A handful of classic artists leap to mind when considering the connection between jazz and romance.
There’s the ballad side of Ella Fitzgerald, for example, and the doomed emotionalism of Chet Baker. Women certainly go swoony these days for the lost-in-love sounds of Chris Botti. Diana Krall staked out her claim to that territory with the albums “Love Scenes” (1997), “When I Look In Your Eyes” (1998) and “The Look of Love” (2001).
For many of us, Miles Davis is among the last artists we’d associate with love, romance and all the other goop Hallmark holds dear this and every Valentine’s. Sure, the pioneering jazz trumpeter recorded plenty of sublime ballads and even his blues are shot through with longing and loss. All that, however, doesn’t quite make him a hopeless romantic.
There is the ever-adventurous edge to Davis’ music to keep in mind, as well as a public persona that alternated between alienated and angry. Davis consistently rejected all efforts to restrict his creativity … and then when out of his way to make sure fans and foes alike grasped just how tough and testy he could be. Suffice it to say, that leaves Davis’ music and persona light years removed from Harry Connick Jr.-style crooning.
And yet, if you’re looking for just the right soundtrack to power a romantic night out – or, better yet, in – there are plenty of Davis collections around. And they aren’t solely of posthumous vintage either.
The earliest Davis love tunes album was released in 1966. “Miles Davis Plays For Lovers” is an impressive collection, too, featuring takes of “Old Devil Moon,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “When I Fall In Love.” All Music Guide has this to say about the disc.
The core band for three-quarters of the album consists of trumpeter Davis, tenor John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. There's an elegant beauty to pieces like "My Funny Valentine" and "You're My Everything," featuring the rhythm section's spare, tasteful backdrop and the carefully chosen notes of Davis' and Coltrane's horns. Even when this lineup shifts occasionally, the low-light mood remains. Bassist Charles Mingus lends a hand on "Smooch" and "Easy Living," while pianist Horace Silver chimes in on "You Don't Know What Love Is." There are fabulous takes of "'Round Midnight," originally recorded for Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, and the peaceful, melancholy closer, "When I Fall in Love." Davis' refined trumpet style, with its full-bodied notes and use of quiet spaces, has reached an early peak here.
Davis died in 1991 and the ensuing years have seen his catalog endlessly packaged and repackaged. That includes his most romantic numbers.
The process began with “Love Songs” (1999), which showcases material from the years 1957-64. It features Davis working with a variety of ensembles and is anchored by an epic and aching 15-minute live rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”
That disc proved so popular that “Love Songs Vol. 2” (2003) followed. The material is more varied, stretching from Davis’ classic period to such ‘80s albums as “You’re Under Arrest.” Two tunes dominate – a pure be bop “Love For Sale” and a live “There Is No Greater Love” from 1974. The year 2003 brought an expanded CD release of “Plays For Lovers”; 2008 saw the “Beautiful Ballads and Love Songs” compilation.
With all these discs raiding the Davis catalog, there is going to be a degree of repetition, the most obvious (and natural) example being the aforementioned “My Funny Valentine.” All of these albums, however, serve not only as fine mood-setters but also fairly accessible introductions to Davis’ work.
My favorite Davis ballad? That has to be the ever-haunting “It Never Entered My Mind.”
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