Feast of Saint Valentine

Feast of Saint Valentine

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116


Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, soon enough that one should begin planning now to make a success of it.  Since the high Middle Ages when Chaucer began to associate Valentine’s day with courtly love, I think the original Saint Valentine has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle.  In fact, one popular depiction describes Saint Valentine as a man who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry.  Remaining accounts may actually merge a couple of different martyrs into a portrait of Valentinus.  No matter what the origins, if you are in a romantic couple it is a day that cannot be safely overlooked.  Dinner reservations should be made now.  If you do not have them, stop reading,  call the restaurant, make your reservations and then come back to this blog.

Romantic love is such a powerful emotion that it is no wonder that all sorts of depictions of love can be found in every genre and mode of artistic expression that human beings create.  Old Billy Shakespeare, of the above Sonnet, went a long way to promoting the romantic ideal of marrying for love, an ideal that is still a part of at least Western culture today.  I had a conversation with a young person recently, whereby I was trying to determine the Shakespeare play that my young friend had been exposed to in her short years.  My first question was “ Did everyone die in the end of the play, or did they all get married?”  If everyone dies at the end, it was a tragedy.  If they all get married, it was one of the comedies.  Fortunately, I did this out of earshot of any of our divorced colleagues, who would have confused the matter by describing marriage as a sort of tragedy in itself.  

Nowadays, as deep as I find Shakespeare’s musings about love, I find the direct language of old blues music to be more physically moving.  Perhaps it is a holdover from my urban upbringing, but I am not convinced that is entirely true.  These songs weren’t on the radio when I was in high school.  I met the music of Etta James, for example, much later on in my life.

Etta James, “ I Just Want to Make Love to You”

Another great genius of music that just makes your body move is Ray Charles, The Genius, The High Priest of Soul.  Ray Charles was a pioneer, and his music was influenced by blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, country, early pop music.  Ray was a sponge, that soaked up everything around him, and in turn has influenced every recording artist that has come after him.  You are doing yourself a great disservice if all you have heard is the opening of “Georgia on my Mind”

Ray Charles, “A Fool For You”

Looking through my collection of jazz albums, I have another endless supply of ballads that would make a great playlist for a romantic Valentine’s day dinner.  I am going to resist the urge to repost the Miles Davis version of “My Funny Valentine” and instead give you two other slow songs by two masters of ballad playing.  

Donald Byrd, “I Got It Bad, and That Ain’t Good”

John Coltrane, “My One and Only Love”

Now in the event that your attempts at romance have been well planned and are a great success, you may need a few tunes that are longer than three minutes.  Something where you don’t have to stop what you are doing to put on a new song.  I will humbly offer up the slow movement to Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, if you are not already familiar with it.  Best wishes.   
Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2, Adagio

When the Blues has the Blues

When the Blues has the Blues

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

If I think back, I believe the first music I heard that could be classified as Blues would have been an old cassette tape of Ray Charles.  He was a giant in the world of music, with a musical voice all his own and became a foundational influence in the genres of Blues, R&B, and early Rock and Roll.  That old cassette had to be some sort of greatest hits compilation I’m sure, including such favorites as “Georgia On My Mind” and “What I’d Say”.  The one I remember as a straight up blues was a tune named “A Fool For You”.

Ray Charles, “ A Fool For You”

Robert Cray

Robert Cray

I was coming of age in that transition period between vinyl records and the first compact discs.  Most new releases were available on record, cassette and CD all at the same time.  Stores were selling records for less money, and I was able to explore new music by stretching my dollars and trying out things on LP.  I remember following the Grammy Awards and hearing the name Robert Cray for the first time.  I searched out some records by this blues guitarist, and bought them without having heard what they sounded like yet.  In the days before streaming music services, this was one of the only ways to hear something that wasn’t on the radio.

Robert Cray, “Smoking Gun”

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

This was during the same time that Stevie Ray Vaughan was getting a lot of attention with his brand of Texas Blues.  I was only beginning to realize at the time that the “Blues” comes in all shapes and sizes.  Chicago Blues, Texas Blues, Memphis Blues, Delta Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll with large blues roots.  Stevie Ray Vaughan’s was authentic Texas Blues that paid respect to what had gone before, as well as advance the tradition.  The two things that are most commonly known about Stevie is that he had a hit with “Pride and Joy”, and that he died tragically in a helicopter accident.  His life and career were cut short, but he is still a major figure in my music collection.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Pride and Joy”

This past week, one of the great sounds of the Blues was silenced when B.B. King died in his Las Vegas home under hospice care.  I wrote about B.B. King about six weeks ago, in a post entitled “No Introduction Needed For The King”, shortly before his recent hospitalization and transfer to home care.  Every Blues musician, blues fan, or fan of music in general is saddened by the passing of this great music legend.  He was a genuinely kind human being, from humble beginnings, who kept that humility through all of his success in the field of music.  If you have never heard another blues record in your life, you likely have heard something by B.B. King.  He didn’t invent the electric guitar, but anyone who has tried to play one owes Mr. King a debt.


We all miss you B.B !

B.B. King, “When Love Comes to Town”

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Soon, 2014 will be over and the New Year holiday will bring 2015, full of promise.  The start of a new year always seems like a punctuation, and place for new beginnings.  Resolutions, opportunities, and the time for a fresh start.  First, however, we have to send off the old year with a party.


Ella Fitzgerald, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”

Many people want to avoid being alone for this holiday celebration.  One of the proudest, and most opportunistic, traditions of the New Year’s eve party is to kiss someone at midnight.  Usually you kiss the one you love, but sometimes you make do and kiss the one you are with.

Ray Charles, “You Be My Baby”

One of the biggest traditions for New Year’s Day in classical music is Das Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker, the New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.  This is an insanely popular event, in which you submit your name a full year in advance for just a drawing to buy a ticket!  The concert always includes pleasant music from the Strauss family of musicians, and has featured some of the most talented conductors in the world leading the orchestra for the event.  Two real treats were the 1989 and 1992 concerts, both conducted by  Carlos Kleiber.  Kleiber was a musical genius who knew the entire orchestra repertoire, and did extensive research and preparation to conduct any piece.  Paradoxically, he made very few appearances, and even fewer recordings.  There are only a small number of pieces he conducted in public.  All of his recordings are gems, and his recording of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony is arguably one of the best performances of the ubiquitous work.

Carlos Kleiber was one of those guys who only came out of hiding when his refrigerator was bare.  He would then be motivated to appear in public, earn some resources to survive, and then go back to living in privacy.  He is one of the most respected and studied conductors, and his performances were few and far between.  The 1992 New Year’s Concert is a wonderfully enjoyable outing by Maestro Kleiber.

New year’s Concert 1992, Carlos Kleiber,  Vienna Philharmonic

It has been my pleasure starting this blog in 2014, and hope to continue it strong in the new year.  Thanks to all you have read, listened, shared and commented at Good Music Speaks.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015, filled with Good Music.

London New Year’s Eve Fireworks