As we’ve discussed countless times on this site and in various lessons, the language of jazz borrows and lends itself to many other genres of music, giving birth to categories such as jazz-funk, fusion, funk-rock, jazz-rock, smooth jazz, and on and on. The beauty of jazz is that it is more of a language than a specific instrumentation or sound, thus the ability to use the “jazz” label in so many divergent musical settings.
I would like to present 5 jazz-funk tunes that you need to check out. A few disclaimers at the get-go: First, these tunes/artists are listed in no particular order. They are merely suggestions of some great music that I’ve discovered over the years and enjoy introducing to students. Second, Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” is not on the list. Why? Because, c’mon, that tune is such the quintessential funk tune listening requirement of every musician that it’s automatic, and for that reason I didn’t want to use it to take up a spot on the list. It is so classic that it deserves it’s own article, and that’s just what we’ve done… and you can find said article here. And lastly, (I feel compelled to say this), these are not my “Top 5” jazz-funk tunes, but simply “5” jazz-funk tunes. Narrowing a list down to my all-time “Top 5” would be too burdensome a task and I just can’t handle that level of stress in my life right now.
So without further ado, here are 5 jazz-funk tunes you need to check out. I hope at least one of them introduces you to a tune or artist you have not yet discovered. Happy listening!
1. “The Chicken,” Jaco Pastorius, The Birthday Concert
Probably one of the most popular funk-jazz tunes of all-time (second, of course, to Herbie’s “Chameleon”) this tune is a funk staple at jam sessions and features some of the greatest jazz-funk musicians of all-time. The solos on this track are exceptional – Michael Brecker, Jaco Pastorius, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine… what more could you ask for?!
2. “Thing of Gold,” Snarky Puppy, groundUP
This is the “it” band of the moment in the jazz-funk-rock space right now, and they absolutely deserve to be. The band has it all – excellent individual soloists, incredible musicianship throughout featuring a versatile horn section and impeccable rhythm section, great songwriting, collaboration with artists across various genres, and some of the best production happening right now. Just clicking on all cylinders, and hopefully they’ll keep it going for many years. “Thing of Gold” is one of the “singles” that put them on many people’s radars, but they have some great tunes throughout their catalog.
3. “Rolling in the Deep (Adele cover), Dirty Loops
For those of you who have not yet discovered Dirty Loops, you’re in for a treat. They’re a trio of young men from Sweden who got together and started creating their own jazz arrangements of today’s pop hits and became youtube sensations. They’ve since gone on to sign a major label deal and release their own album. Many have trouble categorizing their unique sound. Are they pop? Jazz? Rock? Funk? Who cares – they sound great, and original.
4. “If You Want Me to Stay,” Larry Goldings, Whatever It Takes
This one stays a little more in the traditional funk wheelhouse. Larry Goldings is a phenomenal pianist and organist who is equally at home in the jazz and pop worlds (he’s James Taylor’s pianist, among many others big-name artists). This tune was originally done by Sly and the Family Stone, and the Larry Goldings version features funk icon Maceo Parker.
5. “Local Hero“, Yellowjackets, Politics
The Yellowjackets are another powerhouse band that is incredibly musical and versatile, with original tunes that span jazz, funk, rock, gospel, and pop. The core band is currently made up of Russell Ferante on piano, Bob Mintzer on saxes, Will Kennedy on drums, and Dane Alderson on bass. This is an oldie from 1988 featuring Marc Russo on the sax solo.