Written by Nick Morrison
Some jazz musicians are known as much for their wit as for their chops. To celebrate National Humor Month, hear five jazz songs that are designed to make you laugh. Humor is subjective, though, so to make this list as much fun as possible, be sure to hit the comments section below and recommend more.
Just mention Fats Waller‘s name to a jazz fan and the reaction will be a smile. Not only was Waller a hugely influential jazz pianist, but he could also pack more joy into a song than anyone. In lesser hands, “Your Feet’s Too Big” (1936) probably would have been just another novelty song, but Waller made it a classic.
Dave Frishberg began his career as a pianist, working with artists such as Zoot Sims, Carmen McRae and Ben Webster, but he’s become best-known for his songwriting, which is often quite humorous. For “I’m Hip,” Frishberg collaborated with another witty singer, pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough. The song is a delightful skewering of people (and you’ve met ’em) who are trying so hard to be hip, they have to tell you how hip they are — which, as we all know, is decidedly un-hip.
Although Blossom Dearie was an accomplished jazz pianist, it is her voice that immortalizes her. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote this about Dearie’s vocal style: “Rarely raising her sly, kittenish voice, Ms. Dearie confided song lyrics in a playful style below whose surface layers of insinuation lurked.” Insinuation lurks like crazy in “The Shape of Things,” written by Fiddler on the Roof lyricist Sheldon Harnick. If you just listen to the melody, the song sounds like an old English folk song about true love. But when you listen to the words, you find that it’s something quite different — and quite funny, in a bizarre sort of way.
Over the past 50 years, singer and pianist Mose Allison has commented on the human condition in a number of great songs, many of which also happen to be quite funny. In “Certified Senior Citizen,” released in 1993, Allison gives notice to the world that, even though he’s getting older, he’s not getting out of the way. As time goes along, this could become a Boomer anthem.
Lorraine Feather was born into jazz. Her father was famous jazz writer Leonard Feather, her mother was a big-band singer and her godmother was Billie Holiday. Combining those genes and influences, Feather has become one of today’s wittiest jazz singer-songwriters. “You’re Outta Here” comes from her 2001 CD, New York City Drag. For this album, she took instrumental songs by Fats Waller (yes, here comes Fats again) and put lyrics to them. “You’re Outta Here” is based on Waller’s composition, “The Minor Drag.”