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Take Five: A Jazz Sampler

5 Donny Hathaway Covers By Jazz Musicians

Donny Hathaway remains widely admired in jazz, but much of his repertoire has yet to be tapped by improvisers. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Donny Hathaway remains widely admired in jazz, but much of his repertoire has yet to be tapped by improvisers.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Donny Hathaway's repertoire occupies a peculiar space in jazz. Though not a jazz artist, he has influenced a variety of jazz musicians through his work as a singer, keyboardist and composer. Still, jazz musicians have only skimmed the surface of his small but remarkable catalog.

During his run in the 1970s, Hathaway would see only five LPs released under his name. Bouts of mental illness sidelined his productivity, which came to an unexpected end in January 1979, when he leaped to his death out a window of a New York City hotel.

Rhino Records' new four-disc anthology, Never My Love, captures and confirms Hathaway's enduring legacy, particularly in the realms of R&B and jazz. It contains all the famous classics, as well as previously unreleased material (both studio and live) and one disc dedicated entirely to his timeless duets with Roberta Flack. These selections reflect some of the Hathaway treasures most frequently covered by jazz artists.

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5 Donny Hathaway Covers By Jazz Musicians

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04Someday We'll All Be Free

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    Song
    Someday We'll All Be Free
    Album
    African Exchange Student
    Artist
    Kenny Garrett
    Label
    Atlantic
    Released
    1990

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Kenny Garrett

  • Song: Someday We'll All Be Free
  • from African Exchange Student

This song ranks up there with Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" and Dr. Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," with Hathaway capturing a melancholic optimism that speaks to the oppressed. Even though the song has been adopted as an anthem for social equality, Edward Howard wrote the lyric to address Hathaway's personal struggles with depression. In this alluring makeover, Kenny Garrett gives the lamenting melody a biting urgency through his piquant alto sax, draped in a gorgeous arrangement with African percussion, gentle piano and pulsating bass.

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Song
African Exchange Student
Album
African Exchange Student
Artist
Kenny Garrett
Label
Atlantic
Released
1990

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Absolute Benson cover

01The Ghetto

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    Song
    The Ghetto
    Album
    Absolute Benson
    Artist
    George Benson
    Label
    GRP Records
    Released
    2000

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George Benson

  • Song: The Ghetto
  • from Absolute Benson

One of Hathaway's grooviest message songs, "The Ghetto/El Barrio" exemplifies that fertile 1970s period when R&B and Latin soul were inextricably linked. Given that George Benson's singing sounded similar to Hathaway's, it comes as no surprise that he uses this song as a vehicle for both his expressive baritone and sizzling jazz-guitar chops. Teaming up with house producers Masters at Work (Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Louie Vega) makes it all the hotter in the burning "El Barrio."

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Song
Absolute Benson
Album
Absolute Benson
Artist
George Benson
Label
GRP Records
Released
2000

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cover for Harry for the Holidays

14This Christmas

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    Song
    This Christmas
    Album
    Harry for the Holidays
    Artist
    Harry Connick Jr.
    Label
    Columbia
    Released
    1969

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Harry Connick Jr.

  • Song: This Christmas
  • from Harry for the Holidays

A staple on urban radio during the holiday season, this is one of the rare Christmas songs that you can probably get away with playing two months before December, thanks to the catchy melody and funky arrangement. Hathaway himself offers two equally moving versions: a snappy up-tempo one and a smoldering ballad. Harry Connick Jr.'s wonderful remake leans more toward the ballad tempo, nestling his gravelly baritone inside a magnificent orchestral arrangement that recalls the work of bassist and composer Bill Lee.

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Song
Harry for the Holidays
Album
Harry for the Holidays
Artist
Harry Connick Jr.
Label
Columbia

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Old Devil Moon cover

Flying Easy

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Carmen Lundy

  • Song: Flying Easy
  • from Old Devil Moon

It's a bummer that this song was omitted from Never My Love -- it's an effervescent gem, with Hathaway sounding his most carefree atop a sunny arrangement. (It is featured on Rhino's French-edition box set, Someday We'll All Be Free, which came out in 2010.) Here, Carmen Lundy articulates the breezy words and melody through her rich alto, set against a sinuous Latin jazz arrangement.

Hear this song on Carmen Lundy's Soundcloud page.

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Song
Old Devil Moon
Album
Old Devil Moon
Artist
Carmen Lundy
Label
JVC Compact Discs
Released
1997

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Everything Is Everything cover

04Love, Love, Love

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    Song
    Love, Love, Love
    Album
    Everything Is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway
    Artist
    Kirk Whalum
    Label
    Rendezvous Entertainment
    Released
    2010

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Kirk Whalum

  • Song: Love, Love, Love
  • from Everything Is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway

This ballad is cut from the same cloth as Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? with its hypnotic conga riffs, funky backbeat, symphonic arrangement and soaring vocals that blend solemnity with sensuality. Tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum keeps the original intact with a sweeping arrangement that shines a new light on his raspy tone and economical phrasing; it also provides a fine vehicle for trumpeter Rick Braun.

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Song
Everything Is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway
Album
Everything Is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway
Artist
Kirk Whalum
Label
Rendezvous Entertainment
Released
2010

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