JazzTimes 10: Songs for a Jazzier Halloween

What to listen to as the witching hour approaches

Jazz certainly loves its autumn leaves, going by its taste in standards. And its plaintive, twilight horns can sound like so many gusts of wind, denuding a belt of trees and sending us home for pumpkin pie. If you’re at all like me, one of your deeper, quieter pleasures of each year is striding through the early portion of an October night, tang of smoke in the air, darkness having descended, and entering the jazz club for a rousingly contemplative set. Feels a lot different than it does in summer, doesn’t it? Feels apropos, like cider down the gullet as a child on an apple-picking field trip, or the first slice into orange construction paper when you’re helping your kid whip up her fall decorations. 

To children, jazz music can just sound scary, deliciously so; to adults, it’s more complicated. Horns have a knack for suggesting funerals, of course, but since many of us have probably never been to a funeral with horns doing their thing, the association doesn’t hit as close to the bone of our personal experiences. Still, have you ever noticed how the right bluesy, wailing horn section sounds perfectly spook-engineered to aid a ghost in cutting a rug? My vision of a desired future includes a house by the sea, guests arriving for a Halloween party, nothing but jazz on the stereo, and friends inquiring, “Why, who is that? What a wonderfully sinister song!”

Chances are excellent that the following pieces would be on that macabre dream playlist: 10 jazzy ingredients—we can call them songs—for adding spice to your Halloween witches’ kettle, loosening up your graveyard dance party, and tricking out your mausoleum sound system.

Keeper of the crypt, rattle the jazzy bones!

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the tracks listed in this JazzTimes 10:

10. Andrew Hill: “Dedication” (from Point of Departure, Blue Note, 1965)

10. Andrew Hill: “Dedication” (from <em>Point of Departure</em>, Blue Note, 1965)
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You know when someone says, “Do you want to hear something amazing?” and you say, “Hit me!” Well, this is the jazz-terror version of that: You gonna get hit. I almost didn’t include this cut because, like they used to say in the ads for old horror movies, it might be too terrifying. Do not be fooled by the title, which suggests an homage, because here the tribute being paid is the coin of the realm—the scrip of the human soul—that gets chucked into the abyss. Fingers crossed it comes back out again, or at least dug up as buried treasure. Hill had wanted to call the song “Cadaver.” Eric Dolphy, having one of his finest moments on record—perhaps his finest session as a non-leader—cried in the studio after a take. We begin here because this goes back to the Celtic rites of Samhain, proto-Halloween festivity symbolizing that the harvest is done, son, now you better dig in for some darkness. Dance with Mr. A.H., and you might see yourself through.

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Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.