8 songs for a classy, jazzy Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is a wonderful occasion. It’s a time for getting together with family and friends and giving thanks for the blessings we enjoy, whatever those may be. It’s a time for Thanksgiving feasts, pumpkin carving, nature walks, football and all sorts of other family traditions. No matter what happens on your holiday, what’s most important is spending quality time with the people you love.

I don’t eat turkey, but I certainly am thankful and I love Thanksgiving. I celebrate with whiskey, pumpkin pie and, of course, some great music. Here are a few selections that are always on my playlist at this time of the year — and that you should add to yours, too.


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John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman – Autumn Serenade

Johnny Hartman has a unique and, dare I say, perfect voice. There is nothing I’d rather be listening to on Thanksgiving or any other day.


Bill McBirnie – Stuffy Turkey

Of course, I immediately think of this Thelonious Monk tune during Thanksgiving, despite the fact that I haven’t eaten any birds since 1993. My favourite version is from Bill McBirnie’s album Mercy, featuring Robi Botos on piano.


Charlie Parker – Carvin’ the Bird

Although there is incredible playing on this song, the scratchy recording doesn’t always work for everyone. If you find a copy of P as in Parker (Vol. 4), there’s a 2014 remastered version that is nicely cleaned up. But if you think old vinyl crackles like a warm fire, you can find the original on several Bird collections.


Lou Donaldson – Gravy Train

The title track of this Blue Note recording from 1962 is laid back and groovy. It’s perfect for welcoming guests to dinner.


Oscar Peterson Trio – Gravy Waltz

Peterson originally recorded this instrumentally, but if you want to hear it with lyrics, try this version from Bill Henderson with Oscar and his trio. I love both versions.


George Benson – Giblet Gravy

This was recorded in 1968. It captures the funky, jazzy George Benson of his early years, before his later fame with This Masquerade and other pop hits. Giblet Gravy almost has the same feel as Ray Charles’s version of One Mint Julep.


Cal Tjader – Soul Sauce

I’m not really sure what soul sauce would actually taste like, but I do know that I’ve got many versions of this song and I love them all. This is a classic vibe tune that’s guaranteed to get everyone dancing in the kitchen before dinner.


Shirley Horn – Here’s to Life

After dinner, you may want to raise a glass to the loved ones who couldn’t be with you. This song nails it. You might also want to keep a handkerchief nearby.