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My Old Flame

Written: 1934

Words and Music by: Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston

Written for: Belle of the Nineties (movie, 1934)

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Main Stage || Record/Video Cabinet || Reading Room || Posted Comments || Credits

On the Main Stage at Cafe Songbook

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video before starting another.)

Carmen McRae
(Eric Gunnison, piano; Scott Colley, Bass;
Mark Pulice, Drums)


"My Old Flame"
(and "Getting Some Fun Out of Life"
by Edgar Leslie and Joe Burke)

(at the Good Day Club, Tokyo, 1990)

More Performances of "My Old Flame"
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet
(Video credit )


Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"My Old Flame"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Movie Belle of the Nineties / Origins of the Song

Other songs written for the movie Belle of the Nineties currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook: none


For a complete listing of songs used in this movie, see IMDB Soundtracks.



Belle of the Nineties


Cocktails for Two by Sam Coslow
Sam Coslow.
Cocktails for Two: The many lives of giant songwriter Sam Coslow New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1977

The sheet music for "My Old Flame credits both Coslow and Johnston for music and lyrics, however, various other references, including Robert and Robert Kimball in their book Reading Lyrics suggest Johnston wrote the music and Coslow the words. Coslow himself in his autobiography Cocktails for Two just says he and Johnston "collaborated" on the song. However, in his comment quoted below on Duke Ellington congratulating him on writing "My Old Flame" there is an implication that Ellington is referring to the music, as he almost never wrote the lyrics for his own songs.

In his autobiography, Coslow gives some background on the Mae West performance of "My Old Flame" when he points out that having her do "a torch ballad" was something new for her. Coslow goes on:

Her rendition established what was to be a song standard. . . . [and] I don't suppose it hurt her one bit that she had the backing of Duke Ellington and his band in the scene. We had suggested Duke to Mae. When the studio objected because the band had become too expensive by then , Mae insisted, and got her way.

Coslow also recalls that during a visit he later paid to Ellington he received one of his greatest compliments: "Duke volunteered the statement that if there were one song by another writer he wished he had written, it would be 'My Old Flame'" (Coslow, p. 151).


(This section remains in preparation.)

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Critics Corner

Book cover: Alec Wilder, "America's Popular Song"
Alec Wilder, American Popular Song The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Alec Wilder calls "My Old Flame" "A very fine song!" taking particular note of several devices used by the composers: how "beautifully" they employ a technique, used in many other songs, of "dropping down to a note not in the scale of the key in which the song is written"; contrasting the opening measures by having the melody go into a "small dance for itself"; and finally "moving into the key of B fat quite unexpectedly. The whole release, again returning to B flat for a moment is a particular prize."

(To illustrate, Wilder reproduces the portions of the score in which these techniques are used.) --see Wilder, pp. 483-484, hard cover edition.)

book cover: "The Jazz Standards" by Ted Gioia
Ted Gioia
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire
New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012

For Ted Gioia, The song is especially interesting because it is written in a major key but sounds minor, and because it combines two contrary modes: intimacy and intricacy, a combination that "casts a certain charm over performances of the standard." He notes that the song has retained and even increased its popularity with jazz musicians having received more recordings in the first decade of the twenty-first century than in the thirties and forties combined (pp. 282-284).
  (This section remains in preparation.)
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Lyrics Lounge

Currently no source for providing the lyrics is available; however Ella Fitzgerald sings the lyric, including the verse, exactly as it was written.

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "My Old Flame" can be found in:

book cover: "Reading Lyrics" Ed. by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball

Reading Lyrics,
Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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("My Old Flame" page)


Credits for Videomakers of videos used on this page:

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For further information on Cafe Songbook policies with regard to the above matters, see our "About Cafe Songbook" page (link at top and bottom of every page).

The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"My Old Flame"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)
Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

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Mae West
(with the Duke Ellington Orchestra)
album: The Definitive Mae West

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The song was written for Mae West to perform in the 1934 movie, Belle of the Nineties. According to Ted Gioia in his book The Jazz Standards, West's involmement with the song speaks to her attitude toward both jazz and race. Gioia notes that although her current reputation is based mostly on her pose as a sex siren, her singing was influenced by the blues as sung by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. For the recording of "My Old Flame" she chose and insisted on Duke Ellington and his orchesra for her accompaniement. She also foiled Paramount's desire to substitute white faux on-screen players for Ellington's black musicians. Perhaps not surprisingly the West version was not the hit. America preferred the Guy Lombardo recording with its "Mickey Mouse arrangement" climbed to number 7 on the charts during the summer of 1934.

The track of "My Old Flame" on the music-video above is from the soundtrack of the movie Belle of the Nineties, on which Mae West is accompanied by Ellington and his orchestra. The Duke recorded nother version of "My Old Flame" with vocal by Ivie Anderson (recorded May 9, 1934) that is on the Ellington Orchesra album Raisin' The Rent.

same track as on album referenced just above

Amazon iTunes

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Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman

album: The Complete Recordings

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Coslow states, "Peggy's rendition of My Old Flame" on the Goodman record is one of my prize possessions"( Coslow, p. 201). The video below provides two takes of the Goodman rendition with Lee as vocalist. According to Ivan Santiago-Mercado, Peggy Lee's discographer, the two takes were made on August 20, (Chicago) and October 2, (New York) 1941, with the latter being the one that became the master for the original recording and for subsequent re-releases of "My Old Flame."
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Billie Holiday
album: Billie Holiday The Commodore Master Takes

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Billie is accompanied by Eddie Heywood and orchestra featuring Doc Cheatham, trumpet; Lem Davis, alto sax; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Teddy Walters, guitar; John Simmons, bass; and ‘Big Sid’ Catlett, drums (originally on Commodore 78rpm 10 inch, 585B-A4743-1).

"Anchored by "Strange Fruit," the stark evocation of malignant American racism that would become one of her signature songs, this chronicle of Billie Holiday's brief tenure at NYC jazz purveyor Milt Gabler's Commodore Records finds the singer at a crossroads as crucial to her career blossoming as it was controversial. Indeed, she likely wouldn't have recorded for the label at all had Columbia not balked at the explicit "Strange Fruit." Instead, her freelancing at Commodore offered the singer an opportunity to follow her mercurial muse in a way that was rare for any artist in the late '30's/early '40s, let alone a headstrong black woman with a personal life as stormy as her voice was magnificent. While the full sessions are available on The Complete Commodore Sessions), these are the 16 master takes that resulted, performances that cast Holiday in intimate small band settings, allowing the singer (who had just quit Artie Shaw's big band in frustration) and her blues/jazz-fueled sensibilities to soar to new heights" (from iTunes review).
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Charlie Parker
with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan and Max Roach

album: Quasimodo (famous Dial Sessions)

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Ted Gioia says the recording Parker et. al. made for the Dial label November 4, 1947, "ranks with the most moving ballad performances of his career."
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Chet Baker

album: Jazz at Ann Arbor

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Chet Baker (trumpet) was arguably at the peak of his prowess when captured in a quartet setting at the Masonic Temple in Ann Arbor, MI, May 9, 1954. He's joined by Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass) and Bob Neel (drums), all of whom provide ample assistance without ever obscuring their leader's laid-back and refined style" (from CD Universe Product Description)..
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Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, et. al.
album: Dig

not the same track as on album referenced above, rather, the bonus track from the Davis-Rollins album Chronicles - The Complete Prestige Recordings 1951-1956

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey combine on Dig, recorded in 1951, except for "My Old Flame" and "Conception" which date from 1956, and appear on a later release of the album. (The other musicians are pianist Walter Bishop, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, and bassist Tommy Potter.
Ted Gioia compares Miles' earlier playing on "My Old Flame" (1947 with Charlie Parker, see just above) by saying that by the mid-fifties Davis was part of the "oool school" and his ballad style had reached its maturity.
Here is the 1956 track from Dig.

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Carmen McRae
album: At Ratso's Vol. 2

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunesicon

Notes: "This is the second half of a previously unreleased Carmen McRae live performance from Ratso's jazz club in Chicago in 1976, and McRae is at her best. The play list for this volume is completely different than that appearing on Vol. 1. Nonetheless, it also is an eclectic offering of songs from a variety of composing sources, including Barry Mann, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, and Jimmy Rowles, to name a few. . . . . More rapid cadence pieces are prevalent on this volume than the first. . . . Her trio of Marshall Otwell, Ed Bennett, and Joey Baron are superlatively on the same page throughout the set" (from iTunesicon review).
Also see Carmen's live performance on the Cafe Songbook Main Stage. The video is from Tokyo, 1990.

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Sarah Vaughan
album: How Long Has This
Been Going On?

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "This set features the great Sarah Vaughan in a typically spontaneous Norman Granz production for Pablo with pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Louie Bellson. Sassy sounds wonderful stretching out on such songs as "Midnight Sun," "More Than You Know," "Teach Me Tonight," and "Body and Soul," among others. All ten of the melodies are veteran standards that she knew backwards but still greeted with enthusiasm. A very good example of late-period Sarah Vaughan" (Scott Yanow at CD Universe).
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Linda Ronstadt
album: Lush Life

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Lush Life is the second in Ronstadt's series of three albums devoted to American standard songs, all with arrangements and orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle, the others being What's New (1982, the first) and For Sentimental Reasons (1986, the third). All three of these Nelson Riddle collaboration albums have been combined onto a 2 CD set, Round Midnight -- the album shown in the video above.

Amazon iTunes icon

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Tony Bennett
album: Bennett on Holiday
A Tribute to Billie Holiday

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Tony is accompanied by Ralph Sharon on piano, with string arrangements by Jorge Calandrelli. He includes the verse in this rendition.

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Rebecca Kilgore Quartet
album: Yes, Indeed!

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Rebecca Kilgore (vocals and guitar); Eddie Erickson (the same plus banjo-- and does the vocal on "My Old Flame"), Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, piano, arrangements, vocals) and Joel Forbes (string bass) -- who is featured on the "My Old Flame track. (See review at Jazz Lives.)
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