Jazz Covers to Popular Songs You Need to Hear Now

By British Solomon (Free Jazz Lessions)

With the likes of Postmodern Jukebox, jazz covers of popular songs are becoming more mainstream, often with a clear 1920s-style influence. However, jazz covers have a much longer history and are much more diverse than that. Everything from upbeat New-Orleans brass bands to mellow, bluesy piano has been used as inspiration in these jazz covers. Whether you like a tune you can dance to or something for relaxing, there's a jazz cover to suit your style.

Richard Cheese, "Darth Vader's Imperial March"
The Imperial March, composed by John Williams, may be one of the most memorable songs from the Star Wars franchise, but it's usually not considered a toe-tapper. Richard Cheese's version, which features an upbeat piano, manages to make it just that. It's almost impossible not to imagine Darth Vader dancing to this one, accompanied by some Storm Troopers.

Brad Mehldau, "Blackbird"
Less toe-tapping and more haunting is jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's re-imagining of The Beatles' classic Blackbird. The arrangement for piano, drums, and bass captures the emotion of the original, while spinning it into something new- a contemporary jazz piece.

Christian McBride Trio, "Car Wash"
Rose Royce's "Car Wash" is an iconic success from the 1970s disco era, reaching number one in the Billboard Pop and R&B charts in the United States. The Christian McBride keep to the dance-able core of the original in their cover for drums, double bass, and piano, though perhaps with a bit more swing.

Eclectic Colour Orchestra, "Uptown Funk"
Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" is a song with a plenty of groove to start with, spending 14 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. It won two Grammy awards, including Song of the Year and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. By replacing the horn and vocals with strings, arranger and musical director Raul Patino puts his own flare on the song. The crescendo of strings especially, brings a new and exciting tension.

6iJazz, "Hey Ya!"
This cover mellows out Outkast's hectic dance tune "Hey Ya!" into something downright bluesy. The Icelandic group 6iJazz allows the trumpet and saxophone to take the lead in this one, resulting in a song that you'd be more inclined to sway to with a cocktail in hand than jump up and down to. In fact, it's a relaxing listen.

The Swamp Donkeys, Game of Thrones Theme Song
While the fictional land of Westeros is far from New Orleans, this cover makes it seem like the two were always meant to collide. The original, composed by Ramin Djawadi for the HBO show in 2011, gets a new an entirely new feel from the first strum of the banjo. Once the sousaphone, sax, and clarinet join in, you'll probably find it hard to resist dancing along.

The Andy Lim Trio, "Killing in the Name"
This one is a little different from the others on the list. The vocals are almost unchanged from Rage Against the Machine's original, carrying the same intensity. The real change is in the smooth jazz now backing those vocals, which really works far better than it should. Somehow, the Andy Lim Trio has managed to balance the intensely passionate vocals perfectly with the calm, flowing piano

Musica Nuda, "Roxanne"
The Police's "Roxanne", which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008, is stripped down in this cover by Italian duo Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti. The duo performs with Petra on vocals and Ferruccio on double bass, unaccompanied by drums or piano, allowing both the chance to shine. This chilling cover of "Roxanne" is just one in a number of pop songs that they interpret in their unique style.

Postmodern Jukebox ft. Kate Davis, "All About that Bass"
Meghan Trainor's "All about that Bass" is an upbeat and catchy tune in its own right, having spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States when it was released in 2014. Postmodern Jukebox's cover wonderfully plays with the word bass, using it to refer to the upright bass. Played by the Kate Davis, who also provides the vocals, the bass itself becomes the center of this jazzy version, making this both an excellent cover and an excellent pun.

Robert Glasper Experiment, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Nirvana won two MTV music video awards with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and it is still thought of as one of the greatest rock songs in history by some. Robert Glasper Experiment's cover on the piano, guitar, and drums, keeps to the spirit of the original, even while differing stylistically. There is a sense of a bit of chaos, a bit of apathy, and an overall sense of discomfort. That's not a bad thing, though. Instead, it helps the listener understand the intent behind the music.