Hear 4+ Hours of Jazz Noir: A Soundtrack for Strolling Under Street Lights on Foggy Nights

Image from The Big Com­bo, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Nowa­days few crowds seem less like­ly to har­bor crim­i­nal intent than the ones gath­ered to lis­ten to jazz, but sev­en­ty, eighty years ago, Amer­i­can cul­ture cer­tain­ly did­n’t see it that way. Back then, jazz accom­pa­nied the life of urban out­siders: those who dab­bled in for­bid­den sub­stances and for­bid­den activ­i­ties, those influ­enced by the alien moral­i­ty of Europe or even far­ther-away lands, those belong­ing to feared and mis­treat­ed social groups. That image stuck as much or even more firm­ly to jazz musi­cians as it did to jazz lis­ten­ers, and when a new cin­e­mat­ic genre arose specif­i­cal­ly to tell sto­ries of urban out­siders — the lowlifes, the anti heroes, the femmes fatales — jazz pro­vid­ed the ide­al sound­track.

“Jazz dom­i­nates assump­tions about the music used in film noir,” write Andre Spicer and Helen Han­son in A Com­pan­ion to Film Noir, “and it is par­tic­u­lar­ly preva­lent in con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ences to and recre­ations of film noir.”

And “although the num­ber of films noir to employ jazz in their scores was rel­a­tive­ly small, it was still notable in terms of the over­all use of jazz in Hol­ly­wood films of the era — if jazz was an inte­gral part of a film’s score then those pro­duc­tions tend­ed to be films noir or social prob­lem films.” The music first crept in dieget­i­cal­ly, in the 1940s, by way of “club scenes, illic­it jazz ses­sions, or on record play­ers and juke­box­es,” and lat­er, in the 50s, con­tin­ued its “estab­lished asso­ci­a­tion of sex and vio­lence” even as chang­ing atti­tudes “con­tributed to jazz being more accept­able in Hol­ly­wood films.”

A few years ago we fea­tured clas­sic works of “crime jazz” by Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Elling­ton and oth­ers, all meant to set the scene for the law­less worlds of films and tele­vi­sion shows like Anato­my of a Mur­der, Ele­va­tor to the Gal­lows, Peter Gunn, and The M Squad. The two playlists we have for you today take a wider view, col­lect­ing more than four hours of “jazz noir” on Spo­ti­fy (if you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware, you can down­load it here). It fea­tures tracks by Miles Davis, Chet Bak­er, Ben­ny Gol­son, Tom Waits and more. While lis­ten­ing — maybe with the lights dimmed, maybe with your pre­ferred high­ball in hand — you might con­sid­er brows­ing the r/jazznoir, an entire sub­red­dit ded­i­cat­ed to this “mys­te­ri­ous, melan­choly and men­ac­ing music by swingin’ sax men and sul­try sirens for hard­boiled hep­cats and leg­gy look­ers,” this “late-night lis­ten­ing for luck­less losers, and the sound­track to strolls under street lights on fog­gy nights.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Crime Jazz: How Miles Davis, Count Basie & Duke Elling­ton Cre­at­ed Sound­tracks for Noir Films & TV

60 Free Film Noir Movies

The 5 Essen­tial Rules of Film Noir

Roger Ebert Lists the 10 Essen­tial Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Noir Films

The Essen­tial Ele­ments of Film Noir Explained in One Grand Info­graph­ic

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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