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Creepy Jazz Music

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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. 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.

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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 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 when Evil Is Sexy. Compare Creepy Circus Music, which may have a similar, "broken down" mood. Contrast Sinister Tango Music.


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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano! 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.
    • Throughout Sympathy for the Devil, a Creepy Child, Wen, is seen playing old blues-style harmonica.
    • Mad Pierrot is a notable inversion: his theme is creepy because it's a minimalist, borderline Progressive Rock song in a soundtrack practically dominated by the aforementioned jazz-infused Genre Roulette.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Cult film Forbidden Zone, best known for being Danny Elfman's first composing role, has two big moments, both Shout Outs to the Fleischer examples (see Western Animation folder).
    • The first is "Behind Them Doors (Some of These Days) an aggressive number when Frenchy and Hercules' apparently Norwegian father warns them not to go through the doors that lead to the titular Zone (for bonus points, he lip-syncs to a Calloway song partway through), that also establishes how bonkers the Zone is by way of a brief stop-motion transition.
    • The second is later in the film, after Frenchy gets kidnapped by the Sixth Dimension's rulers, Squeezit goes down to rescue them, and is greeted (well, kidnapped) by Satan performing a lyrically-modified and key-changed version of Minnie the Moocher named "Squeezit the Moocher".
  • In The Jungle Book (2016), King Louie's jazzy song "I Wanna Be Like You" from the original movie makes a return. However, as Louie goes through Adaptational Villainy, the song has new lyrics that are more villainous in nature. Despite this, the music itself is still very upbeat.
  • Harlan Maguire's introduction in Road to Perdition shows him photographing a bloody crime scene and quietly finishing off one victim who was still barely alive. The scene is scored with this very creepy little Dixieland-flavored number.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Twin Peaks:
    • Jazz music (of the cool, downtempo variety, main leifmotif 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 features an extended scene that is just him singing a jazzy ballad, but it 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.

    Music 
  • 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.
  • King Crimson, despite not usually being classified as a jazz band, have recorded songs in this style, especially "21st Century Schizoid Man", and "One More Red Nightmare".
  • Youtuber Marc Jungermann wrote a song called Ghost Ball with elements of this trope, most notably in the ominous upright bass sound heard throughout most of the song.
  • 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 like "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 kick 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.

    Theater 
  • 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 PoC) 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 opppose Hamilton, not help him.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Homestar Runner toon "DNA Evidence" features a slow, jazzy baseline during "suspenseful" moments. The toon is overall a pastiche of Film Noir/detective shows, and even features an homage to Twin Peaks.

    Western Animation 
  • ChalkZone: The recurring villain Skrawl has a short jazz tune as his Villain Song. The song also doubles as a leitmotif for him, as he sings the tune in all of his appearances, but with different lyrics each time.
  • Face Like a Frog's soundtrack was done by Oingo Boingo, and it adds to the surreal imagery throughout the short. The music is especially jazzy in the number "Don't Go in the Basement", which is sung by a creepy lizard-like creature who seems to be wearing a suit.
  • Some shorts in The Golden Age of Animation, particularly those by Fleischer Studios, may have been Trope Codifiers:
    • The three Betty Boop shorts that famed jazz singer Cab Calloway performed in all feature some creepy jazz songs:
      • In Minnie the Moocher, Betty and Bimbo run away from home and eventually meet a ghost Wily Walrus who sings the old jazz song that the short is titled after, in order to scare them into going home.
      • The Old Man of the Mountain opens with everyone in town panicking and running as jazz music plays. One townsperson, an owl, stops when Betty asks him what's wrong, and he explains through song that everyone is running from the titular Old Man. Betty goes up to the mountain to try and stop the Old Man, and when she finally meets him, he starts flirting with her through song, and eventually starts chasing her (and apparently trying to rape her!)
      • Snow White: When Snow White (Betty Boop) is killed by the witch, Calloway (as Koko the Clown) sings a haunting rendition of "Saint James Infirmary", while the witch transforms Koko into a weird ghost-like monster.
    • Swing, You Sinners! features a big jazz number where a bunch of ghosts torment Bimbo the dog after he tries to steal a chicken.
  • Over the Garden Wall:
    • "The Beast Song" is an ominous yet jazzy song sung by the tavern keeper to warn Wirt and Greg about the Beast. For bonus points, the tavern keeper is modelled after Betty Boop!
    • The highwayman's song is also based on songs from Betty Boop cartoons, and the highwayman even dances like Cab Calloway!
  • Silly Symphonies: In "The Goddess of Spring", Pluto (god of the underworld, not Mickey's dog) celebrates kidnapping Persephone by singing a jazzy Villain Song about how he'll make her "Queen of Hades". The song includes imagery such as a bunch of imps dancing around a pit of hellfire, and an imp gleefully playing an Ominous Pipe Organ.
  • A milder example than most appears in the instrumental version of Darkwing Duck which fits with the detective mystery theme and the Darker and Edgier angle of this cartoon.


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