Six of the best: jazz cameos in pop

How a jazz legend can improve a record

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Some of the greatest pop songs have benefited from the input of a jazz great. We discover some of the finest contributors...

 

1. Ronnie Scott (sax): The Beatles – ‘Lady Madonna’

This hit tune, which topped the UK charts in 1968, features one of the most famous names in British jazz, the saxophonist and club owner Ronnie Scott. Hired as a session musician he played the song’s legendary saxophone solo, along with the ‘tooting’ vocals. Paul McCartney based the piano tune on trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton’s 1956 hit ‘Bad Penny Blues’.

 

2. Sonny Rollins (sax): The Rolling Stones – ‘Waiting on a Friend’

The Rolling Stones’s drummer Charlie Watts is well known for playing jazz when he’s not involved with his day job, and in 1981 he recommended that the band hire saxophonist Sonny Rollins to play on ‘Waiting on a Friend’. The song's elevation to No. 13 in the US pop charts was no doubt helped by Rollins’s expansive solo. Jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman has also played the track live with the band.

 

3. Hugh Masekela (trumpet): The Byrds – ‘So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’

With its driving bass played under a 12-string guitar, this Byrds song is full of lyrics that attack manufactured pop comes straight out of the hippy ‘summer of love’. The song was written while bassist Chris Hillman was doing session work with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. He features on this recording, playing a terrific solo over the samples of screaming teen fans. 

 

4. Branford Marsalis (sax): Sting - 'Englishman in New York'

On its initial 1988 release, the single of Sting’s song about gay icon Quentin Crisp didn’t do well in the UK charts, but a remixed version reached No. 15 two years later. The song’s laid-back jazzy feel is brought together by Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone and Manu Katché on drums.

 

5. Miles Davis (trumpet): Artists United Against Apartheid – ‘Sun City’

With its chorus of ‘…we’re not going to play Sun City’, this single from 1985 targeted anti-apartheid feeling in the music industry with an attack on South Africa’s luxury Sun City resort. Put together by US producer Steven Van Zandt, it featured many of the big pop names of the day but began with a trumpet solo by jazz legend Miles Davis. Keyboardist Herbie Hancock and bassist Ron Carter also played on it.

 

6. Courtney Pine (sax): Lou Reed - ‘Perfect Day’

Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ from 1972 had an all-star makeover in 1997 when it was used by the BBC as a promotion for its extensive music coverage. Later that year it became a charity single for Children in Need and shot to the top of the UK jazz charts. Among the many performers who appeared – including classical artists such as the Brodsky Quartet and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis – jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine takes a notable solo. Long-term readers of BBC Music Magazine may remember that the track was also released as a special cover disc! Here’s a reminder… 

 

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