A Jazz Immuno-Booster: Part 1

Ludovico Granvassu By

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We may still be months away from developing vaccines to tame the threat that COVID19 poses to our bodies. But given the centrality of the mind-body connection for our physical well being, we should not forget that we continue to have music to support our minds during these challenging times.

So I have reached out to the very people that have been providing us with this life-line, musicians, and have asked them to share one song they rely on when they need to be uplifted, or soothed.

The first installment of this mix-tape series features selections by Yilian Canizares, Nels Cline, Caroline Davis, Dave Douglas, Ryan Keberle, Jordan McLean, Ernst Reijseger, Ned Rothenberg, Roberto Ottaviano, Mauro Ottolini, Becca Stevens, and Alicia Waller.

Not surprisingly, the selections include lots of soulful and spiritual music—and a bit of a comfortingly-retro tinge—from John Coltrane to Aretha Franklin, from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Stevie Wonder.

For details on the tunes see the playlist below. If you're curious about the rationale behind these choices, here is what the selectors had to say [comments listed in chronological order, by reference to the songs they refer to].

Ned Rothenberg
My recommendation is Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark": gospel fervor without the Christian compulsions.

Yilian Canizares
Whenever I play "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone I feel immediately better. I simply love the hope and the strength that this song makes me feel.

Becca Stevens
How can I not smile when hearing this song, or reading its lyrics? It speaks to the beauty and breathlessness of embracing the unknown, how time stops when you allow yourself to smile in the face of fear, and most of all, falling head over heels in love with a bee [smiles]: "When a bee lies sleepin' / In the palm of your hand / You're bewitched and deep in / Love's long looked after land. Where you'll see a sun up sky / In the mornin' dew / And where the days go laughin' by / When love comes callin' on you. Sleep on, bee, don't waken / Can't believe what just passed / He's mine for the takin' / I am so happy at last. Maybe I dream but he seems sweet / Golden as a crown. A sleepin' bee done told me / I'll walk with my feet off the ground / When my one true love I have found."

Alicia Waller
Without hesitation, the song for me is the 1968 Max Roach recording of "Effi," a Stanley Cowell composition. Every once in a while you hear something that makes you excited about life, which makes you excited about making music. This recording of this song did it for me. When I first heard it, I couldn't stop listening to it for months. I hadn't heard anything that "alive" in a while and it inspired me to get my first record together. These 6 minutes remind me, without fail every single time, that the possibilities for music-making are endless, and that we can paint almost anything with sound... which is a sunny enough realization for me.

Jordan McLean
Coltrane's "Welcome" jumped to my mind when I was searching for that feeling of being lifted. Not just spiritually, but physically being lifted up by a recording. The simplicity and universally of the melody and the power of the performance make it one of those "perfect" tracks, of which Coltrane has so, so many. This work has the same effect on me as a Mahler symphony, a Fela Africa 70 record, or an original Ornette Coleman Quartet recording. The ultimate in connecting with the best parts of being human.

Nels Cline
"Greeting to Saud (Brother McCoy Tyner)" might seem like an odd choice since Pharoah doesn't even play saxophone on this song. It's a feature for pianist Joseph Bonner dedicated to the great (and now sadly, late) McCoy Tyner, and is a blissful yet powerful swirl of bells, tamboura, pizzicato violin... Meditative and always uplifting. Another tune that has a very positive effect is Jim Hall's "Secret Love." Versions of this song exist both on the classic Jim Hall Live! (A&M/Horizon) and in a box set released decades later, Jim Hall Live Vol. 2-4 (Artist Share). Possessing a breezy latin feel, both versions are remarkable examples of Jim Hall and his Trio's remarkable level of artistry and invention. The combination of the song itself and what these men—especially Mr. Hall, of course—do with it makes me smile every time.

Ernst Reijseger
Dollar Brand's "Gwidza (In Memory Of Campbel Gwidza)" feels like a magical South African Gospel piece, which then turns wild with a virtuoso middle-section showacasing Dollar Brand's rhythmic left-hand groove on top of a completely independent melody. The piano has metal pins on the hammers because probably the felts on the hammers were too old. The result is very similar to a harpsichord. The sound is amazing and uplifting. Sean Bergin and I discovered this tune at the time when we were the "house band" at Amsterdam's Melkweg, a gig we held from between 1976 and 1980.

Mauro Ottolini
I chose the rendition of "April in Paris" by Ella and Satchmo because it is an endorphin booster. It is full of pathos... pure magic. Despite being a wispered song, it really swings!

Ryan Keberle
I could have picked any number of Elis Regina recordings here. Her music reflects the joy, passion, and love with which she lived her life and is an inspiration to me on many levels. Other picks could have been Milton Nascimento's "Tudo Que Voce Podia Sera" from Clube da Esquina and Maria Schneider's "Hang Gliding."

Caroline Davis
"Nobody Else but Me" is a beautiful song with an interesting form. Celebration of being true to yourself! I love Gerald Clayton's solo rendition of it!

Dave Douglas
Without even hesitating, for me the go-to-song for these times is Stevie Wonder's "Have a Talk with God."

Roberto Ottaviano
I love all music genres, but jazz has been a revelation, my master-key for the world. In jazz I can hear literature, mathematical formulas, athletic exercises, anecdotes that are told by the fireplace, poetry, song and ritual dance, diplomatic confrontations or the protests of the squares, the material to learn from, and the art of seduction... in short, humanity. When I put on "After the Rain" by John Coltrane I am able again to orient myself in this ocean, often in storm, which is our life. The same goes with "Shoe Shine Boy" by Lester Young, "Peggy's Blue Skylight" by Charles Mingus, "Alabama" or "Infant Eyes" by Wayne Shorter or "Kathelin Gray" by Ornette Coleman.


  • Ned Rothenberg: Aretha Franklin "Spirit in the Dark" Spirit in the Dark (Atlantic) 0:00
  • Yillian Canizares: Nina Simone "Feeling Good" I Put a Spell on You (Phillips) 3:59
  • Becca Stevens: Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley "A Sleepin' Bee" Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley (Capitol) 6:52
  • Alicia Waller: Max Roach "Effi" Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic) 9:25
  • Jordan McLean: John Coltrane "Welcome" Kulu Sé Mama (Impulse!) 15:37
  • Nels Cline: Pharoah Sanders "Greeting To Saud (Brother Mccoy Tyner)" Elevation (Impulse!) 20:58
  • Ernst Reijseger: Dollar Brand "Gwidza (In Memory Of Campbel Gwidza)" Underground in Africa (Soultown) 25:01
  • Mauro Ottolini: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong "April in Paris" Ella and Louis (Verve) 29:35
  • Ryan Keberle: Elis Regina "Madalena" Ela (Philips) 36:05
  • Caroline Davis: Gerald Clayton "Nobody Else but Me" The Paris Sessions (EmArcy) 38:40
  • Dave Douglas: Stevie Wonder "Have a Talk with God" Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla/Motown) 43:16
  • Roberto Ottaviano: John Coltrane "After the Rain" Impressions (Impulse!) 45:57

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