Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars

Better known by its Brazilian title “Corcovado,” the opening lyrics of this 1960 song by Antonio Carlos Jobim are translated as “Quiet nights and quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar…. Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams.” You can hear the original bossa nova tracks on Getz/Gilberto (Verve, 1963), but one of my favorite renditions of Corcovado appears on The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi (Fantasy, 1964). It is also included in the two disc album The Definitive Vince Guaraldi (Fantasy, 2009). In that set you’ll hear a similar nocturne, “Star Song,” accompanied by acoustic guitarist Bola Sete. Guaraldi’s tracks have that distinctive “Charlie Brown” sound which might not be to everyone’s taste, but his work definitely set me on the path of jazz appreciation.

During the “quiet nights” of a mild summer I’ve taken to listening to jazz on my portable CD player. Being an old-fashioned “single use” device it has its advantages – I just listen to the music without any temptation to watch something or go browsing on the internet. I recently purchased an excellent album by one of the lesser-known postwar bop artists, Ray Bryant Trio (Prestige, 1957). Another solid performance is by the relatively young Bill Charlap in Live at the Village Vanguard (Bluenote, 2007), especially “Autumn in New York” and his slow and quiet version of “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” The only weak track is the frenetic rendition of “My Shining Hour.”

Slightly off-center is the oeuvre of the famous Bill Evans. I’ve learned to enjoy his early trio works, including Portrait in Jazz (1960) and Waltz for Debbie (1964), as well as the more recent collection The Complete Bill Evans on Verve (Verve/Universal, 2014). Even in these songs there is a more avant-garde feel, but it is usually subtle and tasteful. One only has to compare his “Blue in Green” from 1960 with the 1974 album of the same name. By this point the tunes have become self-consciously experimental and hard on the ear.

I’ve had similar experiences with Brad Mehldau, a contemporary jazz pianist and composer. “Secret Love” on Progression (Warner Bros., 2001) is a very classically-minded bebop work, as are other tracks I’ve heard on internet radio. But like Evans, he often ventures off into dissonance. By contrast, my favorite artists remain firmly rooted in melodious tunes, like the great Billy Taylor.

See related posts on jazz.

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