BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Harlem Nocturne”

I’ve always wanted to play saxophone. I’d heard it in jazz, blues, and rock, three kinds of music that I really liked, and thought that, of all the wind instruments, it would be the easiest and would blend well with other instruments. The big question for me was, what kind would be the best? They come in soprano, alto, tenor and baritone (there are many more, but those are the most common), but for most kinds of music, alto and tenor were probably the most flexible. A lot of the jazz players I heard, like Bud Shank, Phil Woods, and Paul Desmond, played alto, while the rock and blues players, like Eddie Shaw, A. C. Reed, and King Curtis, preferred the tenor. Fred Lipsius of Blood Sweat & Tears played the alto, while Walt Parazaider from Chicago primarily played tenor.

Anyway, that was part of the reason I never ended up picking either. I still love the sound, though, which is part of the reason I decided to run this Battle. The song is "Harlem Nocturne," written by Earle Hagen, who has written some pretty famous TV themes, including those for The Andy Griffith Show and Mod Squad. I’ve chosen versions played on the alto and the tenor. Give them both a listen.

Bud Shank: Bud played the version used as the theme song for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

Illinois Jacquet: Jacquet is best known for the solo on "Flying Home," generally regarded as the first R&B solo.

Those are the contestants. Here are your instructions:

  1. Listen to the two songs.
  2. Decide which song you like the best.
  3. Vote for your favorite by leaving me a comment with your choice. If you feel like telling us why, feel free.
  4. Then, visit the other participants and vote in their Battles:

I’ll count the votes and announce the winner next Tuesday, June 22, so be sure and get me your choice by then.

The lines are now open. Good luck to Bud and Illinois!

8 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Harlem Nocturne”

  1. Wow! This is a great battle, John! Both are excellent and for me, it is a matter of liking one over the other. I am going with Illinois Jacquet because it has more soul to it, IMO,

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    1. The sax is one I either love or dislike depending on the song. These are played with the plug thing in the opening of the sax right?? Anyway, I am going for Bud Shank because it has more get up and go. The second one made me sleepy. I loved this show when it first came on.

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  2. My immediate reaction was to vote for Bud Shank because I already know the Mike Hammer theme and I absolutely loved the show, Stacy Keach was great in the role. But the Illinois Jacquet version (completely new to me) oozes like melting butter from the saxaphone in a really deep and meaningful way… Can it be a draw for me, I think I like both versions differently but equally? :-)



    Fantastic tune and terrific playing — what’s not to love?

    I wanted to play saxophone in my elementary school band. But when I learned that sax wasn’t an option, I went with the stand-up bass, which was bigger’n I was, and which I dropped in the middle of a song while standing on a riser during a school concert. It is NO coincidence that the word ASS can be found in the word bass! I was a badass bass player (emphasis on “bad”… and “ass”).

    I love ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and even used it twice in BOTB contests.


    Although the saxophone (especially the tenor) is my second favorite musical instrument of all time — preceded only by the Hammond B-3 organ, and immediately followed by the guitar — I think Danny Gatton’s mind-melting, guitar-driven studio version of ‘Harlem Nocturne’ is the ultimate and definitive example of not only ‘Harlem Nocturne’ but also of electric guitar playing, period. Yup!

    In this excellent Battle (I listened to BOTH recordings TWICE EACH!!) I was all prepared to vote for Illinois Jacquet, and NOT because you are from Illinois, but because… well, it’s soprano vs. tenor and I’m a tenor kinda guy. BUT(!) the second time I listened to the recordings, that whole Big Band arrangement of Bud Shank’s rendition really hit home. Yeah, I wish Bud played the tenor, but the OVERALL sound of his recording appealed to me the most — even though I think I.J.’s version was also excellent!

    I might have to check out those Stacy Keach ‘Mike Hammer’ movies. I’m a fan of Film Noir, and even Neo-Noir. (I’ll NEVER forget Stacy Keach as “Bad Bob” in ‘The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean’ — one of my very favorite movies!)

    ~ D-FensDogG

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  4. My parents used to have an album of stripper music that had a very raunchy version of this song with lots of slutty saxes and percussion to accent the bumps and grinds. I loved that record!

    Your first pick was kind of in the same spirit as the records my parents had except this version has slicker sound, bigger orchestration. I prefer the raunchier sound I think, but the orchestration is nice.

    The second version is my pick. It’s like aural narcotics. The performance really brought me to a different place. Gotta vote for that!

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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