Grading the Top 10 in … JAZZ!

1. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, “Slave to Love” (The Jazz Age)

Do you love the songs of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music? Do you ever wish you could hear them played in the style of 1920s jazz? For example, why not strip “Slave to Love” of its minimalist high-tech production and transform it from one of the sexiest songs ever recorded into a jaunty little rag that could play over Woody Allen credits? The Jazz Age is Ferry’s experiment in doing just that, and also the lowest-charting album of his career. Ferry couldn’t care less, as he made it to amuse himself. He told a magazine that he’d “gone back to the music I liked listening to when I was a young lad, nine or 10 years old. I was really fairly precocious for that time.” Precocious child is usually code for pretentious child (I was too, Bryan). As much as I love these Ferry songs, forgive me if I’d rather hear the man himself cover some Jazz Age classics than run through these oddly passionless instrumental remakes. I want to hear Ferry sing “Basin Street Blues” or “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?” 

Grade: B

Best YouTube Comment: “This is fun stuff. It’s all done tongue in cheek! Need to marry this music up with vintage Fleischer and Messmer animation!” — MsGeek703

2. Frank Sinatra, “Just One of Those Things (Live ’57)” (Sinatra: Best of the Best)

A Capitol Records repackaging of some of Sinatra’s finest moments. We must not let lamewad Sinatra fans like Seth MacFarlane ruin Sinatra for the real heads. Listen to how Sinatra just holds the crowd in the palm of his hand and then walks them around the park. That is how you host, my friend.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “FRANK SINATRA! I have been a Frank Sinatra fan for over 50 years! In my view, and that of many many others, Frank was the greatest pop singer of the 20th century. He sang ballads beautifully and up tempo songs with equal skill. I love this particular song as well. God Bless You Frank Sinatra.” — TheMusicguy68

3. Diana Krall, “Glad Rag Doll” (Glad Rag Doll)

Diana Krall apparently also just put out an album of jazz standards from the ’20s and ’30s, chosen from her father’s collection of rare 78s and produced by T-Bone Burnett. Between this, the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, the eventual release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and the ongoing economic recession, are we gearing up for a full-scale Jazz Age revival? God, I hope not. I don’t like flapper dropped waists or men in suspenders and fedoras. Maybe after the whole “Harlem Shake” thing is over, there’ll be a viral video featuring a dubstep Charleston. If there’s actually a revival of the ’90s swing revival, I might have to quit culture for a few years. I usually find Diana Krall’s sleepy sound a little bloodless, but it’s perfect for this cover of the doleful 1928 theme song to the Dolores Costello lost early talkie Glad Rag Doll.

Grade: B+

Best YouTube Comment: “Stephen Colbert, comedy news anchor, he had her perform on his show a month back and since her popularity has grown alot more than it already was.” — reaperofsilk

4. Esperanza Spalding, “City of Roses” (Radio Music Society)

Esperanza Spalding is the singer-songwriter/bassist who beat out Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, Florence & the Machine, and Drake for the Best New Artist Grammy in 2011. Growing up with diverse artistic and cultural influences in Portland’s northeast section, she was inspired to become a musician after seeing Yo-Yo Ma on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Spalding performs in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and writes in an unclassifiable new genre with jazz influences. Her clear-voiced jazz-folk fusion with Brazilian influences recalls Gal Costa and Minnie Riperton.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “City of Roses = Portland — fabulousr2d2

5. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, “Drawing Room Blues” (In Grand Company)

A Duke Ellington compilation released exclusively on STARBUCKS ENTERTAINMENT! As in, the record label owned by the coffee  monster. If caramel macchiatos help sell Duke Ellington records, it’s OK by me.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “It is really incredible fidelity. I love this piece with its rather avant garde use of dissonance. It must have seemed cool to aficionados, as much as it does today. Nice one Lloyd!” — davcnslt

6. Jeffrey Osborne, “The Shadow of Your Smile” (A Time for Love)

More classic jazz standards, here from Jeffrey Osborne. Osborne is from Providence, Rhode Island. He’s best known as the lead singer of the funk band L.T.D. and for solo hits like “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song.)” “The Shadow of Your Smile” is the theme from 1965’s not very good Richard Burton and Liz Taylor vehicle The Sandpiper, most notable for Charles Bronson as a beatnik, Nico as an extra, and this theme song, written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster. It’s been covered by a billion people, including Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey. This makes me feel like I’m in a hotel lobby, in the best possible way.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “Great to see a real singer back on the block” — ChocThunda

7. Pat Metheny, “Soul Search” (The Orchestrion Project Soundtrack)

Pat Metheny was inspired by a player piano to build an entire robotic orchestra that responds to his live guitar playing. This is incredible, and probably counts as electronic music.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “Damn, these ghosts play so fucking well” — D4rKDr34M

8. Tony Bennett & Bill Evans, “Some Other Time” (As Time Goes By: Great American Songbook Classics)

This song by Betty Comden and Adolph Green always makes me cry my brains out.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “magic fingers and magic throat” — SusanSusaw

9. Wayne Shorter Quartet, “Plaza Real” (Without a Net)

Headphone music from Wayne Shorter.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “Saw the quartet at Carnegie Hall earlier this month. One of the highlights of my year so far. I will say that the music was pretty challenging, trying to mesh the jazz combo with an orchestra. But thinking back, I appreciated the fact that Wayne Shorter is taking risks as he turns 80 this year. Kudos to everyone involved.” — RicardoKaulessar

10. Emmy Rossum, “Pretty Paper” (Sentimental Journey)

Emmy Rossum is supposedly astonishing and gritty on Shameless, but her musical output is still sugary beyond belief.

Grade: D

Best YouTube Comment: “I have been waiting for her to do another album. I was disappointed in her first album which did not capture her beautiful voice as in Phantom. Hopefully in the future she also does an album of Broadway musicals including Phantom.” — Louise1563

Filed Under: Grading the Charts

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert