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:
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins did Wolf Man weirdness to this number almost a decade earlier in 1956. But just like some scares are deft in sneaking up on you and jarring with a well-placed, booming “Boo!,” others are a slow burn—or, rather, a protracted lowering of our core temps and sowing of goosebumps. This number always feels Macbethian to me, but Simone is no Weird Sister; she’s a seductive disher-out of imprecation. The sweeping strings of the intro wrap the song in cerements. We are dealing with a laid-out body that will come back to life, enchant us. Tonight, for one evening only, we will be in its possession. Natural order will come with the sound of the cock at dawn, but we will always miss this haunting time in between death and life, and our partner with her bewitching spell.