Six of the Best… Jazz hit singles
Neil McKim's guide to some of the biggest jazz chart hits
There was a time when jazz artists topped the UK pop charts… Neil McKim picks out six of the best jazz chart hits from the UK singles charts.
1. Stan Getz & João Gilberto – The Girl From Ipanema
Verve VS 520
Highest UK chart position: No. 29 (23 July 1964)
‘Tall and tan and young and lovely…’ Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobin’s iconic bossa nova tune became a worldwide sensation when it was recorded by guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz, along with the gentle vocals of singer Astrud Gilberto. First the opening track of the Verve album Getz/Gilberto, it was subsequently released as a single.
2. Johnny Dankworth – African Waltz
Columbia DB 4590
Highest UK chart position: No. 9 (23 February 1961)
First recorded by composer Galt MacDermott in 1956, who penned it in Cape Town, this South African-sounding tune became a UK hit when saxophonist Johnny Dankworth picked up on it and recorded it with producer George Martin at Abbey Road. ‘African Waltz’ was subsequently covered by US saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, becoming the title track of an album.
3. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five
Highest UK chart position: No. 6 (26 October 1961)
Two years after the release of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s iconic jazz LP Time Out, its track ‘Take Five’ was released as a single. The most famous tune of pianist Dave Brubeck’s career, the distinctive 5/4 time featured the drumming of Joe Morello and the catchy melody of the tune’s composer, alto saxophonist Phil Desmond. It reached No. 6 in the UK charts.
4. Chris Barber’s Jazz Band – Petite Fleur
Pye Nixa 2026
Highest UK chart position: No. 3 (13 February 1959)
This version of American saxophonist Sidney Bechet’s tune was a hit in the UK during the ‘trad jazz’ boom but it also topped the charts in West Berlin and rose to No. 5 in the US. The tune was so successful that it led to a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show when the band toured the US in 1959.
5. Mr Acker Bilk With The Leon Young String Chorale – Stranger On The Shore
Columbia DB 4750
Highest UK chart position: No. 2 (30 November 1961)
Originally written for and named after his daughter Jenny, West-Country jazz clarinettist Acker Bilk rose to international fame with this piece that took its name from a BBC TV serial about an au pair visiting the UK. The tune was so successful that it topped the US charts and the crew of Apollo 10 took it on a cassette into space in 1969.
6. Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World
HMV POP 1615
Highest UK chart position: No. 1 (7 February 1968)
The biggest-selling pop single of 1968 was sung by Louis Armstrong, one of the original jazz legends, which he recorded at the age 66, towards the end of his life. This is quintessentially a popular song but it has since become a standard. It’s by far the best-selling UK single by any jazz artist.