A Post About Ballads

Ballads John Coltrane Jazz VinylI go to sleep to music each night. I am still archaic enough to have an iPod and I have created about 50 playlists, all ballads and soft music, and I rotate among them and put them on random play. I find it quite soothing and relaxing and, apparently, so do my usual bedfellows, which would be The Lovely Mrs. JC and the two dogs Marty and Gordon. So last night I was listening and, at random, there came “Who Can I Turn To” by Dexter Gordon and then “Say It (Over and Over Again)” by John Coltrane, and I was listening very closely and both performances were quite lovely and brilliant in their own ways. And, of course, it got me to thinking about who are my favorite ballad players and what are my favorite ballad performances. And, of course, I couldn’t fall asleep because I was mentally going through all of my records and trying to pick out my favorite artists and performances. In the end, before I eventually nodded off, I came up with some thoughts and decided to share them here with you this morning.

In the end, it turned out that Dexter and Coltrane are, indeed, my favorite artists when it comes to ballads, with Bird as the third artist in the mix. I’m limiting my list to horn players and purposely excluding vocalists, just because that’s how I decided to do it. When I started thinking about performances by these artists, I was actually blown away by how many great ballad performances by Coltrane are at or near the top of my list. If you look at the different eras of Coltrane, it is amazing what he was able to accomplish and how he evolved his approach to playing ballads from his early days with Miles even into his years at Impulse, excluding the last couple of years when he abandoned a lot of the structure of the music.

Off the top of my head with Coltrane I came up with:

Impulse: The entire Ballads and Johnny Hartman albums; Alabama; After the Rain; In a Sentimental Mood with Duke Ellington.

Atlantic: Naima, Every Time We Say Goodbye

Prestige: I Want to Talk About You, Theme for Ernie, Lush Life, I See Your Face Before Me

For Dexter, the list was shorter, but also quite impressive. I was thinking of the Blue Note and Prestige sides, including Stairway to the Stars, Who Can I Turn to, The Christmas Song, You’ve Changed, Until the Real Thing Comes Along.

For Bird there are, of course, all of the sides he did with strings, but I’ve also always been blown away by the Dial sides, especially when they issued all of the various takes and you could hear the multiple versions of tracks such as Embraceable You and Bird of Paradise, each one with a different approach, each one more beautiful than the one before it.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking as a fell asleep last night, so I figured I’d write about it when it was fresh in my head.

A couple more points, while I’m at it:

One: This is not meant to be a definitive list of artists or performers. Put a ballad by Getz or Paul Desmond on the turntable and I’m in heaven; or Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster or Miles Davis (who would probably be next on my list if I decided to continue it), or many other artists The post is meant to be food for thought and, perhaps, the beginning of an interesting thread here on Jazz Collector.

Two: I didn’t mention vocalists, but the preponderance of the artists on my playlists are singers, mostly jazz, but a few not. There’s a lot of Ella and Sarah and Rosemary Clooney (Concord) and Sinatra. There’s also a good deal of Brazilian music, plus some of my favorites outside of jazz, particularly Nancy LaMott, James Taylor and Allison Krauss. I’m very excited to be seeing James Taylor at Tanglewood this weekend, and very pleased that he finally was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor, which was long overdue.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear about other favorite ballad artists and performers from the Jazz Collector community.


  • Very interesting topic and I echo your sentiments regarding Trane and Dexter with respect to their horn. As for trumpet performances, one of my all time favorite ballads is Clifford Brown’s performance of “Once In A While” from A Night at Birdland Vol. 1. Another favorite of mine is Kenny Dorham’s performance of “Yesterdays” from volume 2 of The Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia. Both I think are spectacular.

  • O.K. I can’t hold back any longer! Ya got to start from the “Hawk”. All else comes later, please listen and try to understand the importance of Body and Soul. Do the homework and you will be rewarded, every jazz musician from 1939 on knows this. Thanks again.

  • banksofthecreeks

    How about trombone balladeers? Jack Teagarden, of course, then Lawrence Brown and Bill Harris — anyone more recent?

  • Is there anything from Groover Washington Jr. that you could not put you gently to sleep?

  • Talking about Ballads…

    I just got Coltrane’s Ballads. The label says ABC Paramount, I’ve read somewhere that the 1st pressing is an AM PAR. Now, Discogs is very unclear about this subject with this record. Can anyone enlighten me if I have a first?


  • My friend, how can you mention Ballads without mentioning both of my two favorites, Don Byas and especially, especially Red Garland? Astrud Gilberto was not too bad either nor was Lockjaw Davis with the Red Garland Trio. I have lots more but Don Byas and Red Garland definitely deserve to be there.

  • A great subject to discuss. Wow, there’s so many… Concerning vocalists, there’s Frank (of course!), also Anita O’Day, Chris Connor, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone, Jeanne Lee, Jackie Paris, Johnny Hartman, Steve Lawrence, Joao Gilberto. For instrumentals, there’s Getz, Hawk & Miles (as previously mentioned), also Brew Moore, Kenny Burrell, Bill Evans, Joe Newman, and many more I can’t think of right now.

  • Gregory the Fish

    1) I also still have an ipod, simply because the 160GB version has the most storage of any portable mp3 player ever released. and until they make a bigger one, this is what i will stick with.

    2) i do not like ballads very much compared to how much i like blistering bebop or mid-tempo tunes, so my participation in this endeavor will be minimal. i will say this: when it comes to ballads, no one played like the guitar greats, especially tal farlow. he could play at 3bpm and i would still love it.

    3) i almost universally dislike miles playing ballads. harsh, punchy, and peppered with random obscenely loud notes that blow me out the back wall of my apartment. in fact, as much as i generally enjoy miles, i am finding him to be sloppier and lazier in his playing these days than just about any other top trumpeter of his era. perhaps i will come back around. who knows.

  • The one I REALLY left out was Lester Young. But, in my defense, it was just off the top of my head for an interesting post and an interesting discussion.

  • “Autumn Leaves” Duke Ellington with Ozzie Bailey, “Almost Blue” Chet Baker and “Poor Butterfly” Sonny Rollins just to name a few of my Favs. Now that I’m thinking about it I have to go put on “Infant Eyes” Wayne Shorter and have a scotch. Nice topic. Will check back in later.

  • Abrasive_Beautiful

    Ballads don’t always strike me, but when they do-they really knock me out. Goosebumps, all that. Two recent ones that really got me were “Portrait Of Jennie” on Blue Mitchell BLP-4228 and “Passion Flower” on Oliver Nelson’s debut New Jazz LP. The Mitchell in particular makes that album worth owning, as sidewinder-fied boogaloo tracks are not really my bag. Trane’s ballad work on Prestige is the tops though.

  • So does anyone own an “Am-Par” label pressing of “ballads”??

  • The Am-Par label changed to ABC Paramount at A-33. My mono A32 is Am-Par. Never seen AS 32 that was not on ABC Paramount. Hope that helps.

  • First pressing of Ballads is Am-Par label. However, it’s darn close to the changeover, so I wouldn’t be concerned with having an ABC Paramount orange and black pressing. Still terrific.

  • I have a pristine abc paramount orange/black of “ballads” in stereo; good to know a mono “am par” exists even though I’m quite content with my copy. Was it not recorded in stereo?

  • Off the top of my head; best ballad of all time for me is “Danny’s Dream” by Lars Gullin. He captures a bittersweet, melancholy Swedish vibe and nothing else comes close. Lee Morgan plays beautifully on ballads, for example “I’ll Remember Clifford” and “All The Way”, Art Pepper is so lyrical in his playing and he masters the ballads with amazing brilliance, listen to “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” or “Diane”. Bird is a superb ballad player of course. Chet Bakers ballads album is great and how about Kenny Dorhams ballad work on “Quiet Kenny”. I love Zoot and Juttas “Violet For Your Furs” and Zoot on “Fools Rush In”. So many more though…

  • No expert, but I think because because the transition from Am-Par to ABC is so close to A32 AS32 that there must be some over lapping of labels. Would be sweet if someone had a Am-Par on one side and ABC on the other. I’m sure the stereo Am-Par is out there somewhere, I’ve just never seen one. I’m with Joe L, ABC black and orange is sweet.

  • I am listening to Coltrane “Live” at The Village Vanguard on Sparton Impulse! (Canadian first mono press) Sound quality is amazing and I have no urge to replace it with the Am-Par.

  • Agree with most of those mentioned – particularly love Coltrane Ballads, Chet Baker sings (+ Oh You Crazy Moon: spectacular!) and Clifford Brown with Strings

  • I’ll throw in Ben Webster, particularly Chelsea Bridge with Mulligan.

  • Don Byas & Ben Webster are so tender and beautiful. Their ballad playing is completely transcendent. Sonny’s The House I Live In is marvelous and absolutely can’t overlook Lee Morgan’s Ceora. All tremendous. I think ballads are much harder to do well and I always am always transported to a better place when I hear a gorgeous ballad.

  • Coleman Hawkins “Love Song from Apache” on Today and Now / Impulse. –> Best ballad ever ! I Play it sometimes to special guests, who are actually not interested in jazz but the result is alaways the same : Big emotions,tears in eyes, missing breath…

  • Listening to Bluesy Burrell with Coleman Hawkins. Great samba style ballads.

  • Charlie Parker – Out of nowhere and Hank Mobley – I should care (from the Blue Note session , December 5 1961) are amongst my fave´s.

  • regarding Coltrane Ballads album – though Impulse stereo are obviously preferrable, Ballads album is mixed a little bit confusing – Coltrane plays not in the center, but quite close to one side. Did anyone find this distracting? What’s more – mono copy isn’t that common, since the record was reissued many times and many copies of the late orange/black label are available.

  • Quick note to anyone in the Philadelphia area. If you scroll to the bottom of the Reader Forum you will see that someone is selling a collection.

  • Al mentioned Ella in his original post. I think one of the best ballad lps ever was an Ella album where she is accompanied by pianist Paul Smith and no one else. This is a remarkable quiet set with some great renditions of songs like “I Cried For You”, “Black Coffee” and “Angel Eyes”. Ella never sounded better. The original title of the lp was “Let No Man Write My Epitaph”. I think it’s available on CD under a different title. This is best listened to late at night with low lights and a drink.

  • Ike Quebec, Don Byas, Ben Webster and Coltrane for me among the saxophonists (with Lars Gullin also an excellent mention upthread).

    Duke Jordan, Red Garland, Monk, Jimmy Smith and/or Freddie Roach among the keyboardists.

    Toss-up between Kenny Burrell and Grant Green on guitar.

  • Gregory the Fish

    i have a double-sided Am-Par copy of ballads. i happen to have seen Am-Par one side and ABC on the other for both the Jackie Paris and Ellington/Trane LPs before, though I have double Am-Par for the Paris and Duke/Trane is the last Am-Par that I lack!

  • Abrasive_Beautiful

    Coincidentally, I found a double AM-PAR “Ballads” today at my local store. Some good listening tonight!

  • Stan Getz is my favourite ballad player – but is also my favourite jazzman ever, period. I’ve no particular favourite title in mind, because everything he played was brilliant (“Sweet Rain” and the Café Monmartre ballads are my personnal highlights anyway)

    After comes John Coltrane, Don Byas, same as Stan : i cannot choose, so i choose everything. Joe Henderson playing “La Mesha” never fails to give me chills.

    For the pianists, i’d say Tommy Flanagan is an incredibly good ballad player : his “Central Park West” on Giant Steps on Enja is a beauty. Then comes in mind : Bill Evans on “My Man’s gone now….” ; Don Friedman on Love’s parting..

    At the trumpet, Art Farmer plays ballads beautifully…

  • Kenny Drew – Clifford Brown – Max Roach
    Best Coast Jazz jam session
    You Go to my Head

  • Who’s your favourite composer of ballads though? My vote is Jimmy Van Heusen – All The Way, But Beautiful (love this on “Open Sesame”, Here’s That Rainy Day, It’s Always You, It Could Happen To You (maybe my fave song), Like Someone In Love, Darn That Dream, Deep In A Dream, just off the top of my head.

  • what_can_brown

    Mal Waldron’s Warm Canto from The Quest gets my vote. It’s ballad-enough right?

  • A long time ago I learned the hard lesson of differentiating between subjective and objective judgments — between “my favorite” and “the best” — in life in general and art in particular. So I offer the following choices that belong in the former category — at least.

    The list is pathetically incomplete and in no particular order other than that which my subconscious prepared. Not an “all time” list; these choices are snapshots in time. Artists are selected not just for the tunes noted, but also for their wider ballad oeuvre. Please forgive any duplications of previously noted performances.

    Mark Murphy — “Blood Count” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYD4d4S2fLE&list=PLeDc9-elqxqVhi8hb3vCjYIXU3zuPjXAK&index=4

    Mark Murphy — “The Night We Called it a Day”/”There’s No You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKpOXHEuj0g

    Sonny Rollins — “He’s Younger Than You Are” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlByLbPnXXI&list=RDPlByLbPnXXI

    Clifford Brown — “Where or When” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a_2w5f8GHg

    Shirley Horn — “There’s No You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv-xh272Yg0

    Phil Woods — “Chelsea Bridge” (Campi) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wml0lP1EY8k

    Phil Woods/Mel Torme — “Bye Bye Blackbird” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CmdnCVBjUA

    Phil Woods/Lena Horne — “Someone to Watch Over Me” (from “Lena Horne: a New Album” — can’t find this on the Internet, alas)

    Bobby Hacket — “The Eyes of Love” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdIEalzmdiM

    Toots Thielemans/Quincy Jones — “The Eyes of Love” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA36Anlf1bw

    Toots Thielemans/Elis Regina — “O Barquinho” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-g-mkBpnew

    Art Pepper — “Our Song” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHw8LDqwWjw

    Jackie McLean — “Left Alone” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s5iD-q9FUU

    Bill Evans — “Minha” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMh2BIP9xEQ

    Bob Brookyeyer/Stan Getz — “Misty” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZQXLsE6GXg

    Freddie Hubbard — “Moment to Moment” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mdkz6JqVrP8

    Wayne Shorter — “Lady Day” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mdkz6JqVrP8

    To name a few.

  • Ballads?:
    John Coltrane Acension
    Albert Ayler Bells
    Charles Gayle Jesus Christ and Scriptures

    (Perhaps Mr. Clifford might understand the whys of my selections.)

  • I’m glad Clifford mentioned Ike Quebec and Grant Green. One of my favorite ballad performances is Count Every Star from Ike’s Blue & Sentimental album.

  • Gregory The Fish

    lennib, i like the cut of your gib!

  • Ayler, yes — great balladeer with some of the most gutting pathos ever put into a saxophone. “Mothers” off of the Ghosts LP is truly stunning and there is some of that gloomy, wrenching playing in parts of the long form “Bells” suite. I should have mentioned him earlier.

    Ascension is a great record although I think of it as such a variegated piece of music that ascribing “ballad” or “free form” to the results doesn’t really do much to explain the breadth of its 40 minutes.

    Gayle can play ballads, for sure, though the heat of his playing in the more blistering performances seems to be what gets people going. He’s an interesting person, too.

  • …I’ll limit myself to just late 50’s non-vocal Jazz ballads otherwise this could get a bit messy:

    (1.) “Here’s That Rainy Day” by Bill Evans
    (2.) “Autumn Leaves” by Cannonball Adderley
    (3.) “It Never Entered My Mind” by Miles Davis

    Bonus selection:
    (1.) “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by Chucho Valdes (Solo-Live In New York)

  • …Sorry, the one by Bill Evans was issued in the late 60’s and the Chucho Valdes (bonus Selection) was from 2001. That being said, I ventured beyond the late 50’s in my selections above !

  • Yusef Lateef, Eastern Sounds, Purple Flower
    Roland Kirk, Now Please Don’t You Cry Beautiful Edith (t/t)
    Jack Wilson, Something Personal, Harbor Freeway 5PM
    Andrew Hill, Judgement, Alfred
    Bobby Hutcherson, Happenings, Bouquet
    Milt Jackson, Sunflower, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life
    Art Farmer, The Summer Knows (t/t)
    Keith Jarrett, Tokyo ’96, Never Let Me Go
    Art Pepper, One September Afternoon, Goodbye Again
    Stanley Turrentine & 3 Sounds, Blue Hour, Willow Weep for Me
    Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage, Little One
    Horace Silver, Song for My Father, Lonely Woman
    Coltrane, Crescent, Wise One
    Charles Lloyd, Forest Flower, Song of Her
    Miles, Quiet Nights, Summer Night
    Wes Montgomery, Bumpin’
    Gerry Mulligan, Night Lights (t/t)
    Pete LaRoca, Basra, Lazy Afternoon
    Lee Morgan, Vol. 3, I Remember Clifford
    Bill Evans, Sunday at the VV, My Man’s Gone Now
    Horace Parlan, Speakin’ My Piece, Oh So Blue
    Mal Waldron, Mal 4, JM’s Dream Doll

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