Fall is such a magical time of year. From the perfect sweater weather to the leaves crunching under your boots to the pumpkin motifs and foods, there’s so much to marvel at during the fall season. For me, one of the big reasons I love fall so much is because of Halloween. I love the spooky stuff, and I know I’m not alone. However, I also know not everyone is into scary stuff like skeletons and masked killers, and that tends to go along with the Halloween season. If that applies to you, don’t worry! Because the playlist I’ve put together for you is not too spooky, but it’s just spooky enough to get you in the Halloween spirit.
If you’re a longtime reader of our blogs, you’ll know I have put together a lot of different spooky playlists. But would you believe I never made a jazz-focused one? I knew that needed to change, so here are 12 vintage jazz tracks that are perfect for Halloween.
“Headless Horseman” - Bing Crosby
This is a song beloved by many because of its feature in the 1949 movie Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I initially was going to include the version by Kay Starr but this one has more of a haunting tone. If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll get a little boost of nostalgia from the video I found below.
“Spooks” - Louis Armstrong, Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra
Louis Armstrong has the perfect singing voice for a song about ghosts, or “spooks” as he calls them. From the eerie sound effects in the beginning to the lyrics urging listeners to beware of them spooks, this song is a must have on a jazzy Halloween playlist. I found the perfect video to share too because someone edited the song over some old-school Mickey Mouse content. Check it out below.
“Jeepers Creepers” - Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra
While there are dozens of different versions of this song because it’s a jazz standard, I have always liked Paul Whiteman’s version best because it’s the one used in the horror film Jeeper Creepers. Whiteman captures the right kind of eerie that gives people pause on whether it’s actually a romantic song like it’s advertised. It’s those lyrics and those backup vocals. They just feel off which is perfect for spooky season.
“The Ghost of Smokey Joe” - Cab Calloway
Ghosts? Check. Creepy vibes? Check. Cab Calloway liked to create lore around his various songs, and this song features the characters Smokey Joe and Minnie the Moocher. Smokey Joe was considered a rich smooth-talking player who was also “a coke-addled hustler who introduced the legendary Minnie the Moocher to Chinatown’s opium dens, leading to her eventual mental downfall” (Source). “The Ghost of Smokey Joe” gets into what ‘ole Joe is up to in the afterlife which includes going through walls to scare people. Even in death, he’s considered a Harlem king, but after he’s had his fun, he returns to Hell. Check out the tune below.
“Sold My Soul to the Devil” - Casey Bill Weldon
We’re going more into blues territory with this pick, but I couldn’t not include this song. What’s spookier than the idea of someone selling their soul to the Devil? And there’s just something so unsettling about this performance. Listen for yourself to see what I mean.
“I Put a Spell on You” - Nina Simone
This song has stood the test of time over and over. Written in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, there have been dozens of versions since then. The one I selected for this list comes from Nina Simone. Her version came out in 1965, and it’s one of my favorite iterations (I’m also partial to the version sung in the Disney classic Hocus Pocus). The way Simone sings the song is just so witchy and perfect.
“Strange Enchantment” - Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra
You will encounter a “strange enchantment” when you listen to this song. Get ready to feel bewitched. I love that it can get that feeling across with instruments only in the first minute of the song. And that intro is reminiscent of a film noir opening, which I love. Then by the time Judy Ellington’s vocals kick in, you’re already spellbound. Give it a listen.
“Night Creature (Second Movement) - Stalking Monster” - Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
This song starts out with some eerie low notes that really set the tone for the entire piece. It’s creeping and spooky and continues to build the further you get into the song. This song comes from a three-movement concerto-grosso intended to have a jazz band operate as a collective soloist. Duke Ellington describes this second movement as an “imaginary monster we all fear we shall have to meet some midnight, but when we meet him, I’m sure we shall find that he too does the boogie-woogie” (Source). That is such a fun idea for a song and fits perfectly into a Halloween playlist.
“Voodoo” - Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
A lot of songs from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins fit well into a jazzy Halloween playlist. You saw him referenced above in the “I Put a Spell on You” backstory. Even though I didn’t include Hawkins’ original version of that song, I wanted to highlight “Voodoo” because it’s so fun and gives off impeccable spooky vibes. From the screams to the creeping chorus, this is a must to play around Halloween.
“Jump in the Line” - Harry Belafonte
This might seem like an odd choice to select for Halloween but hear me out. This song almost always shows up on a Halloween playlist I create because it’s used in the final scene of the 1988 movie Beetlejuice. With its spooky aesthetic, it always feels like a Halloween movie to me. Plus, Harry Belafonte is awesome, so do I really need to justify why I’d want a song of his on the playlist? 😀
“Strange Fruit” - Billie Holiday
This song may not be about ghosts or haunted houses, but it fits here because of the real-life horrors it portrays. The scariest thing about this song is that it was inspired by the horrifying real events of lynching. Beyond the subject matter, the way Billie Holiday sings this song, it has such a beautiful haunting vibe that I can envision playing on a foggy fall evening.
“The Great Pumpkin Waltz” - Vince Guaraldi
This final song comes from the amazing jazz pianist behind your favorite songs from Peanuts productions. The Great Pumpkin Waltz comes from the iconic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Pull out your pumpkins and get carving to this fall track.
These are 12 jazz songs that I think will be perfect to play during spooky season. I hope you add at least one to your own playlist. Or if you like this specific playlist I curated, you can listen to it on Spotify here.
I hope you enjoy this spooky season! Tell me your favorite jazzy Halloween song in the comments!
Written Kristen Petronio