THE DOZENS: TWELVE GREAT LOVERS by Alan Kurtz

Jazz has always relied on popular songs to connect quickly with an audience. In return, jazz has helped keep alive a huge body of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood songs that might otherwise have been forgotten.

In jazz, however, these so-called “standards” stubbornly resist standardization. Even landmark recordings fail to discourage reinterpretation. Following Coleman Hawkins’s formidable “Body and Soul” (1939), for example, there’ve been >1,600 covers by other jazz artists, who may have been impressed by Hawk but sure weren’t intimidated by him.

One such perennially revisited standard is “Lover” by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart. Since debuting in the movie Love Me Tonight (1932), “Lover” has been the subject of nearly 400 jazz recordings, not counting paraphrased tunes based on its chord changes. Surprisingly, jazz “Lovers” did not appear on disc until the early 1940s, perhaps because its origin as a waltz sung by invincible soprano Jeanette MacDonald seemed too wholesome for the jazz ethic.

Nevertheless, “Lover” has attracted a platoon of prominent paramours, whose attentions are so different from one another that even a dozen “Lovers” can be enjoyably consumed whole. As that eminent jazz authority Mae West observed, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”


Gene Krupa: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Gene Krupa (drums)

CD

Drummin' Man (Sony Jazz 5016472)

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Musicians:

Gene Krupa (drums), Don Fagerquist (trumpet), Charlie Ventura (tenor sax),

Pinky Savitt, Vince Hughes, Tony Russo (trumpet); Leon Cox, Dick Taylor, Andy Parker (trombone); Harry Terrill, Bill Hitz (alto sax); Charlie Kennedy (tenor sax), Sid Brown (baritone sax), Teddy Napoleon (piano), Frank Worrell (guitar), Irv Lang (bass)

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Arranged by Eddie Finckel. Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: New York, September 26, 1945

Albumcovergkrupadman

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

With the Swing Era fading fast, its star drummer demonstrates how far both this song and big bands had come. In 1933, bandleaders Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman waltzed dancers around in dignity with "Lover," but Gene Krupa's postwar fox-trot is so frenetic even the most jittery jitterbugs couldn't keep up. Drum devotees, though, were no doubt delirious at Krupa's double-timed businessman's bounce, which includes a 30-second drum solo that'd be overlong at any length. (Like children in polite society, drum solos should be seen and not heard.) The parking meter on jazz's stint as America's dance music had clearly expired.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Stan Kenton: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Stan Kenton (piano)

CD

The Best of Stan Kenton (Capitol CDP 7243 8 31504 2 7)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Kai Winding (trombone), Milt Bernhart (trombone), Boots Mussulli (alto sax), Vido Musso (tenor sax), Bob Cooper (tenor sax), Shelly Manne (drums),

Ray Wetzel, Chico Alvarez, John Anderson, Ken Hanna (trumpet); Layton, Harry Forbes, Bart Varsalona (trombone); Eddie Meyers (alto sax), Bob Gioga (baritone sax), Eddie Safranski (bass)

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Arranged by Pete Rugolo. Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 31, 1947

Albumcoverskentonbest

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

After lulling us with an intro fit for a biopic of some doomed Romantic Composer, including stating the melody as a Chopin waltz, Stan Kenton's "Lover" outraces even Gene Krupa's "Lover" of two years previous. Moreover, while Krupa's cup-muted trumpets maintained a modicum of restraint, that word was missing from Kenton's vocabulary. Well before Detroit decided "bigger is better," Kenton laid on extra brass, widened his voicings and (foretelling Spinal Tap's amp that goes to 11) boosted fortissimo from ff to FFFFFFFFFFF. Vido Musso and Kai Winding solo, but this track is all about mass mania—the madness of crowds.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Les Paul: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Les Paul (guitar)

CD

The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition (Capitol 11411)

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Musicians:

Les Paul (guitar),

unidentified bassist and drummer

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Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 22, 1948

Albumcoverlespaul-bestofthecapitolmasters-90thbirthdayedition

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In 1941, applying modern technology to the venerable One-Man-Band idea, Sidney Bechet overdubbed himself playing "Sheik of Araby" on six different instruments. The musicians' union was irate. Those five displaced members couldn't pay dues if they didn't work! In 1948, Les Paul struck another blow at featherbedding, and incidentally pioneered multitracking, by laying down eight guitar parts, some at half speed, then added reverb. Played back at normal speed, Les's "Lover" sounded like harpsichords on helium chattering in a cave. After a minute-waltz lead-in, Paul startlingly shifts to an up-tempo 4/4 electronic virtuosity prefiguring Switched-On Bach (1968). Gimmicky but historic.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Erroll Garner: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Erroll Garner (piano)

CD

Long Ago and Far Away (Columbia CK-40863)

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Musicians:

Erroll Garner (piano), John Simmons (bass), Harold 'Doc' West (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: New York, October 7, 1950

Albumcoveregarnerlagofaway

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Fans of post-1960 jazz piano trios might be shocked to find that previously such groups weren't wildly egalitarian gymnasiums where bassist and drummer vied with one another to out-muscle the pianist. Not so long ago, rhythm instruments accompanied the piano—no overbearing bassist plucking like Earl Scruggs on steroids, no drummer trading fours with himself from start to finish. As proof of how captivating this could be, consider Erroll Garner's cozily affectionate "Lover." Especially coming on the heels of Stan Kenton's overpoweringly brassy "Lover" (1947) and Les Paul's equally impersonal techno-pop cover (1948 ), Garner's warm-blooded, one-on-one effervescence is endearing.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charlie Parker: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Charlie Parker (alto sax)

CD

Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes (Verve 314 523 984-2)

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Musicians:

Charlie Parker (alto sax), Al Porcino (trumpet), Bill Harris (trombone), Don Lamond (drums),

Gordon “Chris” Griffin, Bernie Privin (trumpet); Will Bradley (trombone),Toots Mondello, Murray Williams (alto sax); Hank Ross, Art Drellinger (tenor sax); Stan Webb (baritone sax), Lou Stein (piano), Verley Mills (harp), unknown strings, Art Ryerson (guitar), Bob Haggart (bass)

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Arranged and conducted by Joe Lippman. Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart.

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Recorded: New York, January 22 or 23, 1952

Albumcovercharlieparkerwithstrings

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)


        Charlie Parker with Strings at Birdland (1951), photo by Marcel Fleiss

Though billed as Charlie Parker with Strings, the latter flounder ineffectually on this up-tempo track featuring Bird's blazing alto and a brace of bellowing brass. Indeed, with such ear-splitting trumpeting, Harris's trombone turn and Lamond's drumming, this might sooner be Woody Herman's 1945 Herd than a showcase for bebop's leading improviser. The concluding harp glissando—verily Verley Mills, the soul of patience, sat through the entire track just to strum that single lick—sums up what makes Bird's "Lover" tough to take. Somebody should've decided between bop, big-band swing or sappy strings, and stuck with that choice. Even so, it is Charlie Parker.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Dave Brubeck: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Dave Brubeck (piano)

CD

Jazz: Red Hot And Cool (Sony 61468)

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Musicians:

Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Joe Dodge (drums),

Bob Bates (bass)

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Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Basin Street, New York, July 23, 1955

Albumcoverdavebrubeck-jazz-redhotandcool

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Against the backdrop of polished repartee and perfectly tuned glasses clinking at Manhattan’s swanky bistro Basin Street East, the Brubeck Quartet eschews the by-now obligatory racetrack 4/4 and restores "Lover" to her original waltz form. The Quartet's elegant delicacy—or delicate elegancy (we can't decide which)—befits both the song and their surroundings. Desmond's self-described dry-martini alto is naturally right at home, Brubeck himself displays an unusually light touch, and Dodge motors comfortably in a meter then exotic to jazz. We especially like Dave's unaccompanied coda appended calmly after the audience assumes the song is ended. A lovely "Lover."

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Milt Jackson: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Milt Jackson (vibes)

CD

The Jazz Skyline (Savoy Jazz 78997)

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Musicians:

Milt Jackson (vibes), Lucky Thompson (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano), Wendell Marshall (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart.

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Recorded: Hackensack, N.J., January 23, 1956

Albumcovermiltjackson-thejazzskyline

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

After alternating the melody between 3/4 and 4/4, this pickup group settles into a frisky gambol better befitting both song and musicians than the breakneck tempo jazzmen by consensus had decided made an ideal "Lover." During the 1950s it was the critics’ cliché that Milt Jackson, temporarily loosed from the John Lewis-imposed rococo restraints of the MJQ, swung as hard as anyone in jazz. Here, bouncing his felt- tipped mallets off gold-plated aluminum bars with the effortless grace of a Chinese ping-pong champion dispatching opponents in the Grand Slam, Jackson shows that (in the words of our all-time favorite fortune cookie) Truth Sometimes Resides Even In Cliché.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Max Roach: Lover

Track

Lover (mono version)

Artist

Max Roach (drums)

CD

Jazz in 3/4 Time (Emarcy MG 36108)

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Musicians:

Max Roach (drums), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), George Morrow (bass), Billy Wallace (piano).

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: New York, March 21, 1957

Albumcovermaxroach-jazzin3-4time

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Like Dave Brubeck's 1955 "Lover," this track sticks exclusively to waltz meter. These cats, however, are card-carrying hard boppers, so quaintness ain't an option. Roach formed this band after the previous year's premature death of his co-leader, Clifford Brown. Bop veteran Kenny Dorham wisely doesn't try to emulate Clifford, but rather asserts his own, somewhat prissy style opposite the perpetually priapic Sonny Rollins. Little-known pianist Billy Wallace impresses by soloing in octaves, while Max exerts his customary mastery. Whatever fool wrote (on this very website!) that drum solos should be seen and not heard has obviously never listened to Max Roach.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Sonny Clark: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Sonny Clark (piano)

CD

Cool Struttin' (Blue Note CDP 7 46513 2)

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Musicians:

Sonny Clark (piano), Art Farmer (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Hackensack, N.J., January 5, 1958

Albumcoversonnyclark-coolstruttin

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

Soundman Rudy Van Gelder's reverb made hard-edged trumpeters such as Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd sound commodious, but here it has the opposite effect. Electronically diffusing Art Farmer's glowing tone was akin to peering at Monet's Water Lilies through a gauze scrim, missing the point entirely. Fortunately, this track is redeemed by Jackie McLean, oft uneven but in fine fettle, and by Philly Joe in fettle even finer. Although producer Alfred Lion initially spurned "Lover" due to a raggedy-ass ending in which Jones gets carried away by his own enthusiasm, it's well worth hearing.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Anita O'Day: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Anita O'Day (vocals)

CD

Anita O'Day and Billy May Swing Rodgers And Hart (Verve 000 235 30 2)

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Musicians:

Anita O'Day (vocals), Conrad Gozzo (trumpet), Pete Candoli (trumpet), Ted Nash (alto sax), Ralph Peña (bass),

Uan Rasey (trumpet), Bill Schaeffer, Eddie Kusby, Murray McEachern, Tommy Pederson, Tommy Shepard (trombone); Wilbur Schwartz (alto sax), Fred Falensby, Justin Gordon (tenor sax); Chuck Gentry (baritone sax), Joe Castro (piano), Al Hendrickson (guitar), Irving Cottler or Stan Levey (drums)

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Arranged and conducted by Billy May. Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Los Angeles, June 6, 1960

Albumcoveranitaodayandbillymayswingrodgersandhart

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

For the first 45 seconds of this 2-minute track, Anita O'Day treats her "Lover" as tenderly as, well, "Tenderly." Then arranger Billy May loses patience, and it's off to the races for a familiar sprint to the finish. Too bad. Anita was onto something. "Lover," a pretty Cinderella grown haggard from too many frantic pumpkin rides tempting midnight's last stroke, might indeed fare better as a ballad. But Billy May won't give her a chance. While Anita is certainly up to an up-tempo gallop, it's dismaying how a tried- and-true treatment can become a straightjacket for even the most creative interpreters.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Tony Bennett: Lover

Track

Lover

Artist

Tony Bennett (vocals)

CD

The Complete Improv Recordings (Concord 42255)

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Musicians:

Tony Bennett (vocals), Ruby Braff (cornet), George Barnes (guitar),

Wayne Wright (guitar), John Giuffrida (bass)

.

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: New York, July 12 or 16, 1973

Albumcovertonybennett-completeimprovrecordings

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Finally! After three decades of jazz "Lovers" streaking to shatter the 3-minute mile, Tony Bennett shows what an enchanting love song this was all along, just waiting for a master balladeer to rein in the tempo, lower the volume and try a little tenderness. It's the difference between leading an all-out, bugles-blaring cavalry charge and whispering sweet nothings in the ear. We can't document it, but we'll wager that down through history, strategically placed whispers have conquered more sovereign territory than any cavalry. And if you know a more seductive whisperer than Tony Bennett, please let us know.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis & Barney Kessel: Lover

Track

Lover

Group

Great Guitars (Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessell, Herb Ellis)

CD

Great Guitars II (Concord Jazz CCD 4023)

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Musicians:

Charlie Byrd (guitar), Herb Ellis (guitar), Barney Kessel (guitar),

Joe Byrd (bass), Wayne Phillips (drums)

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Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: Los Angeles, April, 1976

Albumcovercharliebyrd-barneykessel-herbellis-greatguitarsii

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Without resorting to the manic metronome marking of quarter note = 5280 that for "Lover" had become de rigueur, this track swings quite nicely, thank you. What makes convocations of mature jazzmen consistently joyful is how complementary, not competitive they are. Whether soloing—in order: Herb, Charlie (acoustic) and Barney—or engaging in a delightful 3-guitar ensemble, the immodestly but accurately billed Great Guitars sum up earlier "Lovers," especially Les Paul's 1948 forerunner, while making their own distinctive contribution. It may have taken 35 years of recorded jazz "Lovers" to find just the right groove, but, hey, better Great than never!

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


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