Famous songs, performed by jazz or classical musicians
February 26, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Looking for jazz and classical covers of popular/famous songs.

I love jazz and classical music. I recently bought this album, well, almost the whole series, really, but not all of them were great. Lots of percussion and fake bossa nova style that's just annoying. I like Brad Mehldau's covers of Radiohead songs. And oh, Try A Little Tenderness by Nina Simone. I kinda like Karen Souza's version of Creep, too, but it's not the best. Can you suggest something that I will enjoy? Please note that I am not looking for jazz covers of well-known jazz songs/standards, like Diana Krall singing Sinatra. I probably have that.

For classical, I like some of the String Quartet tributes. Mostly I guess something that involves violins or performed by a symphony -- none of the instrumental guitar or piano love song versions that sometimes sound like a minus one.

Are there anything else like these out there? This thread gave some nice suggestions but am looking for covers of more recent popular songs.

Special snowflake detail: I want to listen to these while I work, so I prefer something that you can tap your toes to, or something relaxing and peaceful, or something that I can let swell into the silence. Thanks in advance!
posted by pleasebekind to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Miles Davis did Time After Time
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:57 AM on February 26, 2011

Miles Davis also played Michael Jackson's Human Nature.

The Bad Plus covers Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium. They also do a cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears that I think is an improvement on the original.

I usually don't like Beatles covers because I prefer the originals, but Bela Fleck and the Flecktones did a great cover of Michelle. (Album.)

Pat Metheny does an excellent cover of Don't Know Why by Norah Jones. (Album.)

Kronos Quartet plays Jimi Hendrix: Foxy Lady, Purple Haze.

One-man string quartet cover of Come On Eileen!
posted by John Cohen at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2011

I am a huge fan of the London Symphony Orchestra doing Stairway to Heaven. Seems like they have done a lot of classic rock.
posted by supercres at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2011

(Sorry, London Philharmonic. That'll teach me to trust YouTube and ID3 tags.)
posted by supercres at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2011

Charlie Hunter Trio - Come As You Are (not exactly pop, but I also like Charlie Hunter's cover of Bob Marley's Natty Dread album)

McTuff's cover of She's So Heavy takes a while to really get started, but once it gets going I think it's really good.

And toe-tapping is nearly compulsory with Garaj Mahal's Psycho Killer
posted by polymath at 12:39 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Coltrane did My Favorite Things
posted by spasm at 12:48 PM on February 26, 2011

Ella Fitzgerald sang Sunshine of Your Love and Hey Jude amongst others.
posted by euphorb at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2011

You want these guys.
posted by 5Q7 at 1:03 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: May not be quite what you're looking for, but Philip Glass's Low and Heroes symphonies (of the 1976 and '77 Bowie albums) meet your "something relaxing and peaceful, or something that I can let swell into the silence" criteria. They're not like the String Quartet Tribute series, though.
posted by scody at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2011

A full CD worth: Wouldn't It Be Nice: A Jazz Portrait Of Brian Wilson
posted by yclipse at 1:21 PM on February 26, 2011

Christopher O'Riley does Radiohead.
posted by jbickers at 2:07 PM on February 26, 2011

Paul Anka did an entire album of those sorts of songs entitled Rock Swings. For example, Smells Like Teen Spirit
posted by penguinicity at 2:12 PM on February 26, 2011

Paul Anka did an entire album of those sorts of songs entitled Rock Swings. For example, Smells Like Teen Spirit

I like how he refuses to sing the first line correctly.
posted by John Cohen at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2011

She already knows about Brad Mehldau's covers of Radiohead songs...
posted by John Cohen at 3:02 PM on February 26, 2011

er, sorry, just to be a pedant and correct myself: the Bowie albums that Philip Glass symphonized were both from 1977.
posted by scody at 3:44 PM on February 26, 2011

Well, this one might be too humorous or involved for the circumstances you'd be using it in, but...

Here's violin & piano duo Igudesman and Joo playing:
I Will Survive

posted by non-kneebiter at 3:47 PM on February 26, 2011

The Bad Plus have already been mentioned, but their covers are singularly awesome:

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Karma Police
Tom Sawyer
Iron Man

Although it's hardly a famous song, I also love their version of Aphex Twin's Flim. They added a vocalist for some recent work, which I generally found much less compelling than their work as an instrumental trio.

Because of the way it so beautifully shifts the emotional tenor of the song, I've always been partial to Medeski, Martin, and Wood's version of Hey Joe.
posted by TheRoach at 5:39 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: You might be looking for Maxence Cyrin. Covers of the Pixies, Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, etc... Not strictly classical but classical leanings.

Where is My Mind-Pixies

Around the World- Daft punk

Crazy In Love- Beyonce

D.A.N.C.E- Justice


If you want something amazing, try Greg Pattillo.

New york State of Mind
posted by penguinkeys at 6:33 PM on February 26, 2011

Apocalyptica performs Metallica.
posted by oceano at 10:33 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Marco Benevento Trio
MP3s (live soundboard recordings, various shows):
You Know I'm No Good (Amy Winehouse)
Heartbeats (The Knife)
Golden (My Morning Jacket)
Seems So Long Ago Nancy (Leonard Cohen) (solo)
Fearless > Benny & The Jets > Fearless (Pink Floyd / Elton John) (solo)
Twin Killers (Deerhoof)
posted by prinado at 12:14 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I heartily recommend West Side Story by the Oscar Peterson Trio -- it's an album of combo jazz versions of songs from the musical. My favorite track is probably the group's version of "Maria" but the entire album is great -- I'm always impressed by the interesting arrangements and the strength of the performances. (There are seven tracks, but the last one is a medley, so it's really six full covers. Actually, listening to "Reprise" is probably a good way to get a glimpse of all of the songs.)

I listen to the album a lot at work as well as at home. Everything swings, so there are definitely toe-tappers, and there's a nice variation with tempos (e.g. aside from the faster pieces, "Jet Song" has a cozy, laid-back tempo and "Somewhere" is very pretty and peaceful, I think).
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:53 AM on February 27, 2011

Oh, and seconding 5Q7's suggestion of the Vitamin String Quartet. Covering recent pop songs is what they do. (Amazon has a lot of albums and mp3s.)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:40 AM on February 27, 2011

They aren't exactly jazz, but the Puppini Sisters are a trio of 1940s style singers (similar to the Andrews Sisters). Their albums include 40s-style covers of songs like the Smiths' "Panic," and Beyonce's "Crazy Love."
posted by LaurenIpsum at 7:22 AM on February 27, 2011

Kurt Elling's new album, The Gate, has a bunch of covers of pop tunes. Joe Jackson's Steppin' Out. The Beatles' Norwegian Wood. Stevie Wonder's Golden Lady. Kurt Elling is pretty awesome in general, so if you're a jazz fan and haven't checked him out, I'd do so. You can listen to samples here.
posted by crLLC at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is awesome! Please keep the suggestions coming. To address a few --
  • These guys are constantly on my playlist: Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, John Coltrane (I have the My Favourite Things album), Philip Glass -- so if you know more covers by them, I would love that!
  • I also love The Beatles, so any jazz/classical covers of their songs are welcome (thanks for the Ella Fitzgerald link!)
  • Will check out The Bad Plus and Vitamin String Quartet
  • Any chance that Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday covered pop songs? Or should I look for more contemporary jazz artists?

posted by pleasebekind at 8:16 AM on February 27, 2011

Best answer: Any chance that...Nina Simone...covered pop songs?

Nina Simone released this covers album with several pop songs of the day (although while I really like a lot of NS I really don't like this album much). There are also 2 George Harrison covers on this record (again, far from my favorite NS album). Black Gold has covers from Pete Seegar, Dylan, and the Bee Gees.
posted by K.P. at 11:59 AM on February 27, 2011

Also, if you like solo classical guitar, there's Andy McKee's version of Africa by Toto.

One of my absolute favorite CDs is the Nau Ensemble's The Eternal: Variations on Joy Division which is not really straight classical cover versions--almost all the music is original with just the occasional chord change or melody line from a JD song thrown in and lyrics (when they're present) in a medieval chanting style. If you like Joy Division, I think it's a real must-have.
posted by K.P. at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2011

Christopher O'Riley has done Radiohead, Elliott Smith, and Nick Drake.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2011

Herbie Hancock: the new standard.

Patchy - where some of the songs are a little harmonically static he goes round in circles, but it has some nice moments...
posted by monkey closet at 5:39 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Based on the performers you've mentioned already, is Dave Brubeck already on your playlist? He also covered "My Favorite Things" (one of my favorite versions). And I'm not familiar with these albums yet, but you might like his quartet's take on West Side Story songs, or their album Dave Digs Disney.

Chet Baker recorded a great cover of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" (which according to Costello in a number of interviews, was itself modeled after Baker's cover of "The Thrill is Gone"). It's on the hard-to-find live album Chet Baker in Tokyo -- but just a tip that the song is also included in the compilation set Career: 1952-1988 (track #16 on disc 2). (FWIW, it looks like the Tokyo concert is also on DVD.)

You might want to check out Blue Note Plays the Beatles (more info at All Music). Among the tracks is a recording of "Hello, Goodbye" with Bud Shank and Chet Baker. (I haven't heard the whole album.)

Speaking of Bud Shank, it seems he recorded a bunch of pop tune covers in the '60s (Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel...). And Chet Baker contributed to the version of "Michelle" on the album of the same name (apparently not released on CD), but it sounds like a pretty straightforward interpretation and not what I'd classify as jazz.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:17 AM on March 5, 2011

Great thread, sorry to be late to the party. On the jazz and groove side of the equation,

- George Benson, The Other Side of Abbey Road (entire Beatles album)
- Joey Defrancesco, Never Can Say Goodbye (surprisingly groovy and tender covers of Michael Jackson tunes)
- Dr. Lonnie Smith, Boogaloo to Beck (Beck covers)
posted by vverse23 at 9:39 AM on April 15, 2011

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