When jazz cats cover classical

I got to wondering the other day, what’s the best-ever jazz cover of a tune from classical music? Seems strange that jazzinfluenced classical stuff seems so much better known than the reverse. Is there a jazz-community stigma from drawing on the old white stuff? A classical tendency to canonize? More marginalized musicians? A comparatively higher level of general quality in in-house jazz than in-house classical? Maybe I’m just more ignorant?
In any case, the question came up when I was listening for the millionth time to what is my nominee for #1, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane & Co.’s cover of Abide with Me. Take a great tune by William Henry Monk (no relation?) and add some breathy woodwinds. What a beautiful piece of music.

"Abide with Me" sheet music

You’d have to try pretty hard to mess that one up. Another bulletproof melody comes from Joaquín Rodrigo‘s Concierto de Aranjuez, which I think is probably better known in Miles Davis form:

Another strong contender for 2nd place is Duke Ellington’s twist on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite:

Also, the man has charisma coming out of his ears:

Beyond those, I didn’t know any really outstanding ones. Bill Evans’ version of Fauré’s Pavane seems a little safe and boring until you get to the improv. At least he avoids the heavy, trodding, sappiness that a lot of classical recordings seem to embrace. Wayne Shorter’s take on Sibelius’ Valse Triste is lively. Glenn Miller’s riff on Verdi’s Anvil Chorus ranks above the Woody Herman recording of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, but both are a little too… swing-y? Big band-y? for my tastes. I don’t expect anything different from those guys, but I’ve always struggled with the big band stuff. Although maybe that’s because I’m not dancing. I wonder what else I’m missing.

One thought on “When jazz cats cover classical

  1. Interesting post! I had no idea Monk and Trane covered Abide with me although I’m sure sharing a surname with the composer may have had something to do with it :)Jacques Louissier is perhaps another jazz artist worthy of mentioning. Although I don’t rate his music as highly as the guys in your list, he has done some creative arrangements, including pieces by Bach and Debussy

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