5 for Friday: 5 Solos by Jazz Musicians on Rock/Pop Tunes

For the second “5 on Friday”, let’s check out some of the better examples of when jazz players had guest solos on albums by major rock and pop artists. The soloists generally fit right in to their new roles, as each of the popular artists were/are know to incorporate jazz harmonies into their songs, some more than others.

So, in alphabetical order by surname, here we go…

Stan Getz, tenor sax solo on “Small World” by Huey Lewis and the News, Small World (1988)

This solo was actually my first exposure to Stan Getz. Huey Lewis was still a massively popular video star on MTV at the time, and this tune also featured the 1988 lineup of the Tower of Power horn section. Getz’ and his legendary sound are right at home in this tune.

Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet solo on “Do I Do” by Stevie Wonder, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

Great idea to let Dizzy blow a little on this one.

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet solo on “Zanzibar” by Billy Joel, 52nd Street (1978)

Not Freddie’s greatest work, but it’s the high point on this tune, which strives to be jazzier than Doug Stegmeyer, Joel’s bassist, was capable of. His line during the solo is so rote that it’s pretty clear that he just memorized an eight bar phrase and just repeated it.

Wayne Shorter, tenor sax solo on “Aja” by Steely Dan, Aja (1977)

Perhaps it’s shooting fish in a barrel to include Steely Dan on this list, as few rock bands have ever used jazz session players to greater effect. Victor Feldman, Ray Brown, Joe Sample, Don Grolnick, and Chris Potter, to name a handful, have all made important contributions to the Dan’s discography.

But this solo is special and is one of the most memorable moments on one of the greatest “rock” albums in history. I recall reading an interview years ago in which Donald Fagen was asked what his favorite guitar solo on Aja was. “Wayne Shorter’s solo on ‘Aja,'” he replied. A pithy answer and I get it.

At the time, Shorter, as a member of the surging Weather Report, was enjoying fame and fortune that few jazz musicians ever will. And he simply sounds god-like on this, his tone sounds almost infinitely massive. Add to that the forcefulness of an in-his-prime Steve Gadd behind him, and this easily makes it into any list of sax solos in a non-jazz (albeit jazz-y) context. (P.S., The late Cornelius Bumpus killed it on this tune during the 1993 tour, increasing the drama by walking all the way down to the front of the stage from his perch with his section mates high in the back on stage right.) And sometimes, I wonder what Joe Henderson would have come up with on this or other Steely Dan tunes. It seems to me that his style and Fagen and Becker’s sensibility would have been a match made in heaven.

Phil Woods, alto sax solo on “Doctor Wu” by Steely Dan, Katie Lied (1975)

I’m sure a lot of Steely Dan fans in the 1970s loved this solo, but were unaware that the soloist was one of the major alto sax stylists of his generation. One of my favorite Steely Dan solos, Springfield, Massachusetts’ own Phil Woods plays one of the most gorgeously melodic alto solos in rock music history in this melancholic tale about the lamentable juxtaposition of drugs and love. Any time a jazz musician can improvise a solo that listeners can actually sing, he’s doing something right. He also is responsible for the astonishingly pretty solo on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” I think music fans around the world are thankful that Billy didn’t simply go the trendy route and hire David Sanborn!

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