In the Groove and Elsewhere

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(Pictured: Dave Brubeck, center, with sax man Paul Desmond.)

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, something I usually forget about entirely until the last couple of days of April. But not this year. Since the plague hit, I have been listening to a lot more jazz than usual. It has provided me with a measure of calm that rock and pop do not, and I’m grateful for that.

What follows is a listing of jazz players I listen to frequently who managed to score hit singles. They’re almost all from the 1960s, an era when radio was open to instrumental music and soul jazz, especially organ jazz (a particular favorite of mine) captured lots of coins in urban jukeboxes. It is by no means a list of the biggest or the best—just a semi-random sampling.

—In 1962, organist Jimmy McGriff hit #20 on the Hot 100 with his version of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” It was a Top-10 hit in Wilmington, Delaware, not far from his hometown of Philadelphia, and made the Top 10 in Cincinnati and Atlanta also. McGriff hit the Hot 100 on four other occasions, and he bubbled under three times; one of the latter was a gospel-flavored version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in the summer of 1967.

—Filed near McGriff in the record store was Brother Jack McDuff. As 1969 turned to 1970, he spent two weeks on the Hot 100 with the sample-worthy “Theme From Electric Surfboard,” which would go to #95. (The song would get a 1976 update on the album Sophisticated Funk, which features a memorably tasteless album cover photo.) McDuff also bubbled under with a couple of singles as 1963 turned to 1964, and got some airplay with his version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” in 1966, although it didn’t make a national pop chart.

—In 1966, organist Richard “Groove” Holmes had a pretty good year. In the summer, his version of the lounge standard “Misty” (on which he was credited only as “Groove” Holmes) ran to #44 on the Hot 100 and did big business on R&B radio, including #1 on WWRL in New York City. In October, he charted two pop-chart singles on competing labels, and in December, his version of “The More I See You” bubbled under.

—Organist Jimmy Smith was one of the most successful straight-jazz players on the pop chart. He scored a dozen Hot 100 hits between 1962 and 1968, the biggest of which, “Walk on the Wild Side,” went to #21 in 1962. It’s a movie theme on which Smith is backed by a full orchestra. The single was a Top-10 hit in Buffalo, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

—Vibraphonist Johnny Lytle, who released several fabulously swingin’ albums between 1960 and 1972, hit #80 with the organ-heavy “The Loop” in 1966.

—Alto-sax player Cannonball Adderley hit the Hot 100 five times between 1961 and 1970, most successfully with the ultra-smooth “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” In December 1966, jazz station KBCA in Hollywood, California, showed it as #1. R&B station KGFJ in Los Angeles ranked it #1 at the end of January 1967, while WWRL and fellow R&B stations WJMO in Cleveland and KATZ in St. Louis made it #1 in February. It was a Top-10 pop hit across the country in markets large and small, and made #11 on the Hot 100. In the summer of 1967, a vocal version by the Buckinghams would get to #5.

—Another alto-sax man, Lou Donaldson, recorded prolifically from the early 50s to the early 80s before slowing down; his last album came out in 1999. He’s still with us today at age 93. Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” went to #93 in a four-week chart run in November 1967.

—Trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s chart career goes back to the 1920s, but in the post-1955 era, he charted singles eight times. His version of “Hello Dolly” managed a week at #1 in the Beatlemania winter of 1964; a 1949 recording of “Blueberry Hill” made #29 in 1956, interest in it boosted by Fats Domino’s version. “What a Wonderful World” got some minor chart action after its original release in 1967, but it wasn’t until 1988, 17 years after Armstrong’s death, that it cracked the Hot 100. It went to #33 thanks to its inclusion in the movie Good Morning Vietnam.

—Pianist Dave Brubeck hit the Hot 100 three times betwen 1961 and 1963, most famously with “Take Five,” which besides “Hello Dolly” is the one record in this entire post that you’re most likely to know. It made #25 on the Hot 100 at the end of 1961. In 1964, Brubeck bubbled under on “Nomad,” on which he shares a credit with Armstrong.

Tune in again later this month for more jazz appreciation, maybe. There should be time to write it.

2 thoughts on “In the Groove and Elsewhere

  1. Chris Herman

    Was Hugh Masekela’s 1968 single “Grazing in the Grass” the last jazz song to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100? I know there were a few songs that could be classified as jazz that made the Top 10 after that (e.g., Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” in 1978) but I can’t think of any that hit #1.

  2. Something I would not have known if I had not read this: For the week of April 1, 1967, Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at The Club album was Number One on the Billboard R&B albums chart.
    Pretty good crossover score for Cannon and company.
    (Other acts with Number One R&B albums that year: The Four Tops, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Dionne Warwick, and … Bill Cosby.)

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