11 Jazz And Blues Baseball Anthems For Ann Arbor & Detroit

Jul 16, 2015

As WEMU gets ready for this Wednesday’s trip to Comerica Park to see the Tigers take on the Seattle Mariners, I drew up a baseball-themed playlist to get you fired up.  If you do a google search for baseball tunes, you’ll find many that are on this list.  However, enlisting the advice of fellow jazz programmers around the nation for their suggestions yielded many more creative ideas.  Adding pieces with a definite WEMU-Ann Arbor, and Detroit connection gives this list an ultra-special distinction.  I picked one song per inning as well as the seventh-inning stretch and tossed in one more in case our game requires an extra inning for a total of 11 favorites.  

The playlist for 89.1 Jazz on July 17th will include these songs and many others.  I hope you can join me on the 17th and on the 22nd at Comerica Park.  Let’s play some music and let’s play ball!

 1. Dr. John  "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

This is the first in our selections taken from the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.  It’s a marvelous version of the classic American tune evoking hot funky, fun in the summertime with a New Orleans street beat.

2. Sister Wynona Carr  "Life Is A Ballgame"

Most recently included in the soundtrack to “42” the Jackie Robinson bio-pic, this was gospel shouter Sister Wynona Carr’s greatest triumph.  She recorded this in 1952 for Specialty Records.  There have been many covers of the tune, most notably by The Persuasions, but for enthusiastic feeling and great instrumental arrangements, the original has to be on our list.

 3. The Count Basie Orchestra  "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball?"

No collection of baseball tunes is complete without this gem celebrating Jackie Robinson’s entry in to the major league in 1947.  Buddy Johnson wrote and first recorded the tune in 1949, but it’s this version by The Count Basie Band that is most beloved.

4. Les Brown And His Orchestra  "Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio"

Despite the busy male choral background vocals, vocalist Betty Bonney pours her heart in to this ode for New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.  This novelty ditty was recorded by Les Brown and his Orchestra in 1941. 


5. Dave Frishberg  "Van Lingle Mungo"

As a counterpoint to the tunes about well-known baseball heroes, we have to include Dave Frishberg’s ode to the ball-player names he read in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch in his youth.  Even if you never saw any of these players in action, you’ll develop an affection for them after appreciating Frishberg’s incredible gift of rhyme. 

6. Frank Sinatra  "There Used To Be A Ballpark"

Continuing the nostalgia theme, this is Frank Sinatra’s 1973 elegy to Ebbets Field, The Brooklyn Dodgers and the experience of America’s national pastime.  Sinatra’s associate, pianist Joe Raposo authored the song originally for The Polo Grounds, early home of the New York Giants.  Whatever field referenced, it became an instant favorite of New Yorkers, helping to sell many copies of Sinatra’s comeback LP Old Blue Eyes Is Back.

7. Little Milton  "I Feel So Bad" (Like A Ballgame On A Rainy Day)

Always a WEMU favorite, blues and R&B shouter Little Milton’s cover of Earl Hooker’s I Feel So Bad (Like A Ballgame On A Rainy Day) simply has to be on the list.  The only mention of the game is in the title line, but the tune’s drive and groove makes it a perfect pick. 

8. Jeff Hamilton Quintet With Mark Murphy  "Split Season Blues"This may be the rarest song on our list.  It is from drummer Jeff Hamilton’s 1982 album Indiana for Concord Records.  He lamented the ill-fated 1981 split baseball season still bemoaned by long-time fans.  Hamilton’s lyrics are poignant, funny and well-interpreted by Mark Murphy who received a crash-course in baseball lingo to pull it off with grace and swing.

9. Paul Keller  "The House By The Side Of The Road"This delightful melody is not about the Detroit Tigers but their legendary radio announcer, Ernie Harwell.  Like many Michiganders bassist and composer Paul Keller grew up listening to Ernie Harwell weave tales about Detroit Tiger baseball peppered with signature phrases such as this one taken from the Samuel Walter Foss poem.  

10. Vince Guaraldi  "Baseball Theme"A jazz playlist about baseball would be incomplete without Vince Guaraldi’s Baseball Theme.  This little ditty premiered in 1964 on the soundtrack to the television special A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  It’s also a great case of serendipity:  Vince Guaraldi was born July 17th, 1928. 

11.  Mr. B "White Sox"

Ann Arbor hero Mr. B is identified with bicycling these days, but his athletic exploits over the years have included long-distance swimming and playing baseball.  With White Sox he brings his love of boogie-woogie piano and baseball together.  It is a tribute to Jimmy Yancey, the great Chicago blues pianist whose day job was as a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park.