Of Rhythm

“My Old Man”
Spirits of Rhythm 1932-1941 (Brunswick; rec. 1933, compilation rel. Retrieval, 2007)

My father had all 78s of this great group that featured guitarist Teddy Bunn and as a kid I loved the unusual combination and particularly this track. I even played it in my first band.

Django Reinhardt

“In the Still of the Night”
Classic Early Recordings In Chronological Order (rec. 1936, compilation rel. JSP, 2000)

It was a sad day when I learned that Django had died, and this track still moves me.

Benny Goodman Sextet Featuring Charlie Christian

The Benny Goodman Sextet 1939-1941 Featuring Charlie Christian (Columbia; rec. 1939, compilation rel. Columbia, 1991)

The genius of Charlie Christian shines through on this track. A pioneer of electric jazz guitar, his style influenced many.

Ray Charles

“Mess Around”
Ultimate Hits Collection (Atlantic; rec. 1953; compilation rel. Rhino, 1999)

This track was apparently an impromptu jam when Ray teemed up with Ahmet Ertegun, and it brought Ray into the big-time almost overnight.

Eddie Harris

“How Can You Live Like That?”
How Can You Live Like That? (Atlantic; rec. and rel. 1976)

Eddie was a true genius and a friend. I did a cover of this tune intending he should guest on it but he died before we recorded it.

The Jimmy Giuffre 3

“The Train and the River”
The Jimmy Giuffre 3 (Atlantic; rec. 1957, re-rel. Atlantic import, 2012)

This track, more than anything else showed me that a swinging group could operate without drums, and was the inspiration for me forming the Turning Point band.

Charles Mingus

“Better Git It in Your Soul”
Mingus Ah Um (Columbia; rec. and rel. 1959)

I love the musical adventures of Charlie Mingus and this track combines jazz, soul, rock, gospel and blues with a great lineup.

Oliver Nelson

“Hoe Down”
The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!; rec. and rel. 1961)

Another great track that pays homage to gospel’s call and answer mode. A real kicking track.

Johnny Griffin

“Soft and Furry”
Change of Pace (Riverside; rec. and rel. 1961, re-rel. Fresh Sound, 2012)

Johnny Griffin has always been one of my favorite tenor saxmen and this is another interesting small group combination featuring two basses

Lionel Hampton

“Ridin’ on the L&N”
Flying Home (Decca; rec. 1946, compilation rel. Documents Classics import, 2007)

A great track from vibist/singer Lionel Hampton and a fun driving song that I incorporated into my own live performances and still play today.

John Mayall is a legendary British bluesman whose Bluesbreakers bands gave an early home in the ’60s to such guitar greats as Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Now 80, Mayall is still as active as ever, playing more than 100 gigs a year and recording as time allows. He recently released his 58th album, A Special Life.

Originally Published