[Monday Notes No.35] The Man I Love is a great classic of jazz and American music, one of the most beautiful love songs composed by George Gershwin. The lyrics of the song tell the story of waiting for love, the protagonist daydreams of the arrival of the man who will make her happy, her predestined lover. We analyse Lester Young’s interpretation.
The song has an AABA form and repeatedly alternates major and minor chords, creating a constant chiaroscuro effect that perfectly reflects the succession of emotions: confidence and discouragement, doubt and uncertainty about whether the dream of love will come true. It is no coincidence that the B part of the song, the saddest part, begins with the word Maybe, a dilemma that torments the protagonist.
Lester Young’s trio performs the piece in instrumental form and thus without words, yet it is faithful to the spirit of the song. After an introduction by the piano, at which Nat King Cole sits, the saxophone exposes the theme in a moving and intense fashion.
This is followed by the piano solo (1’40”), which is very interesting. Despite having had more success as a singer Nat King Cole is a refined and original pianist, in this case his solo is almost reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s style. The pianist’s improvisation consists mainly of short, broken phrases, full of melancholic silences.
In the duet between Lester Young and Nat King Cole on The Man I Love, we can imagine the clash of two emotions, as told by the song’s lyrics: the saxophone conveys confidence and optimism, while the piano expresses doubt and discouragement.
Many talented jazz musicians respect the rule not to play a theme whose words they do not remember. Even if a piece is played in instrumental form, the song must always be respected and knowing its content is essential to translate its emotions into sound. In their interpretation of The Man I Love, Nat King Cole and Lester Young do that extremely well.
Until next Monday!