Musical styles abounded at last night’s Tony Awards, including a hip-hop take on a tune from “The Music Man.” The Best Actress in a Musical prize, however, went to Jessie Mueller of “Beautiful,” which celebrates the music and life of legendary singer-songwriter Carole King.
Regular readers of these postings have by now sussed out my inveterate interest in the intersection of jazz with pop music and/or culture.I have, for example, posted items noting that the most familiar jazz lick in history has t be Steely Dan’s appropriation of Horace Silver’s work for their oft-played hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Jazz takes on the Beatles, Dylan, even Elvis Presley have all been grist for my mill, along with a rundown of those acclaimed jazz artists who have collaborated with pop stars.
For all that, it occurred me to just the other day that there probably is only one pop tune that actually sings jazz’s praises, and not just in the lyrics but the title as well. That would be King’s 1974 favorite “Jazzman.”
Of course, long before finding mega-success as a ‘70s singer-songwriter, King was among the top Brill Building tunesmiths of the previous decade. Even if you’re familiar with her acclaimed work with Gerry Goffin, it’s still hard not to be impressed by the sheer number of pop gems King had a hand in writing – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Chains,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Go Away, Little Girl,” “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof,” “I’m Into Something Good” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” to name but a few.
She broke through on her own with “Tapestry,” her 1971 hit-clogged collection that spawned several hit singles and rode the Billboard charts for the better part of the decade. Outside that classic disc, King’s most successful album was 1974’s “Wrap Around Joy.” Its first single was “Jazzman,” which peaked at No. 2 on the pop charts.
To hear the song with today is to be impressed by how well it emulates and celebrates the freedom and spirit of jazz. That’s thanks in no small part to Tom Scott’s extensive, exquisite sax work and the fact the song’s lyrics were written by David Palmer, who knew a thing about blending jazz and pop as a vocalist on the first Steely Dan album.
When the Jazzman's testifyin' a faithless man believes
He can sing you into paradise or bring you to your knees
It's a gospel kind of feelin', a touch of Georgia slide
A song of pure revival and a style that's sanctified
Jazzman, take my blues away
Make my pain the same as yours with every change you play
Jazzman, oh Jazzman
"Jazzman" was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal category but lost to Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You.” Hard to imagine a hit Broadway music celebrating the ONJ canon, isn’t it?
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