My Top Three: Jazz and Baseball

My Top Three: Jazz and Baseball

 Baseball, A film by Ken Burns


Two great American traditions meet.

by Ron Nirenberg



According to NYU historian and librarian George A. Thompson, Jr., the first known use of the word "jazz" in print appeared in the pages of west coast sports sections. It was written by authors covering the spirited play of early minor league baseball players in the Pacific Coast League. One 1912 account in the Los Angeles Times tells of a Portland pitcher naming his unpredictable curveball "the Jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can't do anything with it."

During the busy fall season, it's appropriate to reflect on both of America's original art forms - jazz AND baseball - and how inextricably linked they really are. When historians talk about American culture, they invariably come back to our leisure activities - often, music and sports.

Controversy about the origin and rightful birthplaces of jazz and baseball is predictable, considering how popular and important they have been in the telling of America's tale. Indeed, they are both equally wonderful art forms enjoyed as spectator or player. But rather than quibble, let's celebrate. Here are my Top Three Baseball Films for Jazz Fans:


1. Eight Men Out (1988): This film depicts the grit and exuberance of a young, and perhaps, naïve, band of players caught up the Black Sox scandal that brought the baseball world to its knees in 1919. The on-field action is accompanied by traditional jazz sounds and rags of the era while the shady back-door drama captures the budding Chicago nightlife and music scene. The soundtrack includes two versions of the classic "After You've Gone" as well as original swinging works by composer Mason Daring.


2. A League of Their Own (1992): It gave us the line "There's no crying in baseball," but this movie stands up on its own as a unique period piece, examining the changing roles of women during World War II. Enter the All-American Girls Baseball League, which attempted briefly to fill parks emptied by major leaguers drafted into the war. The music runs the gamut from big band vocals from Manhattan Transfer to the Goodman/Hampton standard "Flying Home." It even features "In a Sentimental Mood," performed by the versatile Billy Joel.


3. Baseball (1994): This 25-hour epic by Ken Burns, the same documentarian who brought us "The Civil War" (1990) and "Jazz" (2001), cements the notion that one cannot avoid the importance of music in an examination of American culture. It is the only comprehensive film about America's pastime, and the look at the sport's multicultural ancestry tracks the birth of jazz through its scoring. If you are able to make it through the entirety of this masterpiece, you'll be treated to such gems as "Clubhouse Stomp," an old-fashioned rag called "If You Can't Make a Hit At the Ballgame, You Can't Make a Hit With Me" and Mabel Scott's "Baseball Boogie."



            Do you have a "top three jazz" you would like to share, be it three songs, three artists, three albums or three of something else jazzy? Send your short list to, attn. Top Three Jazz, with a brief introduction to your selection and a list of your top three with descriptions. Submissions should be no more than 400 words. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number. KRTU reserves the right to reprint, broadcast, edit, and use your submission along with your name.