No Tricks, Just Treats: Take Five Serves Up a Classic Jazz Halloween

Oct 29, 2017

When I was a kid, Halloween meant dressing up with my friends and looking for the spots with the best candy, stopping for pranks along the way — which, if attempted now, would land me in some sort of correctional facility to contemplate that idle-mind/devil's-workshop thing. Now that I'm older, I'm stuck handing out rather than filling up when the ghosts and goblins come knocking. But if Halloween has a different sense of rhythm now, some of the best Halloween ear candy hasn't changed.

Nina Simone, “I Put a Spell on You”

Screamin' Jay Hawkins needed a coffin on stage when he performed this one live. Nina Simone just needed that voice and that attitude. Once, in front of a group of aspiring actors, John Malkovich was asked to name one of his inspirations; he said it was his next-door neighbor, but he was afraid to knock on her door and tell her so. His neighbor, and inspiration, was Nina Simone.

Wayne Shorter, “Witch Hunt”

This classic was actually recorded on Christmas Eve 1964. It's a Wayne Shorter story, made even hipper by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. Many consider this to be Shorter's finest hour.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, “Halloween Spooks”

While the Ike Isaacs Trio lays down the ghostly groove, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross prove to be a gruesome threesome. Open the windows, crank "Halloween Spooks," turn up the volume and take bets on how long before the authorities arrive.

Raymond Scott, “New Year's Eve in a Haunted House”

People who knew him said he didn't go out much. But his music did; the early cartoons of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and others all featured Raymond Scott's compositions. Scott gained a new audience in the '90s when the producers of Ren & Stimpy found his creations to be the perfect sidecar to their own cartoon antics. Scott's titles were hallucinatory: You can practically see the habitants of the haunted house inviting you to their New Year's party in this 1938 recording.

Philly Joe Jones, “Blues for Dracula”

When I moved to New York in the early '80s, Philly Joe Jones had his Dameronia band working around town. Between sets at The Jazz Forum one night, to the delight of those of us holding milk glasses half-emptied of their cognac, Jones didn't miss a beat with his spot-on take on Count Dracula, originally performed in this 1958 date with Johnny Griffin, Julian Priester, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Garrison and Nat Adderley.