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:
8. Mills Blue Rhythm Band: “Heebie Jeebies” (1931 Victor single; appears on Harlem Jazz Classics, Stardust, 2013)
A Harlem outfit launched in 1930 and led by the awesomely named reedman (clarinet, tenor saxophone) Bingie Madison, the Mills band made a lot of its living taking the gigs that Duke Ellington didn’t want. Their alumni ranks were formidable; Red Allen and Harry “Sweets” Edison had stints with the trumpet section, and J.C. Higginbotham played trombone. Prior to these shakers and groovers disbanding in 1938, they recorded 150 sides, augmenting their club following with serviceable record sales. “Heebie Jeebies” was one of their earliest efforts. Now we all know that Louis Armstrong cut the more famous version, and the story goes that having dropped his lyric sheet, Armstrong scatted the vocals and there you have it, history books. That’s fine. But I liked turning over rocks as a kid and seeing what came out, so this was my jazz version of that. These are some jaunty jeebies, for sure, but apt to put one in mind of what I’ll call Halloween’s unique post-prandial sugar high. The piano break also sounds like clavicle bones being clicked together.