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Jazz Is For The Birds

Springtime brings songbirds back to the sky. The first "bird" many think of when they think jazz is sax legend Charlie Parker (it was his nickname). This Take Five doesn't focus on Bird, Birdland or the many song titles that riff on that theme. Instead, this jazz ornithology lesson features songs of a different feather flocked together.

Jazz Is For The Birds

Blackbird

This 1997 album was the first of pianist Brad Mehldau's five Art of the Trio recordings. His version of The Beatles' "Blackbird" maintains a light melody and lyrical improvisation. The sound is bright and gentle, yet free and fun. Mehldau mostly spent his time exploring jazz standards on this album, but through "Blackbird" showed a knack for making pop songs (sans lyrics) work perfectly as jazz songs. On subsequent recordings, he has interpreted songs from Radiohead, Nick Drake, Soundgarden and Oasis, among others.

Sweet Bird

Pianist Herbie Hancock's 2008 Grammy Award-winning River mostly features interpretations of the songs of Joni Mitchell. Mitchell's original version of "Sweet Bird" appeared on The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). This instrumental jazz reading is gently crafted by the hands of Hancock and the seasoned musicians surrounding him, especially Wayne Shorter, whose sax lifts the song skyward. You can hear the faint echo of bird song here and there.

Little Bird Song

Right from the beginning of the swinging "Little Bird Song," you can imagine little birds singing back and forth to each other. Jessica Williams' bright touch on the piano often mimics bird song, so it makes a perfect soundtrack for an afternoon of bird-watching.

Weather Bird

While "Weather Bird" indicates a weathervane, not an actual bird, it sure takes flight like one. This classic 1928 recording features a spirited call and response between trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines. As one of the most inspired songs the pair recorded together, it sounds like Armstrong and Hines were having an absolutely fantastic time, allowing listeners to jump in and share the fun.

Bye Bye Blackbird

Nancy Harms is a young jazz singer worth discovering. After graduating from college, she taught elementary music in a small Minnesota town, but felt she needed to develop her jazz singing professionally. She moved to Minneapolis to follow her dream, and settled into the big city's jazz scene. Harms' take on the classic "Bye Bye Blackbird" has an updated phrasing that, though distinctly jazz, also seems to draw a bit from pop. Her voice is warm, with a touch of vulnerability, and a believability that should only develop further.

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