Jazz for many people conjures the image of a sophisticated bar, late in the evening, perhaps with a lone pianist accompanying the visitors enjoying a glass of champagne and intimate conversations. The music playing merges with the quiet tones of hushed voices and the occasional clink of glass on glass.
Such is the diversity of the genre called Jazz that it can accompany almost any situation you can imagine and the one of elegance and style seems to be softly familiar. Below, I have singled out a few of those kinds of track that just hit that ambient spot that Jazz so often is associated with. So, dim the lights, take the tempo down a notch or two, pour a favourite drink and enjoy.
Soft and Classic Jazz Piano
1. ‘Every Time Our Eyes Meet’ by Nocturnal Spirits
For my opening track, I’ve chosen a track that I was not completely familiar with. The tempo here is a perhaps a little ‘up’ for the relaxed, chilled-out slant I had originally taken, but this has such an inviting, gentle swing to it, it was impossible not to include it. There is a distinct Duke Ellington feel to this track with its effortless melody, and use of the different registers of the piano when playing the tune.
Structurally, it falls into the familiar 32 bar pattern that is neatly improvised on in the central section. Scored for piano bass and drums the track does not disappoint, is well-produced and beautifully delivered.
Having scoured the internet for information about this group, there appears to be little to be discovered. They certainly have produced a few albums that have received some favourable reviews on YouTube and Amazon although they seem not to perform live. The two prominent albums by Nocturnal Spirit that appear on Amazon are ‘Shadesmar’ (2017) and EP ‘Insomnia’.
2. ‘I Can’t Get Started’ performed by Bud Powell
This recording is of the legendary pianist Bud Powell who provides an imaginative and extremely laid-back version of this Vernon Duke classic song. It was composed in 1936 and featured in the theatre production titled ‘Ziegfeld Follies’. In classic jazz style, the lyrics tell of a successful man who has managed to achieve everything in his life except what he wants which is the love a woman.
Bud Powell eloquently captures the essence of this song in his performance that flows from the understated to the distinctly virtuosic. Powell’s style of piano playing reflected the work of saxophonist Charlie Parker who he had worked in 1947. Many have considered Powell’s piano playing to be a reflection of Parker’s and it is certainly true that Powell pioneered Bebop piano playing. This gave him his sound as he was able to move seamlessly from rich, lyrical passages to brilliant displays of technical prowess. This track for me encompasses both of these key elements of his style.
3. ‘Don’t Blame Me’ performed by Erroll Garner
With its origins in the show ‘Clowns in Clover’ (1932), this jazz standard has been covered by numerous performers over the years. The crooner and pianist Nat King Cole made this song his own in 1948, but for me, Erroll Garner’s performance given in 1946 stands up to any other recording. Garner not only allows the slightly awkward melody to take shape organically but can bring his great fluency to the song that seems to allow it to evolve into something apart from its origins.
Many of the characteristic traits of Erroll Garner appear in this recording from the rapid scalic figures to a slow striding accompaniment. The virtuosity is never permitted to obscure the sentiment of the song but only to embellish and enhance.
4. ‘Two Lonely People’ performed by Bill Evans
Following a meditative and gentle solo piano introduction that subtly outlines the components of the song, the bass and drums join Evans to continue the track. At this point, the tempo picks up and a lighter mood develops from the darker opening. We hear classic Evans hallmarks with chords based on fourths rather than thirds, nervous flurries in the right hand decorating the simple melody and at times even streaks of the blues.
By the five minute mark, the energy of the track is waning and Evans is left almost alone to complete the performance. Slowly shimmering cymbals signal the end of the piece and the pensive feeling of the opening returns.
Hoagy Carmichael was the composer of this well-established jazz standard that went out to the great wide world in 1938. The lyrics, by Frank Loesser, tell of two lovers who, as the title suggests, do not wish to part and say goodnight even though they are tired. Strangely enough, they decide to get married to solve their problem but they still find that they are waking early in the morning too full of love for one another to sleep for long.
5. ‘As I Love You’ performed by The George Shearing Quintet
The jazz pianist George Shearing is perhaps better known for his own composition ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, but his recording and performing career included an impressive range of jazz tunes from the dazzling bebop through to tracks like this one showing Shearing’s more mellow side. The sound is classic Shearing with the vibraphone and guitar playing the melody alongside the piano. It sounds like a simple idea but the results are unmistakably Shearing.
This performance is a live performance recorded in 1958 in Los Angeles and appears on the album titled, ‘On the Sunnyside of the strip’. There is no attempt to divert this Cole Porter song into anything other than a quiet, warm interpretation that doesn’t even include more than a passing glance at an improvised solo.
The song was penned by Cole Porter in 1913 soon after he graduated from the prestigious Yale University in the US. Allegedly, the song was a long list of girls who Porter had loved. This was of course entirely fictitious but the song stands a favourite in the catalogue of many jazz performers. For the critics, the song was not considered to be the best Porter wrote but given that this was very early in his career, I think a little dispensation is required. Never the less, this recording by Shearing is delightfully simple and I hope is a calm way to conclude this article.