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Jazz Played for Lovers

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Isn't it romantic,
Music in the night -
A dream that can be heard?
Isn't it romantic,
Moving shadows write the oldest magic word...


Love and music must have been linked together in human hearts at the beginning of time. The trappings of fashion will ebb and flow, but true beauty remains constant. We celebrate the true beauty of love on Valentines' Day. AAJ also celebrates on this holiday the true beauty of classic music played by these genuine masters.

Chet Baker
Plays for Lovers
Riverside
2006

If ever a musician was born to "play for lovers, it was Chet Baker, whose trumpet, flugelhorn and vocal style sounded so delicate and sensitive that his music often seemed to become transparent, to completely bare the inner essence of this tragic romantic. His flugelhorn seems to sigh heavenward in "Stairway to the Stars and "Lonely Star, as does his vocal in "How Long Has This Been Going On? and a version of "I'm Old Fashioned that seems to hover in the air and then slowly dissipate like morning mist. Pianist Kenny Drew tumbles like an Olympic gymnast through his solo in "My Heart Stood Still, the other vocal track.

This compilation features two tracks Baker recorded with Gerry Mulligan in their famous piano-less quartet. Their baritone saxophone and trumpet intertwine like coupled lovers through "Moonlight in Vermont, as soft as a warm autumn twilight. This set ends with what is generally regarded as one of Baker's ultimate instrumental achievements, "My Funny Valentine. He cradles each note like a loving parent nurturing its child, luxuriating in all its fullness, reluctantly leaving that note behind to pick up and caress the next one....a sound that is so sadly beautiful, it is almost like being in love.

Tony Bennett
Sings for Lovers
Concord
2006

Tony Bennett cradling classic ballads in his loving voice is always a good thing, any season of the year. This new compilation captures this extraordinary interpreter of the classic American songbook sort of in between careers: After "I Left My Heart in San Francisco and other pop triumphs which had more or less tuckered out by the early 1970s, but before the comeback crowned by his appearance on MTV Unplugged, which claimed the 1994 Album of the Year Grammy ® Award.

Here Bennett works with some of his most famously sympathetic accompanists, such as guitarist George Barnes and cornet player Ruby Braff, with whose quartet the singer recorded Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, and who swing Bennett like crack Dixieland-ers through versions of "Isn't It Romantic, "Thou Swell and the previously unreleased "This Can't Be Love that nearly strut with the feel of New Orleans.

But it's pianist Bill Evans who proves to be Bennett's most effective accompanist throughout this period, perhaps because his restrained, austere approach to the piano uniquely complements Bennett's emotionally direct style of singing. Evans' accompaniment in "But Beautiful shines as strong as tempered steel, and together they forge the closing "Some Other Time into musical treasure of rare, reflective beauty. Bennett sounds more effective in this melancholy mood than on some of the up-tempo material, which just feels forcedly bright.

Dave Brubeck
Plays for Lovers
Fantasy
2006

Offering half a dozen unaccompanied piano solos, plus several dances with the trademarked astringent alto saxophone of his longtime associate Paul Desmond, this set is close to a Brubeck lover's dream come true.

In the opening "You Go To My Head, Desmond plays his alto saxophone cool and dry and soft and mellow, like the other side of the pillow on a steamy late summer night, and he offers similar, familiar comfort throughout "Stardust and "For All We Know.

There is just something so clean and direct about Brubeck's piano playing. Even at its most expressive, he remains more elegant than florid - he takes "Imagination, for example, at a gentleman's leisurely pace, dignified but in no way pretentious, his eye a-twinkling with highlights of blues and bop. He opens his solo "Love Is Here to Stay with scraps pulled from this same blues bag, though later his blocks of chords pound out their straight-ahead rhythm. He dances and twirls through a truly virtuoso performance of "My Heart Stood Still (your toe-tapping feet most assuredly won't).

Brubeck even gets to share some family love, featuring his son Chris on bass trombone in "My One Bad Habit and dancing with Chris' electric bass on "I Thought About You.

John Coltrane
Plays for Lovers
Prestige
2004, 2006

On this collection of ballads recorded for the Prestige label between 1957 - '58 midst a host of jazz giants, first issued in 2004, Coltrane demonstrates that you CAN play the saxophone sweetly without turning your music into syrup.


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