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COLUMN: The art of love songs peaked in the Jazz Age



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Hoagy Carmichael plays the piano. Carmichael became famous after the popularity of his 1926 song "Stardust." Courtesy Photo

It’s the twenties again, and to get into the swing of a new decade we should all listen to more jazz, particularly jazz love songs. Ranging from confessions of love to missing that special someone, the following songs will convince you there’s nothing more sentimental than a saxophone.

“My Baby Just Cares for Me,” music by Walter Donaldson and lyrics by Gus Kahn (1930)

Starting right off the bat with “My baby don’t care for shows/My baby don’t care for clothes/My baby just cares for me,” this tune tells the listener that it’s okay to have a boring boo. As long as they love you, that’s all that matters. Nina Simone’s debut album “Little Girl Blue” popularized the song in 1958, and it’s my personal favorite recording of the piece as well.

“Love is Here to Stay,” music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin (1938)

The last composition completed by songwriting legend George Gershwin before his death in 1937, “Love is Here to Stay” was released the following year in the film “The Goldwyn Follies.” My personal favorite rendition comes from Billie Holiday, her voice perfectly complementing the promise that “The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble/They’re only made of clay, but/Our love is here to stay.”

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” music by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields (1928)

You might have heard this track on Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s album of duets “Cheek to Cheek” when it was released in 2014, but this song dates all the way back to the roaring twenties. The song makes no big promises; quite the opposite, the singer ensures their love interest “I can’t give you anything but love, baby/Love’s the only thing I’ve plenty of.” Sometimes it’s the simple things, isn’t it?

“You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” Spencer Williams (1928)

First popularized by Bessie Smith in 1928, this blues tune is both very edgy and just a little bit aged. But just imagine cute girls in beaded dresses with chin-length bobs getting down to the lyrics “Hear me cryin’ on my bended knees/If you want to put my soul at ease/You’ve got to give me some” and the song becomes a little more hip. I would recommend Bessie Smith’s 1928 recording or Cécile McLorin Salvant’s 2017 recording on her album “Dreams and Daggers.”

“That Old Feeling,” music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Lew Brown (1937)

“That Old Feeling” is a song about seeing someone you used to love and getting butterflies in your stomach at the sheer sight of them. The lyrics “It’s much too late for me, it’s foolish to start/For that old feeling is still in my heart” tell that special someone they’re the end all be all of romance. Chet Baker’s rendition is wonderful, as are all the love songs on his 1956 album “Chet Baker Sings.”

“Stardust,” Hoagy Carmichael (1926)

The story goes that a heartbroken Hoagy Carmichael was wandering the streets of Bloomington when he started humming the melody that would become “Stardust.” Carmichael ran to the Book Nook on Indiana Avenue, now inhabited by Buffa Louie’s, and wrote the song that would make himself a star. The rest is history.

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