Well, JazzBabies, the great wheel turns and here we are once more at Valentine’s Day. You know all about it – the cards, the flowers, the chocolate – especially the chocolate! – the happy hearts and the broken. The promises kept and the promises forgotten. The phone calls that make you want to dance and the ones that never come at all.
Love. And what’s it all about, Alfie?
Or as a roguish jazz musician friend once said, “The name of this song is ‘What is this thing called, love?’ ”
This week’s tunes are all about love. Fall in love, don’t fall in love, cherish the love you have and possibly regret the love you lost. The music will get us through either way.
The focus is on vocalists today, because when it comes to love, the words matter. If you love somebody, say so! Kurt Elling leads off with the lovely old “My Foolish Heart,” recorded live at the 2008 Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, proving once again that music – and perhaps especially jazz – speaks an international language. I like the look and sound of this one—musicians at work. Always a treat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7tRxHc5648
The misty Miss June Christy comes up next with another piece of the Valentine’s Day puzzle. Life goes along, all is well, and then Cupid flexes that bow and an arrow lands – ooh, maybe a little too close for comfort. But if you’re lucky, you live to tell the tale. And happily so. June Christy from her 1955 Something Cool album with Pete Rugolo masterfully minding the musicians on Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s, “It Could Happen to You.” It could, you know. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14eicTRGlB4
I can’t put this post together without at least a nod to the classic Valentine’s Day tune, but I was ready for something with a treatment not quite as sentimental or mournful or – uhm, blisteringly dramatic as it too often is. I first fell for this tune in a little jazz club in North Beach, San Francisco back in the day. The place was Ollie’s and Ollie played the tune. No vocal this time, none needed. This Rodgers and Hart classic is from the 1969 Bootleg Series Bill Evans recorded in Holland with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. “My Funny Valentine.” You knew that, but with an Evans change-up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nmBKkOA5Yg
Love comes and loves sometimes goes, but the memories linger on. This next tune was written back in the 1930s by a couple of English fellows, Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey as part of a collection of “Mayfair songs” for vocalist Joan Carr whose revue was broadcast over BBC. Maschwitz used a pen name, Holt Marvell (cool name). Poet Philip Larkin said Billie Holiday’s recording of the song was sheer poetry but I have it here by four American fellows from their Love Songs album…the ever youthful college chaps and jazz vocalists, The Four Freshman. When love is over, it’s always “These Foolish Things” that you remember. I like the lyrics and especially the terrific rhyme – “apartment” and “heart meant.” Why, Lorenz Hart or Cole Porter might have written that one. Or even Philip Larkin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SI-vyBfzHk
Somebody once wrote a hopeful line to hang onto if the worst happens and love goes: “Love never dies.” I’ve had my experience with this and more than likely, you have, too. It’s not the experience we wanted, but there’s value in the experience we got. And this Gershwin song says it better than any other I know. I used it in my novel as the running theme for two people who wanted more than anything to be together in a world that kept them apart. Susannah McCorkle, who struggled in her own life, does a beautiful take on this one from her 1997 Someone to Watch over Me: Songs of Gershwin album, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Get out your handkerchiefs…That’s the fine Howard Alden on guitar.
Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag no matter how it turns out. Disappointments of one kind or another are among the hazards of falling in love, but giving up on love just isn’t an option. Life and love are precious. If there’s somebody out there for you, speak up. And if you’re already happily in love, take care of it. The aforementioned poet, Philip Larkin, wrote these lines in his poem “The Mower.”
“…we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.”
Happy Valentine’s Day, JazzBabies. Be kind. Be careful. And there’s always chocolate…