Swing into spring: 12 classic jazz songs about the season of renewal

The season of spring has been a fruitful muse for some of the most influential songwriters in history.

It’s a time of year that’s rich with symbolism. Springtime means renewal, it means growth, it means rejuvenation and it means new life. It’s full of birds chirping, flowers blooming and the sun shining longer and brighter than it has in months. The beauty of music is a natural fit.

Here are 12 classic jazz tunes for your listening enjoyment this spring.

Ella Fitzgerald – Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

This popular song was written in 1955 by Fran Landesman with music by Tommy Wolf. For the lyric, Landesman was inspired by the first line of T. S. Eliot’s modernist poem The Waste Land: “April is the cruellest month.” Similarly juxtaposing the feeling of sadness against the joy of spring, she wrote Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, and her frequent collaborator Tommy Wolf swiftly set it to music. The pianist George Shearing heard them perform it at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis, and he took it to New York to have it recorded by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. From there, it became a jazz standard, with well-known recordings by Stan Getz, Carmen McRae and Betty Carter — and, of course, this one by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, from her 1961 album Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – You Must Believe in Spring

This song was written by Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy for the French film The Young Girls of Rochefort. Bill Evans recorded two different versions of the song: one with his trio featuring bassist Eddie Gómez and drummer Eliot Zigmund for a 1980 release of the same name, and another with Tony Bennett for their second collaboration, 1977’s Together Again.

Nina Simone – Another Spring

This song was written by John Clifford and Angelo Badalamenti, the latter of whom is best known for his film work with director David Lynch. Nina Simone recorded it for her 1969 album Nina Simone and Piano, which featured the vocalist all alone accompanying herself on the piano. It’s a sparse and solemn song about the cold wistfulness of winter — that is, until halfway through, when the mood picks up and Simone announces, “When it’s warm and the sun is out / It’s like my heart’s restored … I’m thankful for letting me see another spring.”

Django Reinhardt – Swingtime in Springtime

This upbeat, chipper tune first recorded in 1946 ought to lift your spirits and get you swinging to the music. The song is available on the album Souvenirs de Django Reinhardt, a 24-track compilation of three previously released volumes.

Brad Mehldau – It Might as Well Be Spring

Originally written for the 1945 film State Fair, this Oscar-winning song became a jazz standard and has gone on to be performed by a number of well-known names, including Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, Bill Evans, Peggy Lee, Karrin Allyson, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, and John Pizzarelli. Among the more modern recordings of the song is perhaps the most unusual: Brad Mehldau’s version on his 1995 album Introducing Brad Mehldau. His take runs at a speedy 280 beats per minute in septuple metre, giving a unique Mehldau twist to a classic song.

Miles Davis – I’ll Remember April

This is another jazz standard that’s been recorded by dozens and dozens of artists. Among them is the great Miles Davis, who included his quick-paced take on his 1956 album Blue Haze, flanked by pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath, drummer Kenny Clarke and a sweeping solo by alto saxman David Schildkraut. Blue Haze was in fact a 12″ reissue of the 1954 recording Miles Davis Quartet, with I’ll Remember April being the sole addition to the track listing.

Wynton Marsalis – Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

The prolific songwriter Frank Loesser wrote this ballad for the 1944 film noir Christmas Holiday. This version appeared on Wynton Marsalis’s 1998 disc Standard Time, Vol. 5: The Midnight Blues; it’s a wonderfully understated recording with lush strings and a swooning trumpet performance by Marsalis.

Freddie Hubbard – Up Jumped Spring

In 1967, Freddie Hubbard released the modern, soulful hard-bop record Backlash, which included this percussive, adventurous and harmonically rich original composition Up Jumped Spring. It was Hubbard’s first album for Atlantic after spending most of the previous part of that decade with Blue Note. Hubbard’s playing is superb, but it’s the flute of James Spaulding that really gives the tune its light and airy springtime vibe.

Clifford Brown – Joy Spring

This 1954 composition became Clifford Brown’s signature work. Named after Brown’s pet name for his wife, Joy Spring was first recorded with a quintet that included Harold Land on tenor, Richie Powell on piano, George Morrow on bass and Max Roach on drums. Six days later, Brown recorded an arrangement by Jack Montrose with a larger ensemble that featured Stu Williamson on trombone, Zoot Sims on tenor, Bob Gordon on baritone, Russ Freeman on piano, Joe Mondragon on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. That’s the take that made it onto several of Brown’s albums, including Clifford Brown & Max Roach in 1954, Jazz Messages in 1957, and Jazz Immortal in 1988.

Sarah Vaughan – Come Spring

This short, jaunty tune appeared on Sarah Vaughan’s 1964 album Sweet ‘n’ Sassy. Her voice is the perfect fit, as she smoothly and serenely pleads for the season to change: “Come spring / Come back the green and beautiful things.” The arrangement by Lalo Schifrin has an almost sneaky, mischievous feel, yet with Vaughan’s voice and the eternally pleasant material, it all comes together in the sound of springtime.

Blossom Dearie – They Say It’s Spring

The fourth track from Blossom Dearie’s second album, 1958’s Give Him the Ooh-La-La, is a soft and pleasant one that feels like breathing in the morning mist of a spring day. This love song revels in the idea that the only thing better than the fresh bloom of springtime is the whimsy of a budding romance.

Ella Fitzgerald – Spring is Here

The First Lady of Song could very well soundtrack your entire spring. Ella Fitzgerald has recorded many of the songs already on this list, so it’s no wonder she shows up a second time. Her version of this popular song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart has everything you’d want from a springtime tune, in particular a lush, lilting string section that gives it a magical feeling to go along with Fitzgerald’s enchanting voice.