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Poolside Party: '70s Jazz With A Splash Of Funk

When the mercury rises, few can resist the temptation of instant cool. What's better than relaxing at the pool? The options from there are many and fluid, depending on the level of public or private access: You can baste your skin in jojoba under intense UV rays, read a book on the floating deck chair, mix a slushy fruit cocktail at the wet bar, take a dip, don the floaties or make a cannonball run from the platform. Or, for that matter, just inflate a kiddie splasher and douse yourself with the garden hose.

No matter what you choose, you're going to need musical accompaniment -- preferably something that steers clear of the typical Jimmy Buffett and Beach Boys mix. How about some jazz? Not the heady stuff, unless you're aiming to clear the decks. Instead, get yourself some deep '70s jazz; the kind that leaves a funk aroma and washes off easily when you take the plunge.

For more entries in this summer's weekly It's Time to Party: Summer Songs series, click here.

Higga Boom

Gene Harris played a mighty, gospel-infused style of piano, most notably in the sublimely understated and effortlessly rooted swing of The Three Sounds, his longstanding trio. In 1974, Astral Signal functioned as his grandest foray into the arena of trippy space-funk. "Higga Boom" is basically a repeating groove based on the famous Bo Diddley beat, complete with tidal swells of piano soul and some trance-inducing percussion from Harvey Mason.


The Hammond B-3 may have started as a home instrument, but the B-3 is never better than when it's functioning as a groove machine for an impromptu dance-off. Jimmy McGriff's The Worm is a classic funk album that crate-diggers have been raiding for years. The combination of breakbeat drumming, pleading saxophone and organ-driven bass lines make for some mod groove elation to match that Hawaiian shirt and tiki-bar theme.

Chump Change

Yes, he made hits with Michael Jackson. Yes, he arranged music for the Count Basie Orchestra. But Quincy Jones also led his own large ensemble, and they dominated back when you could still hear jazz on network television. "Chump Change" served as the instrumental theme for the short-lived variety program The New Bill Cosby Show. CBS canceled what was perhaps the coolest incarnation of Bill Cosby America would ever witness, but the song migrated to Now You See It, one of the network's popular '70s-era game shows. Shake a tambourine and join Toots Thielemans in whistling your cares away.

Summer Song

This is unabashed smooth jazz before it ever earned such a pejorative term. While later pretenders would suffocate any traces of music in search of the elusive popular hit, Grover Washington ranked among the few performers in popular instrumental dance music who had major jazz credibility. And dance music in 1977 was... disco. "Summer Song" is a hot-weather urban oasis of Philly soul, as tasty as that street-treat soft-serve cone you get before heading to the WPA-era public pool. This song justifies pulling the cap off the fire hydrant and turning the sidewalk into your very own water park. Sing that summer song; soon it will be gone.

Recession or Depression

There's something purely diabolical about this record, if only because Jimmy Smith, the great Hammond organ jazz innovator, actually sings. Blessed with a pyrotechnical prowess that won him legions of soul-jazz fans, here he ponders the state of the union's fiscal well-being. "Recession or Depression" may be more than three decades old, but adjusted for inflation, it may be the right tune for this particular summer. Turn this one up, create your own farcical aquatic ceremony and heed the words of a master: "The time for getting down is now / The question is how." Getting wet is a good start.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.