Jazz involves composition, improvisation, wit, and an entirely different language than classical music. But it also has complex chords and fun rhythms which are often good to move to.
This blog for RepeatReplay.com looks at the 10 best jazz songs for dance. Let’s look at the top 10 best jazz songs for dance.
In the discussion of pop-jazz songs for dance, “The Boy From Impanema” is one of the first that comes to mind. It brought bossa nova, or Brazilian jazz, to mainstream audiences. It has been covered, remixed, and used in various films and television programs. Despite its subject of longing for a mysterious passerby, it feels light-hearted and carefree. “The Boy From Impanema” is one of the best jazz songs to get your feet moving.
Chet Baker mixed smooth vocals and his iconic trumpet playing to create an unmistakable sound that has never been replicated. In the song “But Not For Me” we have a fast tempo side of Baker that married all of his best features. The melody is soaring yet mannered, and you can’t help but move some part of your body. It’s the perfect (yet unobvious) upbeat jazz songs for dance competitions.
Charlie “Bird” Parker reimagined what the saxophone could do early in jazz. Every accomplished player since has tried to imitate his style on songs such as “These Foolish Things.” The song itself was not one that Parker wrote, but his version stands up as a dance number.
This piece alternates between patient, melodic, even singable lines and his signature fast notes. Someone looking for instrumental jazz songs for dance would enjoy this song as it changes its form with ease.
When legendary jazz crooner Tony Bennet and then-new artist Amy Winehouse teamed up to cover “Body and Soul” in 2011, they were sure to do the song justice. The song was originally composed in 1930, but when this duo sang it, it seemed fresh and new.
Unfortunately, for Winehouse, it was the final recording she ever made. Bennet became the oldest living artist to chart in the Billboard top 100. But despite the bittersweet nature of the song, it’s a slow dance number that will keep people moving together for years to come.
Another legendary team, Fitzgerald and Armstrong, brought this song to life long ago, but it still works as well today. “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” plays with the different pronunciations of words in English and American dialects—it’s also easy to swing to and is a perfect sassy jazz songs for dance. The song has been sampled endlessly on remixes and used in various movies, and no matter the generation you come from, you likely know the words.
“When I Fall in Love” is a slower ballad by legendary jazz singer Nat King Cole. Its melody is unforgettable and its chord structure is surprisingly tricky for how simple it sounds. In the mid-90s, Cole’s daughter Natalie Cole sang a posthumous duet with a projection of her father for the Grammy Awards that year. This song is a timeless work that you can find as the first dance at weddings across the globe.
Django Reinhardt is always there to speed things up in jazz. He brought Romani-jazz to the mainstream and was the first European to break into the genre. His style of guitar playing is quick and clever, which is fascinating when you realize he was only playing with two fingers on his left hand.
“How High the Moon” is a perfect showcase of Reinhardt’s unique talents and signature style. This song is also a great example of how Romani-jazz was a European answer to swing. If you are looking for old school jazz dance songs, look no further than this.
Nina Simone made quite the impact on jazz in her career. Simone, like many of her contemporaries, brought a relaxed feel to jazz that many boppers couldn’t seem to grasp. These elements are perfectly displayed in the classic tune “Feeling Good.” Since her original recording, the song has been covered many times over by acts such as Michael Bublé.
The song is also great for reinterpretation and leaves plenty of space to add artistry for dancers and musicians alike. “Feeling Good” is a classic jazz song for dance solos and will get the audience swaying as Nina intended.
Skip ahead to the ’80s and you won’t be able to miss Herbie Hancock’s song, “Rockit.” A fusion of electronic, hip hop, and jazz, the song was a hit and received tons of airplay on MTV—an unheard-of feat for jazz. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental. Its uptempo style and DJ scratching made it feel fun and contemporary, even into the 21st century. It is an essential jazz songs for dance competitions.
We couldn’t leave the Godfather of jazz out of this list. By the time Miles Davis released “Pharaoh’s Dance” in 1970, he had already started the majority of jazz trends up to that point. This piece was no exception. It was experimental, like much of Davis’s work.
This song mixes free jazz and African rhythms to create a new and groovy genre within jazz. The mix allows for a perfect space to free dance or improvise. It gives space for interpretation, like any great piece of art.
In this article, several different types of jazz were covered, from slow and patient, to fast and loud. There’s no doubt that everyone will find the perfect choice out of these 10 best jazz songs for dance.