Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cozy Notes

Miles Davis by Leon Jimenez
We're starting to be able to see our breath outside and feel the cold in our bones as winter approaches. One of the best feelings about coming home, shaking off your excess outdoor clothing and cozying up with a glass of red wine - is the music that's the soundtrack. There's clearly a song for every occasion, but after the icey dry air sticks with you at the end of the day, the smooth melodies of a classic jazz ensemble is just about as good as it gets.

Jazz, for me, is a perfect fallback. Don't know what your mood is? Put on jazz. Not in the mood to think too hard about what's playing? Put on jazz. It's like this familiar feeling of warmth and intimacy that lies in the seamlessly improvised piano, crackly croons and the smooth, winding horns. Whether you like it or not, jazz is a best friend to everyone. It's something we've been conditioned to associate with all sorts of appealing imagery - rain dripping down the window pane of a brownstone home, a tiny fishing village asleep in the fog, the passion of two people. It's just one of those classic backdrops that can be added to some of life's most special and quiet moments.

It also, to my liking, is the greatest soundtrack to the city life. Despite how famous they became, great jazz voices like Tony Bennett, the Rat Pack and Ella Fitzgerald still epitomize the idea of a smokey bar filled with struggling artists and a vocalist pressed still against the microphone at the front, while the sleepless city buzzes outside the front doors.

A few jazz vocals that to me, say it all without getting old, are:

1. I'm in the Mood For Love - Louis Armstrong: A sleepy love song that puts your world on a cloud. This joyfully bouncy ditty is orchestrated by Armstrong's raspy hum and crisp horn combination, which make any day a sunny one.

2. The Best is Yet to Come - Tony Bennett: A jazzy, downtown anthem at it's finest. Bennett conducts the perfect tale of making it in the big smoke with his punchy, ageless monologue-singing. This man invented the notion of effortless cool.
Billie, belting.
3. The Very Thought of You - Billie Holiday: A woman of grace and elegance, Holiday's muffled romantic longing is like white silk on your ears. The gentle thumping of the strings against the hoppity horns defined the jazz of her era.

4. La Vie En Rose - Louis Armstrong: The beauty of Armstrong's bellows coinciding with the Parisian waltz of this dreamy rendition is just magical. "La Vie En Rose", originally Edith Piaf's 1946 signature song meaning "life through rose-coloured glasses", makes you see life exactly that way. Swirling piano runs and french horns (both subdued and powerful) have turned this version into a little slice of forever.

5. Learning The Blues - Frank Sinatra:  The sultry lounge groove and Sinatra's big band support means for one thing and one thing only - cheek-to-cheek dancing. Whether it's in the kitchen while the pots are boiling over or on a dance floor with clinking glasses as your percussion - it calls for it, so take your pick.

6. The Way You Look Tonight - Tony Bennett: Easily one of the most romantic and beautifully sung songs in history.

Now, there's nothing more harmless than a little instrumental jazz...

The legendary Bill Evans
 1. My Foolish Heart - Bill Evans: Bill Evans, ladies and gentleman. One of the most talented and beautiful jazz pianists of the 20th century, it's as if Evans wrote his music from the inside of a priceless bottle of vintage wine, ready to be gulped down and savoured with a gourmet pasta dish.

2. Blue in Green - Miles Davis: Miles, the man behind the smooth. This 1959 track is meant to be played on a walk home around midnight when there isn't a car in sight. Listen to this one alone, be a little introspective and don't worry, it's not weird. I'm assuming it's what it's meant for.

3. Moonlight in Vermont - Oscar Peterson:
A great Canadian composer hits home with this lullaby version of a popular classic. It's the mixture of his fluttering keys and a snoozy jazz guitar, not his nationality, that attract me to this one.

4. 42nd Street - Diana Krall: Let's get another gal on here, shall we? Krall's sleek piano fits like a glove into this well-rounded ensemble - and for her, it turns into just another sexy Manhattan jam with the boys.

Make a nice dinner, light a few candles and throw on this playlist. You're bound to enjoy it, even if you never speak of it again. Jazz - if nothing else, is certainly one of the world's best kept little secrets to feeling great.

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