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.

Along with a trio reading of "Like Someone in Love (with just bass and drums), this compilation divides evenly into four quartet and four quintet tracks. Pianist Red Garland appears on seven, and bassist Paul Chambers appears on eight, of the nine tracks; a rotating cast of some of the best drummers in jazz, including Arthur Taylor and Jimmy Cobb, help complete these ensembles.

The languid, softly-rocking "Slow Dance is probably this set's prettiest music, cut with the same cast as the opening, luxurious "I Want To Talk About You - the 'Trane, Chambers, Garland Taylor quartet. Perhaps its most noteworthy selection is the epic (13:53) quintet take of Billy Strayhorn's classic "Lush Life, where the rock-solid Garland sparkles with streamlined, playful Basie-styled blue piano funk, and Donald Byrd's trumpet solo flashes a brilliant indicator of the jazz heights he could reach.

In "Invitation, Coltrane plays strong and inquisitive, yet somehow his searing edge has been rounded off, his tenor sax more a tiger on the prowl than a tiger coiled and snarled in attack. If Plays for Lovers might seem tame, remember that you're comparing these love songs to the extraordinary, impossible standard of Coltrane's more revolutionary work.

Miles Davis
Plays for Lovers
Prestige
2004, 2006

He may be better known (or, if you prefer, more notorious) for his jazz experiments with funk, rock, R&B, and their associated electronic accoutrements, but never forget that Miles Davis was a master of romantic ballads, especially played with a Harmon mute on his trumpet. Like the Coltrane set, this ballad collection shows how to play soft, not weak, and how to play jazz smoothly without turning the music into homogenized froth.

Most of these songs feature Davis with his first great quintet (Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones). They slow burn the groove in "Just Squeeze Me and sketch "When I Fall in Love in Davis' trademark stark treatment, not playing every note in the melody exactly, more or less connecting blue velvet dots to surround the melody instead.

This compilation also features the rare sound of Charles Mingus on piano, alongside Percy Heath and Max Roach in the rhythm section for the sophisticated blue glide "Smooch.

Surprisingly, Coltrane sits out of the two of the best tracks (or maybe it is not so surprisingly, since Davis was always a master of musical space). Garland never played more beautifully than in the rippling accompaniment he splashes throughout one of these two, "It Never Entered My Mind.

This set opens with the other, most likely the definitive instrumental version of "My Funny Valentine, a musical heartache for your ears. No disrespect intended to any other musician who also covered this song (including and especially the aforementioned Chet Baker), but after Miles cut this version of "My Funny Valentine they should have retired the number...

Bill Evans
Plays for Lovers
Riverside
2006

Evans' sparse, austere piano style was rarely called romantic but almost always called beautiful. This new collection comes from tracks he recorded as a leader between 1956 - '63, considered Evans' golden era. During this period, he also played a major role in Miles Davis' masterpiece Kind of Blue, for example, from which he here reprises Davis' "Blue in Green.

The whole sounds like one single piece of exquisitely refined beautiful music, a luxurious sheet of single musical satin spun with no apparent seams between compositions. Except for Evans' solo "Easy to Love, where the melody notes from his right hand bounce against the chords laid down by his left like kernels in a popcorn machine, this compilation presents the pianist in his most famously effective format, the piano trio. Six of these trio tracks draw from his work with his exceptionally sympathetic group with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian; the others feature Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones among their supporting casts.

Everything about Evans' playing sounds nearly perfect: His placement of the notes, his impeccable timing, their shifting dynamics between loud and soft, the supporting harmonies...even the spaces IN BETWEEN the notes seem brilliant!

Stan Getz
Plays for Lovers
Concord Jazz
2006

If Stan Getz' tenor saxophone had a human voice, you'd expect it to come out sounding like Mel Torme's: Full but not heavy, warm and soft, supple yet strong like leather, familiar but not too badly worn...a classic sound. Unlike Evans, Getz' name IS frequently mentioned when discussing the most romantic players on his instrument. Small wonder: Getz's own contributions to musical romance plus his lead role in the movement that helped introduce the world to Brazilian bossa nova will endure forever. This compilation features his breathless tenor from recordings for the Concord, Fantasy, Prestige, and Milestone labels.

Back to Evans for one more moment: His trio with drummer Marty Morell and bassist Eddie Gomez here supports Getz on two poignant tracks recorded during a joint 1974 concert in Belgium, "Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?) and a romp through "But Beautiful where Evans and Getz shoot hot, bright licks off of each other like whistling bottle rockets. Another pianist sparkles alongside Getz in "Spring is Here, Jim McNeely.

Spice up your romantic mood with "For All We Know, which Getz rocks in a Latin groove alongside Tjader, LaFaro, drummer Billy Higgins, guitarist Eddie Duran and pianist Vince Guaraldi, with the ring of Tjader's vibes and Guaraldi's piano lightly framing the more throaty sweetness of Getz' tenor sax (also available on The Cal Tjader / Stan Getz Sextet).

Stan Getz
More Getz for Lovers
Verve
2006

This new compilation presents the second overview of Getz' most romantic recordings for the Verve label, most notably his seminal bossa nova sessions with guitarist Charlie Byrd and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Verve issued the first Stan Getz for Lovers in 2002 - one wonders how some of this material couldn't make it onto the FIRST volume and had to wait until volume two!

Quiet, timeless whispers of classic GetzBrazilia resonantly echo: His tenor floating like a butterfly atop brightly bubbling samba percussion and guitar in the original version of "Desifinado, from 1962's Jazz Samba; and updating "Insensatez (How Insensitive) with guitarist Luis Bonfá for Jazz Samba Encore! in 1963, featuring warm, amiable performances by Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano) and Maria Toledo (vocals).

Pianist Kenny Barron reflects with calm, quiet beauty in this simple quartet setting of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes. "It's the Talk of the Town features Getz in a sextet among Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Max Roach. Dizzy swings this ballad like a young man in the prime of life (which he more or less WAS when this was recorded in 1953), and the sharpness and dexterity of his attack remains striking more than half a century later.

Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae for Lovers
Verve
2006

The last two titles in these series sparkle with the sophistication of champagne served at a posh Valentines' Day jazz brunch.

A bonanza for McRae's fans, ten of these eleven tracks appear previously unreleased - the exception is "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, which features Ben Webster's weighty tenor saxophone and can also be found on Birds of a Feather - and all were recorded, alternating mainly between intimate trios and larger orchestras, during McRae's late 1950s "coming out as a jazz vocal interpreter and improviser.

In several interpretations, McRae's voice chimes out as crisp and elegant as ringing champagne crystal: "When I Fall in Love and Jimmy Dorsey's "I'm Glad There Is You with piano trios; "The More I See You with the Luther Henderson Orchestra; and "If Love Was Good to Me with the Frank Hunter Orchestra. Special guests include pianist Ray Bryant, the solid foundation for a piano trio glide through "My Funny Valentine.

Sarah Vaughan
Sings for Lovers
Pablo
2006

Similarly, this Sassy Miss Sarah collection switches the singer between ensembles large and small. The large ensemble cuts mainly present highlights from three five-star sessions for the Pablo label: How Long Has This Been Going On?, Vaughan's 1978 jam with Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Louie Bellson and Ray Brown; and her 1979 The Duke Ellington Songbook One and Two sessions supported by guitarists Pass and Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonist Zoot Sims and other stars.

Pizzarelli swings cool, and Vaughan sultry and hot, to set the ensemble "In a Sentimental Mood to open this collection (from Ellington One).

The small ensembles are REALLY small - they're duets! She squares off with pianist Peterson on "More Than You Know and with pianist Sir Roland Hannah on "You Are Too Beautiful. She and guitarist Pass smolder for more than six minutes of ruminations and flickering heat of "My Old Flame ; then she slips comfortably into the soft folds of Dori Caymni's Brazilian acoustic guitar rhythm in "Like a Lover (O Cantador).

Vaughan closes this set in a way that everyone's Valentines' Day should end: With the warm, content reflection "Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face).

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