As news of the death of iconic songwriter and performer Burt Bacharach reaches us, we rounded up a collection of alternative versions of his biggest hits, performed by iconic jazz musicians.
So stay tuned for a Jazzfuel twist on the most famous Burt Bacharach songs of all time…
It’s perhaps the sign of a songwriter’s success the number of cover versions they inspire and, by this metric, Burt Bacharach is unquestionably one of the best.
Each of these songs we’ve selected have been covered literally hundreds of times, by artists from all genres.
It is, of course, jazz which interests us, so we enjoyed relistening to these gems through the eyes and ears of legendary jazz musicians including Ella Fitzgerald, McCoy Tyner and Pat Metheny…
What’s New Pussycat (Quincy Jones)
From ‘Quincy Plays For Pussycats’ (1965)
It’s a brave jazz artist that covers a smash Tom Jones hit just a year after its release.
But then Quincy Jones is no average jazz musician and can be heard here, with his orchestra, giving a 60s rendition of this classic Burt Bacharach song.
It was in fact written for the 1965 comedy with a first-time screenplay by a then little-known Woody Allen…
If the opening solos on this version don’t take your fancy, try to stay tuned for the big finish!
What the World Needs Now Is Love (Sarah Vaughan)
From ‘Pop Artistry’ (1966)
The concept of jazz singers covering the pop songs of the day is nothing new, as this 1960s record by Sarah Vaughan shows.
Originally written in 1862, three years before it’s first release, Bacharach commented that its 3/4 ‘waltz’ style made it one of the hardest songs that his long-time lyricist Hal David had ever written.
Walk on By (Roland Kirk)
From ‘Slightly Latin’ (1966)
Originally composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick to release in 1963, it’s remained a fan favourite to this day.
Whilst singer-pianist Diana Krall brought this most famously to a jazz audience, we thought this version by avant garde saxophonist Roland Kirk was a great example at just how broad an appeal these songs had!
I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (Ella Fitzgerald)
From ‘Ella’ (1969)
Written for the musical Promises, Promises (1968), this song immediately spawned a whole host of big-name cover versions, including this one by Ella Fitzgerald.
The lyrics to this were actually written first whilst Bacharach was laid up sick in hospital (note the lyric “You get enough germs to catch pneumonia”) but, on his return, the music was written “faster than I had ever written any song in my life” according to the man himself.
This Guy’s In Love With You (Oscar Peterson)
From ‘Motions & Emotions’ (1969)
Originally popularised through a version by trumpeter-turned vocalist Herb Alpert, the song was apparently originally written for a female singer, with future versions switching out the title to “This Girl’s In Love With You.”
That was of no concern to pianist Oscar Peterson, though, who recorded this instrumental version – with full string orchestra – for his 1969 studio album Motions & Emotions.
With a rhythm section featuring Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), Sam Jones (double bass) and Bobby Durham (drums) the group ran through a selection of popular pop classics including The Beatles’ Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby.
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head (Johnny Hartman)
From ‘I’ve Been There’ (1973)
Many classic songs from the 20th Century started out as part of the score of broadway musicals and films, before becoming more famous in their own right.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head is perhaps an anomaly here, because whilst the song rose in prominence, the film that spawned it – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – has also gone down as a classic piece of cinema.
Inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2014, our jazz version selection is by singer Johnny Hartman.
As you may well know, the singer is known by the majority of jazz fans for one single album – a duo with John Coltrane – which is regarded as one of the great jazz albums in history.
His 1973 rendition of this Bacharach classic gives another angle.
The Look Of Love (McCoy Tyner)
From ‘What the World Needs Now’ (1997)
Originally popularised by singer Dusty Springfield, the slow bossa nova groove made it an easy song to transfer to the jazz repertoire, which was duly done by Stan Getz on his 1966 tribute album “What The World Needs Now“.
Legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner then gave it a fresh, with full symphony orchestra, on his 1997 Bacharach tribute ‘What the World Needs Now’ recorded the New York recoding studio The Hit Factory and produced by John Clayton.
I Say a Little Prayer (Liane Carroll)
From ‘Son of Dolly Bird’ (2001)
Written for Dionne Warwick at the time of the Vietnam war, I Say A Little Prayer’s epic mix of soul and R&B has made it a popular cover by jazz singers.
Our pick here is from an album recorded live at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club by criminally underrated British singer-pianist Liane Carroll.
Alfie (Pat Metheny)
From ‘What’s It All About’ (2011)
Written for the movie of the same name, Alfie was immediately a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with Dionne Warwick taking care of the US audiences and the British entertainer Cilla Black taking care of the UK.
It’s sentimental story gets an instrumental reworking by legendary modern jazz guitarist Pat Metheny on the album “What’s It All About” (Nonesuch Records) which, whilst not exclusively Bacharach compositions, is nonetheless highly influenced by the songwriter.
Close To You (Chihiro Yamanaka)
From ‘Reminiscence’ (2012)
More than 70 years after his first pop hits, Burt Bacharach songs seem no less enticing for jazz musicians.
For this final pick, we fast-forward into 2012 and an early album by New York-based Japanese jazz pianist Chihiro Yamanaka.
Usually played as a ballad, the tune gets an upbeat reworking which showcases just how versatile the underlying harmony is when taken on by the modern jazz musician.
Thanks for reading!
As we mentioned, there are literally thousands of Burt Bacharach songs out there by artists from all corners of the musical world.
Hopefully these selections have opened your ears to some of the possibilities and can lead to some more discoveries, old and new.
And finally, a big thank you to Burt Bacharach himself for putting such an extensive catalogue of songs into the world!