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Creepy Jazz Music

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For added atmosphere, play the music from this video while reading on.

In modern times, Jazz is typically known for being fun and catchy or artsy and highbrow. In fiction, jazz soundtracks, often slowed down or played in a minor key, can add an air of creepiness that often comes through association with a villain.

Like Rotten Rock & Roll and Freaky Electronic Music, Jazz music is (or at least, used to be) rebellious in nature. One of the many genres that adopted the title of "Devil's Music", Jazz was considered counter-culture at its height. Paranoid parents and the critical establishment disparaged it as "evil" and "vulgar", perhaps due to its initial popularity among African-Americans and its association with gangsters and drug use. Those Wacky Nazis considered Jazz to be "Negermusik" (negro music) tainted by Jewish influence and labelled it as "degenerate" and prohibited it. Non-traditional musical elements such as syncopation, dissonance, and unusual time signatures and chord progressions can make Jazz seem chaotic (many detractors described as "just noise") and thus menacing.

In fiction, jazz can be used to characterize the Deep South in its more ethnic areas, be it in the swinging streets of New Orleans or other hot spots. When played for creepiness, it may be heard in Southern Gothic and City Noir settings.

Some possible Trope Codifiers are old black-and-white cartoons from the early days of The Golden Age of Animation. Cartoons like these often paired catchy jazz music with Disney Acid Sequences, Rotoscoping (which, to some people, falls into the Unintentional Uncanny Valley), and other types of Deranged Animation.

It's often associated with The Gambler types and other Wicked Cultured villains.

May overlap with Sexophone for intimate effect. Compare Creepy Circus Music, which may have a similar, "broken down" mood. Contrast Sinister Tango Music.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!'s anime adaptation gets in on the action whenever the Rail Tracer makes an appearance by using dissonant, frenetic solo jazz piano parts. This is by no means its only use of it, however.
  • Cowboy Bebop has a few moments, courtesy of a jazz-infused Genre Roulette soundtrack.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Star Trek: Enterprise features a Mental Fusion flashback to T'Pol's experience in a human jazz club. As the scene takes a hard turn into full-on Mind Rape, the background jazz music grows wilder and more chaotic.
  • Twin Peaks:
    • Jazz music (of the cool, down-tempo variety, main leitmotif here) is always the soundtrack for scenes in the Black Lodge, a place in Another Dimension inhabited by creatures who eat pain and suffering (including the Big Bad of the series). Jazz singer Jimmy Scott also seems to live there. The final episode of the original series features an extended scene that is just him singing a jazzy ballad, but is absolutely unnerving.
    • Zig-zagged with "Audrey's Dance", another jazz motif that is used just as often when characters are doing underhanded, secretive things as in comedic scenarios, or often both. However, the reversed version from The Return plays it straight, sounding far more unnerving and coming right after The Reveal that Audrey is trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine.

  • The song "Strange Fruit", first performed by Billie Holiday. It's a song about a lynching, set to a minor-key, dirge-like arrangement.
  • Some of Cab Calloway's songs are somewhat haunting, such as "Minnie the Moocher". Especially notable when paired with the Deranged Animation of the Betty Boop cartoons he appeared in.
  • Part of Can's Genre-Busting reputation came from Jaki Liebezeit, who prior to Can, used to play in a forerunning European free jazz band. He brought his influence to the band and provided a frenetic, primal sound for the rest of the band to improvise (and, by extension, create nightmares) on top of.
  • The Cherry Poppin' Daddies (of Zoot Suit Riot fame) have "Drunk Daddy" and "Master and Slave," both of which are swingin', upbeat song about a drunken, abusive stepfather.
  • Kevin Macleod has written a few songs in this style, such as The Show Must Be Go and Deadly Roulette.
  • Marc Jungermann occasionally does music in this style, though his style is eclectic and often blends in elements of other genres:
  • Radiohead's "Life in a Glasshouse" is a minor-key, New Orleans-style dirge about the suffocating nature of celebrity, with Thom Yorke singing about constant prying eyes and restrictive expectations against a backdrop of wailing trumpets and clarinets.
  • The Squirrel Nut Zippers are a swing revival band in the vein of Cab Calloway, among others. Two songs they released that fit this trope are "Hell," and "The Ghost of Stephen Foster." The latter's music video is even a Fleischer Brothers tribute!
  • Tom Waits is an interesting case: he started off as a straight-up jazz crooner/pianist who just happened to have a husky voice. Then, in the early eighties, he married Kathleen Brennan, who introduced him to Beefheart. Once he heard that, he decided to adapt those musical ideas to his existing sound, leading to such classics as "Dave the Butcher," "The Earth Died Screaming," and "Misery's the River of the World," among others. However, some of his creepiest songs, like "What's He Building in There?," "Hell Broke Luce," and "Underground" eschew the jazz elements entirely.
  • Genre-Busting iconoclast Frank Zappa gives us King Kong, the six-part B-Side from Uncle Meat. The first half or so is relatively normal as far as jazz songs go, but once Part III kicks in, it starts becoming much more chaotic and dissonant, culminating with the second half of Part VI.
  • John Zorn, being one to jump from style to style at a breakneck pace, is no stranger to this one. His work with Naked City is probably the best example of this.
  • The entire genre of Free Jazz, which eschews key signatures, meters, and chord progressions, can come off as this to some due to how cacophonous it sounds.
  • Voltaire has some jazz pieces, often with disturbing or creepy themes, like "BRAINS!" and "Don't Go By the River."
  • Most of the music produced by The Caretaker consists of samples of pre-WWII-era jazz recordings that are distorted as if they were being played through a defective record player.
  • "Piano" by Blur, a previously unreleased Think Tank-era instrumental featuring a sleazy, jazz-like sound alongside heavily distorted drums, eerie ticking, and other strange electronic noises.
  • Done to great effect across the vaporwave genre, which frequently distorts samples of Muzak and smooth jazz to an effect that's reminiscent of watching an old VHS tape, listening to an old cassette tape, or listening to music on a tinny department store speaker. Except it's really, really eerie at times.
    • Played to great effect on the album News at 11 by vaporwave artist 猫 シ Corp., which intersperses distorted smooth jazz with soundbites from news shows right before the attacks on the morning of 9/11, and distorted soundbites from The Weather Channel's old "local forecast" segment.
  • The subgenre Dark jazz, including bands such as Bohren & der Club of Gore.
  • Miles Davis was known as the king of laidback "cool jazz" (as opposed to the more upbeat "hot jazz" of the big bands), and a few of his pieces end up in a subtly eerie place. "Generique" is a good example, a haunting and moody track with an air of vague menace. It would go great in a Film Noir.
  • MILGRAM: Kazui Mukuhara's second song, "Cat", is a jazz song in a minor key about how he lied to his wife about loving her for their whole marriage. The music video ends with him gaining cat-like features and eating a live bird in front of his wife before she falls backward and disintegrates, and that's when the music is most frantic.

  • In Me and My Dick, the somewhat criminal Lost Dicks perform the jazzy "Land of the Dicks" number, helping convey the Land of the Dicks' status as a bizarre Acid-Trip Dimension City Noir.
  • Aaron Burr's Villain Song "The Room Where It Happens" in Hamilton is an upbeat yet creepy song in which he finally decides to take control of his life instead of waiting to see what happens. It's rather jazzy and heavily features a southern banjo.
    • Averted by "What'd I Miss?", the Act II opening sung by Act II villain Thomas Jefferson. It's actually quite upbeat and happy (and yes, jazzy), and is just about Thomas Jefferson returning to America after the revolution to see what's changed. Like most examples of the trope, jazz is used to cement that Jefferson is from the South and old-fashioned (most of the musical is rapped, so Jefferson, who's been gone for 5 years, hasn't realized that the "music of the people" (especially the people of color) has changed from jazz to rap). It's not until Madison appears at the end of the song that less-historically-inclined viewers would even realize that Jefferson is meant to oppose Hamilton, not help him.
  • The action of A Streetcar Named Desire is set around the corner from a jazz club, so throughout the play, distant jazz can be heard. What brings it into this trope is that the stage directions specify the jazz is at its loudest during scenes when Stanley, the play's villain, is at his most threatening, making it a kind of diegetic leitmotif for his rages.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Vinny of Vinesauce came across an unintentional example during his stream of OpenAI Jukebox, a neural net program that generates new music after being trained on samples of famous musicians (around 24:12 of that video, and here for the original Jukebox file). It was a "new song" from Louis Armstrong that featured incredibly wild and chaotic instrumentation along with a loudly babbling and screaming crowd (which one comment on Vinny's video compared to a "demented mosh pit"), all while Satchmo himself is talking frantically and unintelligibly.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Trope Namer - Old North Wind

The trope namer, YES HE IS! Greg imagines the cold wind as a villain in his dream (with three cloud minions.)

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheOldNorthWind

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