Jazz up Your Thanksgiving with These Musical Selections

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


This Thanksgiving, jazz up your holiday feast with these musical selections. From classics to contemporary hits, we’ve got you covered. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday with some great tunes.

Jazz Standards

“Autumn Leaves”

“Autumn Leaves” is a beautiful ballad that has been performed by some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. The melody was originally composed by Hungarian tunesmith Joseph Kosma in 1945, with lyrics added in English by Johnny Mercer in 1947. Since then, the song has become a jazz standard, having been recorded by such illustrious artists as Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

“Autumn Leaves” is a perfect choice for your Thanksgiving Day playlist because of its warm, nostalgic qualities. The song evokes the autumnal beauty of falling leaves and the feelings of loss and longing that come with the end of a relationship. But despite its sad subject matter, “Autumn Leaves” is also a very uplifting and positive song. It’s a reminder that even though things may come to an end, there is still beauty and hope in the world.

“Take the ‘A’ Train”

“Take the ‘A’ Train” is a 1941 jazz standard composed by Duke Ellington that was originally performed by his band. The song is considered one of the most important and influential compositions in the history of jazz, and it has been covered by numerous artists. The tune became one of the most popular pieces played by big bands during World War II.

The original lyrics were written by Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s close collaborator, and are about taking the A train to Harlem in New York City. The tune is based on a four-note “blues scale” melody that is repeated throughout the song. The melody is first stated by a trumpet, followed by other instruments in the band playing different variations on the theme.

The tune has a complex harmonic structure with several key changes, and it modulates to several different tonal centers during its course. The solo sections are also noteworthy for their use of extended improvisational techniques such as chromaticism and altered chord voicings.

“Take the ‘A’ Train” has been recorded by many different artists over the years, including Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan.

“All Blues”

“All Blues” is a jazz standard composed by Miles Davis. It first appeared on the 1959 album Kind of Blue. It is in the key of C minor.

The structure of “All Blues” is based on a twelve-bar blues, but uses rootless chords for the first eight bars instead of seventh chords, making it harmonically open and ambiguous. The final four bars return to tonic harmony. The melody is also based on the blues scale, but uses chromaticism and modal interchange to create tension and resolve it.

The piece features a solo from each member of the sextet: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, piano, bass, drums, and trumpet. Miles Davis’s solo was improvised on the spot and was not written out beforehand.


“A Night in Tunisia”

“A Night in Tunisia” is a 1942 composition by Dizzy Gillespie. Arranged by double bassist Ray Brown, the song was originally an Afro-Cuban tune entitled “Tanga”, composed in 1940 by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. It is considered a standard of bebop jazz. The opening melody was based on a fragmentary theme Gillespie heard saxophonist Joshua Redman play.


Composed by Bobby Timmons and first appearing on Art Blakey’s 1958 album Moanin’, “Moanin'” quickly became a jazz standard and has been recorded by many artists over the years. The piece is in the key of F minor and is noted for its distinctive opening horn riff.

“Now’s the Time”

Now’s the Time is a composition by jazz musician Charlie Parker. It was first recorded by Parker in 1945 and released as a single in 1946. The composition became one of Parker’s most famous tunes and has been recorded by many artists.

Hard Bop

If you’re looking to add a little bit of spice to your traditional Thanksgiving feast this year, why not try some hard bop? Hard bop is a style of jazz that developed in the mid-1950s and is characterized by a heavy rhythm section and a strong focus on the blues. These tunes are sure to get your toes tapping and your family dancing around the living room.

“The Sidewinder”

One of the most popular jazz recordings of the 1960s, “The Sidewinder” is a ten-minute tour de force that features pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Elvin Jones at their hard-driving best. Lee Morgan’s staccato trumpet lines and Wayne Shorter’s soaring tenor saxophone licks propel the tune forward, while Tyner’s gospel-tinged piano fills and Jones’ dynamic drumming provide the perfect foundation for this hard-bop classic.

“Blue Train”

If you’re looking for something a little more upbeat to add to your holiday playlist, try “Blue Train” by John Coltrane. This hard bop tune was released in 1957 as part of an album of the same name. It’s a classic example of Coltrane’s distinctive style, featuring his signature long saxophone solos.

“Straight, No Chaser”

Hard bop is a subgenre of jazz that developed in the mid-1950s and reached its height in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Hard bop is a style of jazz that combines bebop’s linear melodic complexity with African-American rhythm and blues. It also sometimes incorporates elements of hard rock, funk, and blues. Hard bop developed during the age of bebop and immediately after it. It emerged as a reaction to the highly complex, intellectual sounding style of cool jazz, which relied heavily on tricky chord progressions and mode mixtures.

Modal jazz is a musical style that began in the late 1950s and 1960s. It is characterized by a use of modal scales and chord progressions. Modal jazz is often seen as a reaction against the bebop style of jazz.

“So What”

“So What” is a composition by Miles Davis, first appearing as the final track on the 1959 album Kind of Blue. The309 was recorded on March 2, 1959, during the album’s recording sessions, and featured one take with the rhythm section, which was then overdubbed by piano and trumpet. The piece became one of jazz’s most widely recorded songs.


On the 1962 recording “Impressions,” saxophonist John Coltrane and his band dive deep into the jazz idiom, exploring the style’s harmonic possibilities. The result is a landmark album that helped to shape the course of jazz.

“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”

“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is a funk-infused, modal jazz tune written by Miles Davis in 1969. The tune features Davis’ signature wah-wah sound, and has become one of his most enduring and popular compositions. The tune is based on the harmonic structure of the traditional blues, and its form is similar to that of bebop tunes. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” has been recorded by many other artists, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, and John Coltrane.

Avant-Garde Jazz

“Free Jazz”

“Free Jazz” is a term used to describe a style of jazz music that is characterized by improvisation and a lack of strict musical structure. This type of jazz often incorporates elements of other genres, such as rock, blues, and even classical music. “Free Jazz” can be seen as an extension of the experimental and avant-garde spirit of jazz music.

Some notable “free jazz” musicians include Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders.

“The Blessing”

The Blessing is a track off of saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd’s album Mirror. The album, released in 2008, is a collection of spiritually inspired jazz pieces. This particular track features Lloyd on flute backed by a full orchestra. The composition is based on a traditional hymn and has a meditative quality that makes it perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Bitches Brew”

Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” is a 1970 album that helped pioneer the jazz fusion genre. It features Davis’s electric trumpet backed by a host of forward-thinking musicians playing electric guitars, bass, and drums. The result is an experimental yet accessible work that pushed the boundaries of what jazz could be.

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