For almost any jazz standard I will ante Ella Fitzgerald, see you Betty Carter, and raise you Billie Holiday or Nina Simone. But for this song -composed by Bart Howard and Lou Levy- for me there is only Lena Horne.
In high school, when I discovered it, I was deeply into my identity as a jazz aficionado. Let Me Love You is a slow b-side sleeper on this issue of Lena Horne’s iconic album, Stormy Weather. As a saxophonist and an anxious child, I had pitched my tent firmly in bebop. I had little patience for ballads, and initially did not adore Lena’s more classical vocal styling and vibrato.
But then I had my first boyfriend, and I was eager to overflow with the ‘magical’, ‘enchanting’ sentiments of my burgeoning heart. I studied ballads like the pious study scripture. I went over and over in my had the perfect combination or love songs that could fully express the depth of my love. There may even have been a mix tape.
It all ended in tears (of course). And ‘romantic’ relationships are still a bike I haven’t quite learned to ride yet. But torch I lit way back then still burns for torch songs. And I find this one exceptional.
Let Me Love You has come to mind because I believe i may be in that moment when a friendship can turn. As with my first boyfriend, I am eager to be filled with love. But beyond that desire, the potential ‘us’ has some barriers and hesitations, and I feel like almost all of it is both out of my control and beyond my ken.
A fraction of daydreams that here is the only love that could likely work for me. Here is the only person with whom I have a foundation absolutely intended for this ‘meant to be’ relationship to rise upon. That fraction is singing this song.
The first verse speaks simultaneously, paradoxically, to the power of those ‘three little words’, and how desperate we can become to cram the vastness of feeling into something as flimsy as language.
The last verse begs: to prove love, and for the proffered love to be accepted. But then, at the last, let’s it all go. It is the raw, tunnel vision want of a one night stand. Or a love whose time came, and was lush, and has just this very moment gone. All there in the simple, unsentimental lyrics and Lena’s pure, floating voice. I love you, but I know I cannot hold you.
I’ll buy you the dawn if you let me love you today. And tomorrow I’ll send you merrily on your way.