10 Really Good Jazz Waltz Songs (Ranked)

Since the beginnings of jazz, rhythm – and how great musicians play around with it – has been an important part of the music. Whilst most famous jazz songs are in the standard 4/4 time, the sprinkling of ‘jazz waltz’ over the decades provides a delicious change to the norm.

At first a rarity in jazz, waltzes gradually became more popular with musicians and, by the beginning of the 1950s, tunes in ¾ really hit their stride.

By the end of the decade, these early experiments in the jazz waltz arguably pushed musicians to experiment further, with the emergence of tunes in 5/4 and 7/4… that’s a topic for another time though.

Whilst often typified by its relaxed, dreamy feel, our list of 10 beautiful jazz waltzes provides not just some great listening tips, but also a few surprises, showcasing the real versatility of the style.

10. Jitterbug Waltz

Written by Fats Waller and originally recorded on March 16 1942, Jitterbug Waltz notched up a couple of firsts in jazz.

Having established himself as a virtuoso pianist and organist, and already enjoying a successful recording career with RCA Victor, Waller decided to record the new tune using the Hammond B3 organ making it one of the first recordings to feature the instrument.

His other claim to fame is that this song was the first jazz waltz ever written – although that is a little more subjective.

In any case, since its release, the tune has been recorded by jazz musicians as diverse as pianists Art Tatum, Errol Garner and Vince Guaraldi and saxophonists Eric Dolphy and David Murray.

9. Alice in Wonderland

Originally written for a Walt Disney film, Alice In Wonderland has now firmly ingrained itself into the jazz standard repertoire.

Composed in 1951, this lovely tune in 3/4 waltz time was quickly picked up by jazz musicians, including pianist Dave Brubeck who featured it on his album Dave Digs Disney

Oscar Peterson recorded the tune on his 1968 album The Way I Really Play, but arguably the definitive version of the song is played by the Bill Evans Trio on the album Sunday at the Village Vanguard recorded on June 25, 1961.

8. Bluesette

A departure from many of the jazz waltz songs on this list, ‘Bluesette’ was written by harmonica player Toots Thielemans and featured him playing guitar and whistling.

With its gentle waltz time and evocative melody, it immediately became a hit. Along with lyrics by Norman Gimbel, Bluesette has been recorded by more than a hundred artists including Bill Evans, Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Hank Jones and Mel Tormé.

7. West Coast Blues

One of the most influential guitarists in jazz, Wes Montgomery was also a composer of some imaginative tunes, many of which have become jazz standards.

Recorded in January 1961 for his album The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, ‘West Coast Blues’ is a swinging piece of music that showcases not only his compositional style but also has an incredible single note solo.

6. Waltz for Debby

An endearing piece written for his niece, Waltz For Debby is yet another credit for pianist Bill Evans, this time as both composer and performer.

He first recorded it as a solo piano piece on his album New Jazz Conceptions released in 1957. Once again, the definitive version must be the live recording from the Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961 and released as the album Waltz For Debby.

These recordings from the Village Vanguard by Bill Evans are regarded as one of the most important piano trios in jazz.

5. Up Jumped Spring

Up Jumped Spring is a delightful and somewhat under-appreciated jazz waltz written by hard bop hero Freddie Hubbard.

It was first recorded while the trumpeter was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and appeared on the drummer’s 1962 album Three Blind Mice.

Hubbard recorded the tune on his own album Backlash released in 1967, and in a superb performance with a quintet featuring James Spalding on flute and the underrated Al Dailey on piano; there, the 3/4 feel is felt strongly throughout, providing plenty of space for the soloists.

4. Ugly Beauty

Written by the one and only Thelonious Monk, this was never going to be a conventional jazz waltz, was it?!

Crafted in the traditional 32-bar AABA form, Monk recorded the tune just once, for his December 1967 album Underground.

Strangely enough it’s the only waltz written by Monk, and was only played in 3/4 time at the suggestion of drummer Ben Riley.

Monk’s theme and playing is as idiosyncratic as one would expect and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, one of the greatest interpreters of Thelonious Monk’s music, is on fine form.

It’s a difficult tune to play that has, in recent years, found favour with musicians who have now elevated the tune to standard status.

3. Footprints

One of the most famous saxophonists of all time, Wayne Shorter emerged as a truly original voice at a time when the influence of John Coltrane ran deep in the jazz world.

As well as an individual tenor stylist he was also a fine composer with ‘Footprints’ possibly one of his most well-known of the time.

Recorded for his 1966 Adam’s Apple album released on Blue Note Records is a variation on a blues in C minor and, with pianist Herbie Hancock’s chordal accompaniment, has a hypnotic feel.

Recorded in February 1966, Shorter would again capture the tune that year with Miles Davis for the album Miles Smiles. Incidentally, that one would be released before the original, and has a very different sound to the waltz feel on Adam’s Apple.

2. Someday My Prince Will Come

Jazz musicians have always looked to the popular music of the day for their repertoire, originally from musical productions and also increasingly from films.

Written in 1937 for the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Frank Morey and Frank Churchill, the unusual chord changes of Someday My Prince Will Come attracted the attention of jazz musicians; they’ve since made the tune a univerally-known jazz standard.

Pianist Dave Brubeck recorded the song as part of his Dave Dig Disney album in 1957, with other versions including Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.

Miles Davis recorded the song on his 1961 album of the same name; his version of the tune stands out for the contribution of saxophonist John Coltrane who had officially left Davis’s band and was called into the studio last minute.

It has alleged that that Coltrane had never played the tune before but looking at the chord changes on Mobley’s music stand blew a solo that was the highlight of the album.

1. My Favourite Things

Written by the song writing partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, My Favourite Things is arguably the most famous jazz waltz of all time.

Unlike many of the songs in this list, it didn’t start it’s life as a jazz composition, but as a Broadway tune, from the production of The Sound of Music.

Propelled to mainstream fame when Julie Andrews sang the song in the film The Sound of Music, its special place in jazz is thanks to John Coltrane.

The saxophonist produced an epic thirteen-minute exploration of the tune over a vamp by pianist McCoy Tyner on his 1961 album of the same name.

Whilst the original composition is a somewhat cute show tune, Coltrane gives it a radical modal makeover, jettisoning the chord changes and soloing over just two chords on top of the waltzing rhythm.

More Of The Best Jazz Waltzes

There we have it – 10 incredible jazz waltzes which take you from Fats Waller and the early days of the style, through to a transformative rendition by John Coltrane just 4 decades later.

Of course, there are yet more good jazz waltz examples out there, not to mention other versions of these classic songs.

If you’re looking for more, head first to this extensive collection of jazz waltzes.

And, as a further springboard, many of the musicians featured in this guide also take a place on our newly expanded guide to the best jazz musicians of all time.

Happy listening!

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