Today is Valentine’s Day — the day of red roses, red wine, chocolate in red boxes, and crowded Olive Gardens that should keep you out of the red with their limitless supply of garlic bread sticks. It’s also the day of love songs. So in honor of this day, Billboard compiled a list of the 50 best love songs ever, with as it says, “some variation of the word ‘love’.” There’s Janet Jackson’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” at # 41, The Beatles’ “She Loves You” at #29, and Rihanna’s “We Found Love” at #3, which may all be good songs to groove the night away and eventually fall into bed (we only hope!) with in the background. Nevertheless, there’s a considerable lack in this list. What happened to “My Funny Valentine” sung by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday, for instance? Lists, lists, lists–let us lament their limitations! Since we missed the 110th anniversary of his birthday last November, according to NPR Jazz; it’s a good time, if belated, to honor the jazz maestro who best expressed the romantic impulse in the greatest love song ever: “Body and Soul.”
That man is Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins was a virtuosos on tenor saxophone. He wanted his instrument to be just as expressive as Louis Armstrong’s horn. By considerable effort, he got there. Hawkins was also a good example of what people see in jazz: suave, sophisticated in person and in his sartorial style, and in his layered playing. Of course, there are many excellent instrumental versions of “Body and Soul”–Duke Ellington did an LP that stands the test of time, and Louis Armstrong has an inimitable version that conveys his talent for making the artificial poignant. Yet it is Hawkins who delivers a potion that makes you want to fall in love. Hawkins has the interesting dilemma of not belonging to a school: not swing, not bebop. That is, Hawkins brought to tenor sax an originality that is almost Ellingtonian: beyond category. He precedes them all, while having also given much to them. They’ll be no Lester Young without Hawkins. But listening to Hawkins’s “Body and Soul” with his tenor sax gliding in relaxed and elegant exhilaration, taking hold of a sudden and pulsating passion, and then lingering and slowly letting go of the feeling in an enveloping sonic intimacy gives this tune its powerful effect. It is body and soul.