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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:


3. Vince Guaraldi: “Graveyard Theme” (from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, first broadcast 1966; soundtrack album released by Craft, 2018)

3. Vince Guaraldi: “Graveyard Theme” (from <em>It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown</em>, first broadcast 1966; soundtrack album released by Craft, 2018)

If you dig a pumpkin patch of great sincerity—as well you should—then you have to be smitten by what is the sonic equivalent of an establishing shot for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. For me, this is at the level of biting into that first Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of the year, year after year. More than trick-or-treating, costume parties, Lugosi and Karloff monster-movie marathons, this is Halloween. It’s sweet, it’s cute, it’s a musical signpost for Linus’ endearing faith that something wonderful will rise out of the pumpkin patch, and it’s eerie as all get-up, isn’t it? What exactly is in that patch? Maybe the kids shouldn’t be out there at night? Maybe that’s why Lucy, for once, was a good egg of a sister and brought her brother in and spared him that cold night and dark ground that are more the stuff of Blind Willie Johnson than these blue security-blanket chronicles. Another question: How many people’s sense of Halloween would be immeasurably different without this strain, this air? It is akin to the holiday’s overture in the consciousness of our popular culture.

Originally Published

Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature, current events—for a wide range of publications, and talks regularly on radio and podcasts. His most recent books are an entry in the 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, a volume about the 1951 film Scrooge as the ultimate work of cinematic terror, and the story collection, If You [ ]: Fabula, Fantasy, F**kery, Hope. Find him on the web at (where he maintains the unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.