Goodbye Porkpie Hat - A Playlist

Charles Mingus wrote Goodbye Porkpie Hat as a tribute to Lester Young, sax player and 'hep cat'


Aside from the charming history of the hat itself (Buster Keaton was the leading proponent) which you can read here….

… the Porkpie hat has risen above and beyond the sartorial realm to become a true icon of music history through the tune that Charles Mingus wrote in 1959 after the death of his friend, and legendary jazz sax player, Lester Young. “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” commemorates Lester, known for sporting an awesome Porkpie.  

Young rose to fame in the thirties playing with Count Basie, then moved on to accompany both Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole, work with Oscar Peterson, tour Europe with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, and ultimately influence Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker…

 (“In contrast to many of his hard-driving peers, Young played with a relaxed, cool tone. His harmonies were sophisticated and his free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs, pleased dancers and listeners alike. Famous for his hip, introverted style, he invented or popularized much of the hipster jargon which came to be associated with the music.” Wikipedia)

Goodbye Porkpie Hat has gone on to become one of the most covered and beloved jazz tunes in the last 60 years.  So many stellar performers have made the tune their own; Joni Mitchell (who wrote moving, politicized lyrics for it,) Jeff Beck whose psychedelic rendition bends the Porkpie into a whole new shape, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (who also wrote his own lyrics,) folk guitarist Bert Jansch, an art house version by Dutch sax quartet Saxkartel, a very cool solo bass version by Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke’s eighties version, a space, synthy anthem with Wayne Shorter, a ska version by Italian outlier Mr. T-bone, and a very suave version by Marcus Miller… There must be upwards of 50 versions of the tune out there. We wind up the playlist with a 2001 version from the Essential Mingus Big Band (a project of his wife Sue Mingus.) Seamus Blake plays Tenor Sax in this version, and to my mind this is one of the all time sexiest performances ever.

Beyond the fact that the tune has deep and complicated melodic appeal, it has added significance to musicians as an homage by one musician to another. There is great tenderness, yearning and sadness woven through every bar…

So here’s a list I’ve compiled. Some are my favorites, others are included because they’re reprised by unusual groups. And of course we start off with a tune from Lester Young.

Once again, a note on why you should become an rdio member! We spent a lot of time considering the various streaming services and liked rdio's interface the best. They have a free model and a $5 a month model. Cheap by any standards. 

Rdio just changed their 'widget' so here's how it works. Above and to your right you'll see a square of album covers and a PLAY button. Hit PLAY and you'll get 30 second samples and can then pop over to rdio to sign up. This is the only way to see the whole playlist... But I'm telling you, it's so worth it because ~

Once a user of rdio, in the future you can play our playlists as you browse through Realize! You'll need to command click (or whatever you do on PC's) to open a new Realize window, leaving this playlist page open so the playlist continues to play. What a world we live in:)!

(As a BONUS, a YouTube video of a performance of Porkpie Hat by guitar god John McLaughlin (who for some reason won't put anything on rdio) and the very hot, very avant-garde bassist Jonas Hellborg.)