And here we are less than a week away from Valentine’s Day, the holiday for lovers and love songs and all things sentimental, no matter which side of the equation your heart happens to be on.
You’re either in love or you wish you were in love or you’ve vowed to never fall in love again or you have a broken heart or you have perhaps just broken someone else’s heart – it’s a wildly fraught holiday. How can one day of the year make or break or summarize anyone’s romantic life? And why should we let it?
On a walk in Maine a few years ago, I passed a spot I knew to be a romantic location for young couples to park and look out at the water. On this particular post-Valentine’s Day morning, the ground was strewn with dozens of torn red rose petals and broken stems, and all I could think was, “Well, that didn’t go well.”
Living here in the wild west of southern Utah these past months where the local radio stations are largely religious, public or country (no jazz), I’ve noted something interesting: standards and pop songs (at least the ones of my day and on my CDs) which form the core of the jazz repertoire speak, for the most part, of the positives of love when they speak about love. Country songs, on the other hand, when they’re not extolling the fine qualities of grandma and grandpa, have a lot to say about busted up relationships, d-i-v-o-r-c-e, faithless men, and the women who are gonna be okay despite them. I’ll save the philosophical and cultural comments for another day.
This is not to say there’s no heartbreak in jazz tunes. Mais non. Consider Billie’s oeuvre with “Body and Soul” at the top of the list followed closely by “I Cover the Waterfront,” and Judy’s “The Man That Got Away.” Consider Frank’s entire album, “Only the Lonely.” Set ‘em up, Joe. But heartbreak is mostly captured in a tender and heartfelt minor key manner without whining or vengeful thoughts.
No judgment. I’m just making an observation about the way different music speaks of love.
I guess by now everybody knows how I feel about Bill Evans. My jazz friend, Joe Lang, sent me a link to a recent essay about Bill, beautifully written by jazz writer Doug Ramsey. Rather than try to paraphrase anything in it, here’s the link so you can read it for yourself. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bill-evans-legacy-1423008187
Since we’re so close to Valentine’s Day, I’m including here the Bill Evans tune I listen to late at night many nights of the week – not so much for the romance, but for the tenderness in the way Bill plays. I know he recorded more complex compositions over the years and I have many favorites among them, but this one takes me back to my own youth when I was discovering music like this. Bill and the other musicians were also young, and this one speaks to that youthful but accomplished playing, and about his early understanding of the music, all the music. Give a listen to “My Foolish Heart,” with Larry Bunker on drums and Chuck Israel on bass. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2LFVWBmoiw
For the rest of this post, I turned to my personal collection, the collection I’m packing for the move to California. I wanted to dip into it before the boxes were closed and taped and ready to go, so I grabbed a handful of CDs at random and found some great tunes suitable for a mildly ironic salute to Valentine’s Day. Just don’t get the idea that what happens or doesn’t happen on February 14 is going to change your life.
The compilation CD, “Carmen McRae Sings Great American Songwriters,” has a lot of candidates for this post, but I settled on this bouncy number which I might well have held until Easter, now that I think about it. Hey, we can hear it more than once. Here’s the often torchy Carmen on Irving Berlin’s “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” from a 1956 Decca recording with Tad Dameron’s orchestra. The lady can swing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLMsaoclLyY
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are next up with an entry from the Blue Note album “Moanin.” The tune is “Come Rain or Come Shine,” a Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen favorite. Art is on drums, of course, with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on tenor sax, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass. For my east coast friends, this should probably be today “come rain, come shine or come snow.” I’m sending warm thoughts to you out there with your shovels! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq56oAQrFWA
The movie, “Corinna, Corinna,” had a great jazz soundtrack as well as a nice story. One of the tunes from the soundtrack that seems just right for Valentine’s Day is the Oscar Peterson/Louis Armstrong duo on “You Go to My Head.” The tune was originally recorded in 1957 by Louis and The Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One with Louis on vocal and trumpet, Oscar on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums. That is one fine line up. You might want to grab your favorite slowdance partner for this one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsE5_fFGezw&list=PLDCsNTunRRrhz3eCahSC-nCW8xFlYFz9g
A few years earlier, the young Horace Silver was going gang-busters with recordings that were later compiled on a Blue Note album, titled simply “Horace Silver Trio.” On this one, he worked with Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey on drums. It was recorded in 1953 and it’s the tune to play when thinking about the one who once stirred your heart, the one who made your dreams come true. The one who got away: “I Remember You.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skofVvHpS98
Finally, I give you a tune from John Coltrane’s 1961 Atlantic recording, “My Favorite Things.” This album was a change for Coltrane as it had no original compositions, but instead jazz versions of four standard “pop” tunes that clearly noted Coltrane’s shift from be bop to modal jazz. The album has become one of my favorite things and maybe one of yours. Here’s Cole Porter’s lovely “Everytime We Say Goodbye” with Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis and Elvin Jones. If we have to say goodbye, let us do it with the grace and tenderness of this tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Jmcynp9d0
You’ve already noted that I didn’t include “My Funny Valentine.” I know you’ll find your favorite version of it in your own collection or on Youtube or possibly at the karaoke bar down the block. Oh, wait, no, I don’t want to leave you with an image of tipsy sweethearts around the country trying to sing that particular song February 14. The vibes from all those off-key warblers could set the planet spinning in a whole new way.
Instead, for Valentine’s day, JazzBabies, I wish you love no matter how it arrives or how you send it to someone you cherish.