The Most Famous Jazz Songs of All Time

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Jazz is the style of music that emerged in the 1920s from Harlem. Jazz came out of the African American communities who migrated to Harlem from South America. Many of these indviduals considered America a land of opportunity and hope for themselves.

Jazz is a mix of European and African music. It is distinguished from other styles by its blue notes.  Blue notes refer to the notes sung or played in a comparatively lower pitch, useds for notable expressions. Another distinguishing feature of jazz songs is syncopation. Syncopation includes different rhythms appearing unexpectedly like a disturbance or interference. Similarly the swing note, polyrhythms, and improvisation are the notable features of jazz songs. The ebb and flow of Jazz music, fluctuating between dull and brilliant, strikes like human memory with the happy or unhappy notes. With its development and spread the world over, this style absorbed and merged characteristics from the music of different cultures.

1. Strange Fruit

 Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit was a poem written by Abel Meeropole, a Jewish teacher from Bronx. The song was written as a protest against racial discrimination and the horrible american lynchings as well as the burning, and intimidation of individual blacks by white American mobs. He has wrote the poem most probably after seeing the lynching photographs of two blacks; Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. Abel set it to music and along with his wife, and the singer Laura Duncan; he performed it as a protest song in Madison Square Garden. In 1978, the all time famous Jazz song; Strange Fruits, was inducted into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame. It was included in the list of ‘Songs of Century’ by National Endowment for Arts. No one can remain untouched by the heart moving, disturbing tune…

‘Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the trees and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the popular trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of Magnolia, sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter cry’.

2. Summertime

George Gershwin

‘Summertime and the livin is easy

Fish are jumpin and cotton is high

Oh! Your dady’s rich and your ma is good lookin’

So, hush little baby, don’t you cry’¦’

Summertime was composed by George Gershwin, and lyrics are by DuBose Heyward. The song is considered much recorded jazz standard and most covered song with more than 33,000 covers.

3. My Man is Gone Now

My Man is Gone Now
George Gershwin

‘My Man’s gone now

Ain’t no use a listenin’

For the tired footsteps

Climbin up the stairs

Old man sorrow’s’¦’.

In the opera, My Man is Gone Now, is sung by a widow named Serena whose husband has been murdered by a local brothel agent named Crown. It was composed by George Gershwin and its lyrics are written by DuBose Heyward, It was written for the opera Porgy and Bess in 1935. First sung by Ruby Elzy, it was later on covered by many female singers. The notable singers of this song include  Ella Fitzgerald, Audra McDonald, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan.

4. My Foolish Heart

My Foolish Heart
Victor Young

The lyrics of this song were written by Ned Washington and it was composed by Victor Young and published in 1949. The song was nominated for Oscar Award.

‘The Scene is set for dreaming

Love’s knocking at the door.

But oh my heart, I’m reluctant

For we have been fooled before

The night is like a lovely tune

Beware my foolish heart

How white the ever constant moon

Take care my foolish heart’

5. Take Five

Al Jarreueau
Al Jarreueau

Take five by Al Jarreueau sounds typical urban love song, in stark contrast with the pastoral love song. How poor is the urban love in respect of its ‘have not’ the wealth of time! Love, in spite of all the dearth of time, is influential enough to let the lovers feel tingles on mere exchange of a glance on one another.

‘Wont you stop and take a little time out with me, just take five,

Stop your busy day and take the time out to see I’m alive

Though I’m going out my way’

Just so I can pass by each day’ it’s a pantomime and not a play

Still I know our eyes often meet,

I feel tingles down to my feet,

When you smile that’s much too discrete,

Send me on my way’¦’

6.  Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby?

Is You is or is You Ain't My Baby?
Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby?

Jazz is in fact is not just for listening, it is meant to be performed and participated. It is the tempo set by a certain group at a point in time that determines how cool a Jazz song is. Dinah Washington’s song is one of the famous jazz songs;

‘I got a man who is always late, anytime we have a date

But I love him, yes I love him

I’m gonna walk right upto his gate and see if I can get it straight

‘Cause I want him, I’m gonna ask him

Say is you or is you ain’t my baby?’

7. Brother, Where are You?

Oscar Brown
Oscar Brown

Brother where are You is an all time famous vocal jazz piece, worth listening to. People often claim it as one of the best performances by Oscar Brown (Mathew Herbert Mix). It contains all the essential features of a beautiful, vibrant Jazz song. Its wording is just irresistible for receptive hearts and friendly souls;

‘A small boy walked down a city street

And hope was in his eyes

As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet

For one he could recognize

Brother where are you

They said you came this way

Brother where are you

They said you came this way’¦’.

8. Fly Me to the Moon

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

Written by Bart Howard in 1954, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was originally titled as ‘In Other Words’. It is a famous and unique jazz song in that it was played and sung on moon itself. Frank Sinatra’s 1964 version was played by the Astronauts of Apollo 10 on their mission in the orbit of Moon and astronaut Buzz Aldrin played it on the moon during Apollo 11 landing. Yi So ”œYeon a South Korean space flight member sung it in space. Quincy Jones presented platinum copies of the song ‘Fly me to the Moon’ to Senator John Glenn and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong.

‘Fly me to the Moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On, a Jupiter and Mars
In other words hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me’¦’.

9. Lilac Wine

Lilac Wine
Lilac Wine

This jazz song by James Shelton and its lyrics are more oriental than western style jazz. The words seem to dance and oscillate between consciousness and unconsciousness, between bright and dim, and between less and more. Contrast is what gives life to this song.

‘I lost myself on a cool damp night
Gave myself in that misty light
Was hypnotized by a strange delight
Under a lilac tree
I made wine from the lilac tree
Put my heart in its recipe
It makes me see what I want to see
And be what I want to be
When I think more than I want to think
Do things I never should do
I drink much more than I ought to drink
Because it brings me back you’.

10. April in Paris

April in Paris
April in Paris

‘April in Paris’ with lyrics by E.Y.Harburg is a famous song composed by Vernon Duke in 1935. The original popular song was performed by Freddy Martin. It has been performed by many artists of high renown like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and others. Alec Wilder, the famous composer said, ‘There are no two ways about it. This is a perfect theatre song. If that sounds too reverent, then I’ll reduce the praise to ‘perfectly wonderful’¦’


Jazz is always vibrant and never a static. As trombonist J.J. Johnson said, ‘Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and never will.’Tonni Morrison’s famous novel Jazz reflects upon the places and people who realized the spirit of jazz. Since its emergence in the 1920s, many distinct styles of jazz have developed. A few distinct jazz styles include New Orleans Jazz, Kansas City Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Bebop, West Coast Jazz, Cool Jazz, Soul Jazz, Fusion Jazz Acid jazz, Indo jazz and many others.

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