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  #1  
Old Jul 7, 2009, 11:01 AM
R. Mark Desjardins R. Mark Desjardins is offline
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Michael Jackson Jazz Covers Worth Hearing

With the untimely passing of Michael Jackson I sought out and found the following article regarding Michael Jackson jazz covers that are worth hearing. As well, an import recording entitled Michael In Bossa featuring jazzy latin tingled interpretations on his material is available on amazon.

Michael Jackson, for all his considerable talents, never enjoyed a large following among jazz devotees. His songs are rarely covered by jazz bands (although with one very famous exception), and if you raise his name in a discussion with serious jazzistas, they will usually change the topic to his former producer Quincy Jones, whose artistry is more closely aligned with jazz values.
To some degree, he reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald, who also managed to convey a sweet innocence, almost the exact opposite of the sassiness and sultriness around her, and put its stamp on everything she sang. Jackson was the same, and in the midst of a music scene that featured some of the most brazen and push-the-envelope acts in the history of music—the Sex Pistols were formed at almost the same moment that the Jackson 5 left Motown—he always held on to the ingenuous aura of the child star.


All of this is foreign to the jazz sensibility. Jazz once had a close relationship with popular dance—not coincidentally during its period of greatest financial success. But in the 1980s, jazz had lost this connection. Jazz bands might be able to cover Jackson's tunes (not often, as I noted above—I still remember working in a combo where the sidemen rebelled after the leader wanted to play “Beat It”; he gave up and called another tune); but they could not assimilate the full effect of Michael Jackson, which started with his toes and only gradually arrived at the vocal chords and cerebellum.

Jazz fans did know about Quincy Jones, however. They had known about Jones long before Jackson and the mass audience had discovered him. They would give him much of the credit for Jackson’s hits, and certainly he played a key part in the elevation of this pop superstar. Yet Jones's brilliance lay in adapting his techniques to Jackson's inherent strengths and potent charisma—and not merely applying some formula he had learned from his jazz days.

The production tricks Jones brought to these hit tracks are fascinating to study. And sometimes daring in bizarre ways. How did Jones ever get the idea of taking little snippets of Jackson squeaking out high notes, and use them as background effects—almost like birds chirping on the trees? Then Jones would mix this amalgamation of quasi-ambient sounds with a lead vocal, hypnotic bassline and a very 80s-style rhythmic sensibility. All this was a far cry from what Jones had done with Sinatra and jazz players, but give this man—born in 1933—his due for understanding the new sensibility in a a way that no one of his generation could approach.

If you had any doubts that this was the right formula, you merely needed to look at the Billboardcharts. The Jackson-Jones collaborations sold around 200 million albums. The duo eventually parted ways, and Jackson was focused on producing his own music. Yet he never came close to matching the sales of his work with QJ.


One other jazz connection to Jackson: Jimmy Smith's organ solo on "Bad."
there's a strong world music vibe in some of the tunes...the constant 16th notes in the background on "thriller' sound almost like javanese gamelan grooves...

Another conection is the writer of many Jackson's song, Rod Temperton, who's also the composer of some hits for jazz guitar star George Benson, who was produced by the marvellous Mr. Q. immediately before. Another one is the "thriller" version by Lester Bowie Brass Fantasy, in a CD for the Virgin record company, "Twilight Dreams".

Two tunes come to mind, as Jackson jazz covers: "Never Can Say Goodbye," which enjoyed some popularity as a light jam tune back in the '70s. The other I had discovered a few months ago, played on a Selmer-style acoustic petite bouche guitar by an relatively unknown Gypsy from Berlin- a surprisingly refreshing version of "The Girl is Mine," that strange McCartney/Jackson collaboration.
5 Ted Gioia // Jun 26, 2009 at 07:33 PM
I played "Never Can Say Goodbye" with a trio back in the late 1970s. The chord changes in the vamp are the same as the opening bars of "Green Dolphin Street."

If jazz never felt much connection to Michael Jackson, Jackson's connection to jazz runs much deeper than just dance, or just Quincy Jones. Because Jackson is intimately connected to Motown, where the jazz waters run deep. Think of the players on those Jackson 5 records: Joe Sample, Tommy Tedesco, Earl Palmer, Wilton Felder...and that's not even taking into account the Motown legacy that built up to it, with the Funk Brothers and their certifiable jazz pedigree. And the Motown tours traveled the "chitlin circuit," the theater network that was built by the traveling swing bands. We can remove MJ or so from that, but how fair is that, really? No Motown, no Michael Jackson; no jazz, no Motown. When it's that easy to find ties that bind Jackson to jazz, there's surely an ability however hidden to find ties that bind jazz to Michael Jackson.
11 DJA // Jun 27, 2009 at 05:29 AM

Actually, Mal Waldron should have been mentioned. He recorded Michael Jackson's "Beat It". With Reggie Workman and the great Ed Blackwell in 1983. In my interview with Waldron he said: "I like Michael Jackson"... and he went on... I believe its more valid when someone like a Mal Waldron records a very popular song,than Miles Davis during the 1980s period of music. Miles was not the Miles of earlier times!

I came across this while I was googling for MJ jazz covers. I promote a live jazz night in Pittsburgh and spin jazz records in between the trio's sets. Two MJ covers that I play pretty often are: "I Want You Back" by Shirley Scott and I'll Be There" by Ray Bryant. I was hoping to find a few more for this evening.

In addition to the suggestions above, you might want to check out Morgana King's album I Just Can't Stop Loving You." She does cover versions of three Michael Jackson songs on this disk. Also, you might want to track down Rahsaan Roland Kirk's unusual but interesting version of "Never Can Say Goodbye."
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Old Jul 7, 2009, 01:18 PM
Nou Dadoun Nou Dadoun is offline
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Interesting thoughts but how could you miss Miles Davis' cover of Human Nature from You're Under Arrest? Miles returned to it quite often in live performances and many different versions circulate amongst collectors.

N.
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Old Jul 7, 2009, 04:29 PM
Nou Dadoun Nou Dadoun is offline
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I always liked Weird Al's covers actually ....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nou Dadoun View Post
Interesting thoughts but how could you miss Miles Davis' cover of Human Nature from You're Under Arrest? Miles returned to it quite often in live performances and many different versions circulate amongst collectors.

N.
I think I see, this was actually cut and pasted from http://www.jazz.com/jazz-blog/2009/6...zz-perspective with subsequent comments - the "very famous exception" is actually a link to a Miles performance of Human Nature:



N.
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Old Oct 11, 2009, 05:51 PM
Jack Jarmush Jack Jarmush is offline
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Ben

We were playing Ben as a ballad in Washington square park all July with a 4tet. it is a good ballad to play and people like it (maybe not now though that Michael death fest is over).
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Old Oct 12, 2009, 07:13 PM
Guy Guy is offline
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I recently bought a 4-CD set of Monty Alexander's old stuff on MPS in the 1970s. He covers lots of pop tunes, including Ben.
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  #6  
Old Oct 12, 2009, 11:22 PM
Allan Johnston Allan Johnston is offline
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Here's an interesting article about the new MJ single that just came out to hype the performance movie coming out. It looks like Paul Anka has another small fortune coming his way...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/ar...ic/13anka.html
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