Thoughts on great love songs for Valentine’s Day, love’s holiday

JamesOnJazzsquareI’ve been thinking about my favorite classic love songs from the world of jazz. I’ve also been thinking about current music, and the love and mastery of craft that it takes an artist to create a future classic love song. Who will be the one to make another masterpiece?

Billie Holiday, 1949
Billie Holiday, 1949

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to romantic songs. Songs like, “Embraceable You,” “I’m Glad There is You,” “All the Way,” Someday My Prince Will Come,” and the list goes on and on. Also, the music of Lou Rawls comes to mind. His live version of “Shadow of Your Smile” always gets me. “Lady Love,” too. And what about Joe Williams singing “That’s All,” live? Love is a powerful thing, a revolutionary act.

Speaking of powerful, Dianne Reeves returned to Minneapolis for two nights at the Dakota on January 27-28. She sang one of the most beautiful renditions of McCoy Tyner’s “You Taught My Heart to Sing” that I’ve ever heard. Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” was another song that Reeves sung with plenty of heart and soul, but at a snail’s pace, which was lovely. And of course, she also sang bittersweet songs of heartache, such as the Billie Holiday classic, “Don’t Explain.”

What is the all-time, ultimate love song in jazz? I guess it depends on who you talk to. Everyone has a favorite that has significant meaning to them.

George Cable’s “Helen’s Song,” is a standout love song for me, too. There’s so much passion in his notes. A lot of people may say that John Coltrane’s song “A Love Supreme” from the album by the same name, which turned 50 this year, is the ultimate love song. Maybe I don’t have a final answer, but I think that it’s fun to ponder the thought.

I do know that the treatment, Minneapolis-born vocalist José James gave the song, “Tenderly” when he performed on this birthday, January 20, at the Dakota was stellar. It was perfect for his vocal range and revealed a level of maturity beyond his 37 years. That song, among others by the great Billie Holiday, or made popular by her, appear on his new Blue Note Records album, Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday, which drops in March. On Valentine’s Day, James will be in Japan, where the album has already been released and is making waves.

Holiday, also known as “Lady Day,” would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year. Her music has made a great impact on a wide spectrum of artists, and continues to resonate with people from all walks of life. Vocalist Cassandra Wilson is celebrating the music made by Holiday by releasing, Coming Forth by Day: A Tribute to Billie Holiday from Legacy Records in April. Look out for her upcoming performances in support of the album, at the Dakota, too. Holiday’s artistry speaks volumes about love, loss, and overall human condition. Thank you, Lady Day.

On Valentine’s Day, I hope you’ll show yourself some love by checking out some great love songs, or maybe write one of your own. I’d love to hear it.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.comYou can also find James on Twitter at @Robin_James1.