The point of this series is to identify great jazz tracks that are most likely appeal to music fans who are new to the genre.
My path to jazz (which I suspect is fairly common) was from rock to blues to jazz. As I started to tire of the repetition of straight blues, I gradually ventured into jazz with blues elements. The familiarity of the blues eased the transition. And it just sounds good!
The other tracks featured in this series (Cristo Redentor and The Sidewinder) also have blues elements, but today's entry, Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock, might be the best example yet of the sort of blues-based jazz that appeals to both beginners and longtime fans.
Herbie Hancock cut his jazz teeth as a member of Miles Davis' band. This superb blues track comes from Hancock's brilliant first album, Takin' Off, released in 1962. His impressive backing band on this album includes trupeter Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Billy Higgins. Takin' Off is not Hancock's greatest achievement (I'd pick Maiden Voyage) but it's a great place to start.
Herbie Hancock – Watermelon Man (buy album)
Cuban percussionist/bandleader Mongo Sanatmaria had a top 10 hit in 1963 with a latin-style cover of Watermelon Man in 1963. Santamaria got the idea to cover the song at a gig when Herbie Hancock sat for Mongo's regular keyboardist, Chick Corea.
Mongo Santamaria – Watermelon Man (buy album)
I like both versions. Herbie's is more enduring, but Mongo's is especially good for use at late-night, torch-lit, summertime cocktail parties.