The London musician and producer’s ultimate jazz picks featuring Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, and Eric Dolphy
SAM COOKE – “YOU SEND ME” AND "BRING IT ON HOME TO ME”
I first heard Sam Cooke’s music at home; my dad was a big fan and would play everything from his early 7”s right through to his whole back catalogue. These were the two songs that impacted me the most at the time. “You Send Me” is love in its purest form; it’s rich, warm, and honest, and I still strive for that love as I feel it exists. It’s one of those songs that fuels my optimism when it comes to matters of the heart. It’s unwavering.
Blues is a predecessor to jazz, and that sense of going back to the very origins of a style of music is something that I always try to lead with in my own work. It’s always the root of genres that inspire me the most. Most of the time, when things are stripped back, that’s when they feel the most honest.
NINA SIMONE – “NE ME QUITTE PAS”
“Ne Me Quitte Pas” is definitely a gateway into the blues, and the origins of jazz itself. I don’t speak French, but whether you can understand it or not, there is something beautiful about this sentiment. Over any other Nina Simone track, I chose this in particular because I feel that listening to something in a language that you don’t speak affords you the chance to lean into the emotion of the voice as an instrument in its own right. When you can’t understand what’s being said, you can really just focus on – and appreciate – what the voice is doing.
ERIC DOLPHY – “GLAD TO BE UNHAPPY”
I don’t remember the first time I heard this song, but to this day Eric Dolphy makes me want to be a better player. For me, the closest we have to his genius in contemporary music is the saxophonist Shabaka Hutchins, who plays with Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors.
Dolphy plays some of the same instruments as myself, but every time I hear a recording of his, I’m reminded that I’m still very much a beginner next to him. I think it’s so important to shout about his work, impact, and genius whenever possible, as he was definitely one of the best ever. I can’t recommend a body of work from Dolphy as I don’t feel he made one that encapsulated all he had to give in the time he was on earth.
DUKE ELLINGTON AND JOHN COLTRANE – “IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD”
There are a lot of different versions of this song, which was composed by Duke Ellington in the 30s and has been performed by Art Tatum, Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and Steps Ahead. The Duke Ellington and John Coltrane one, though, was the first version of this song that I heard growing up, and it’s definitely a classic for me still.
This is where I heard drums played with brushes for the first time, and it blew my mind. Right then I needed to know how they could make the drums sound like that. This piece could definitely be a gateway for someone who is new to listening to instrumental music, whether that’s classical or jazz music, because it’s so lyrical; the melody says a thousand things about the same feeling. At its core it’s just a heartfelt conversation between players. Later, I heard this piece in Theodore Witcher’s 1997 film Love Jones. This film was a great access point for a lot of my friends to get into older music that they might have missed, so I’d recommend the soundtrack for it too.
ALICE COLTRANE – “WISDOM EYE”
As an artist, Alice Coltrane is everything to me. She moves through you. Whether she’s playing or writing for harp, organ, or piano, the spirit of her cadence and the richness of her soothing voice are unmistakable. Her music is so important to the broader context of jazz because she manages to encompass all of the attributes that describe the feelings of what jazz is. She has such a rich depth to her work, but simultaneously she’s an incredible instrumentalist – there is not a better virtuoso. “Wisdom Eye” has helped me through so much and will always be a timeless piece that I come back to, just to feel free.
BOBBY WOMACK – “IF YOU THINK YOU'RE LONELY NOW”
This is the wild card of the list as Bobby was definitely rhythm and blues, but I always come back to this record just because of its sheer energy, so I wanted to include it.
BILLIE HOLIDAY, ETTA JAMES – “STORMY WEATHER”
I couldn’t pick between these two different versions of “Stormy Weather” as I come back to both so often. I think the fact that the same song can be so different when performed by different people is important too, as it demonstrates how much comes down to the personality and the mood of the musician themselves.
With Billie Holiday’s version, she’s clearly miserable. It’s a strong rum – maybe even gin and cry – kind of night. I don’t smoke myself, but possibly there’d be cigarettes too. Just a spiral. But in Etta James’, she doesn’t sound sad at all – she sounds good, so it gives something else. I always turn to music to feel things and to help me work through feelings too.
BEYONCE – “ALL I COULD DO WAS CRY”
Beyonce’s version of this classic, originally by Etta James, is really everything. When I saw Cadillac Records, I knew the story of Chess Records already so I understood how they’d adapted it for the film. I do think the film was a bit of a disservice to the cast, as the performances everyone gave were top tier. Beyonce’s performance as the deeply iconic Etta James in particular really gave everyone the opportunity to have an entry point to music of that time.
CKTRL – “MAZES”
I hope it’s OK to pick one of my own! This track is really important to me for many reasons, and because of the way it has helped me to move through a lot of things – both musically and mentally. When I come back to playing it, I’m always made to feel something new, which is in itself its own kind of freedom. It’s definitely one of my favourite songs that I’ve released after “Robyn”.
The wider context of music that’s played on instruments is a narrative that does need to be challenged for a number of reasons. People often think classical and jazz music is highbrow, but it’s definitely made in these streets.