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Live in Rio de Janeiro, November, 2008, backed by her band: Diana Krall, piano and vocals; John Clayton, bass; Anthony Wilson, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums -- with Paulinho DaCosta, percussion and the Rio De Janeiro Orchestra under the direction of Ruria Duprat. Arrangement by Claus Ogerman.
Alex Aarons, Vinton Freedley and The Alvin Theater
The Alvin Theater, located on West 52nd St. in the Broadway theater district of New York City, was named for the two producers who built it in 1926-27. The name was created from the first syllables of their first names: "Al" + "Vin." (As of 1983, The Alvin was renamed the Neil Simon Theater.)
Funny Face was the first show to be staged at the Alvin, opening on November 22, 1927. Aarons and Freedley also produced the Gershwins' three previous hit shows Lady, Be Good! (1924), Tip-Toes (1925) and Oh, Kay! (1926), using some of the profits from them to build the new house.
(All but two of the eighteen songs George Gershwin chose for inclusion in his Song-book from the hundreds he had already written by the late 1920s, have also been chosen for inclusion in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook, created c. 2008. (The two that weren't are on our short list.) This suggests Gershwin knew, with a great deal of accuracy, while, and/or not long after, he was writing them which of his songs were destined to last.
The republication of George Gershwin's Song-book
under the title The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook,
New York: Simon and Schuster,
(The republished volume includes the same content as the original)
In her Supplement to Isaac Goldberg's George Gershwin A Study in American Music, Edith Garson includes in the discography the notion that the eighteen songs of Gershwin's Song-book, which Garson calls "Transcriptions of Eighteen Songs" can be considered a single piece. She writes, "This is no doubt the least known of Gershwin's compositions" (meaning concert compositions) while in the next breath acknowledging that the composer did not consider these eighteen songs taken together to be a "work"; but adds, nevertheless, it is, "in a way a stylistic distillation along the lines of Bartók's Microcosmos." She then goes on to distinguish the one from the other: "Unlike the Bartók pieces, which are graded piano pieces proceeding from the simplest to most difficult, the Transcriptions are all exceedingly difficult to play." She lists one recording by pianist Leonid Hambro, number 200 on the Walden label.
Funny Face, originally titled Smarty, first previewed under the latter name at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia on October 11, 1927. Subsequent tryouts took place in Washington DC, and Wilmington, Delaware before the show opened as Funny Face on Broadway on November 22, 1927 for a run of 244 performances. This number came close to matching the Gershwins' previous hit, Oh, Kay! (256 performances) in 1926, but could not approach equalling (just to show the competition of the era) contemporaneous shows like A Connecticut Yankee with score by Rodgers and Hart, Vincent Youmans'Hit the Deck or Show Boat with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (which ran for 572 performances), not to mention several other shows of that year with even longer runs. Funny Face also had a London run of 267 opening on Nov. 8, 1928, with a new cast, excepting Fred and Adele Astaire whose popularity in Britain provided a substantial boost to ticket sales there.
bookfor Funny Face was written by Fred Thompson and Paul Gerard Smith, the latter replacing Robert Benchley the very popular New Yorker writer, theater critic and humorist during previews while the show was still titled Smarty.
The rather extended period of previews for Funny Face (six weeks worth) noted above was due in part to the show being fraught with problems including the departure under pressure of Benchley. When the producers brought the famous man on board his reputation made them smell success but the book he and Thompson wrote proved unwieldy and Benchley bowed out with the partly self-critical comment, "Gosh, how can I criticize other people's shows if I had anything to do with this?" (The Gershwins, p. 80). George Gershwin biographer Edward Jablonski reports that to Ira Gershwin "the show's pre-New York version "looked like a failure." Ira went on to say that during the period of previews there was an enormous amount of "recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, [and] recriminating -- [but] of rejoicing there was none." Jablonksi writes that Fred Astaire called that time "Agony," and that the entire show including score got redone and some of the cast members replaced. Coincidentally, Richard Rodgers was in Philadelphia for the try-outs of his and Lorenz Hart's show A Connecticut Yankee and caught a preview of the Gershwin show. Rodgers wrote of Smarty in a letter to Dorothy Feiner, his future wife, "God will have to do miracles if it's going to be fixed" (Katherine Riley, The Astaires: Fred & Adele, p. 112). More importantly in the long run, Allan Kearns came in for Stanley Ridges to play opposite Adele Astarie and the comic actors Victor Moore and Earl Hampton were added, quite successfully, to play the jewel thieves. Jablonski comments that although the producers finally saw some things they liked, the book remained "a piece of fluff about jewel robbery" involving an aviator, an attempt to cash in on all the current fuss about Lindbergh. Adele Astaire played her usual "charming ingenue" role while Fred was her "foster-brother" and "suffering guardian." With hindsight, Astaire summed things up:
Finally we went into Wilmington Delaware, for a three night stand. We were changing it and changing it, and we really didn't know what we had. But we were due in at the Alvin Theater, and we had a smash hit. We had the show right [in Wilmington] but we didn't know what we had (Bob Thomas, Astaire, p. 59).
During the tryouts the producers were rather rough on the Gershwins' songs. As a result, George and Ira were forced to come up with an extraordinary amount of new material. Astonishingly, a flood of 24 songs emanated from the brothers for Smarty/Funny Face of which eleven fell by the wayside by the time the troubled previews were over -- though several of these, including "How Long Has This Been Going On?" survived to appear in later shows (Including the 1983 hit My One and Only), and, in its case, go on to become a standard. Perhaps the last straw of the taxing preview period came when, upon departing Wilmington, George, feeling the show was finally ready for Broadway and they could return to New York with some degree of relief, discovered he had lost his tune book containing forty as yet unused songs. After a frantic but unsuccessful attempt to recover it, he expressed a form of self-confident resignation reserved for geniuses, and optimistic ones at that, suggesting there were more where those came from (Jablonski, pp. 144-145). He was right, of course.
The reviews of Funny Face contained some common strains: the book was eminently forgettable, the Gershwin songs were an asset (an estimate that with hindsight would now certainly seem an understatement), but the key element for the show's eventual success would be the dancing of the Astaires (for whom Funny Face would be their last joint appearance in a musical). Jablonski quotes a couple of the better known critics as follows:
George Jean Nathan spoke for most when he wrote in Judge magazine that "the Astaire team lifts the evening as they lifted equally dubious vehicles and sends the show gaily over. If there are better dancers anywhere I must have been laid up with old war wounds when they displayed themselves." Alexander Woollcott underscored the Astaire-Gershwin affinity with "I don't know whether George Gershwin was born into this world to write rhythms for Fred Astaire's feet or whether Fred Astaire was born into this world to show how the Gershwin music should really be danced" (Gershwin
A Biography, p. 145, hardcover Ed.).
Kathleen Riley quotes the New York Sun review of Funny Face from November 23, 1927, the day after the show's Broadway opening:
They are a sort of champagne cup of motion, those Astaires. They live, laugh and leap in a world that is all bubbles. They are sleek, long-shanked, blissfully graceful, both of them. Their dance steps flash and quiver with an intricacy which declines to be taken seriously but which is none the less a maker of marvels (The Astaires: Fred & Adele New York: Oxford UP, 2012, p. 111).
"'S Wonderful" gets performed by Adele Astaire playing Frankie and Allan Kearns playing her romantic interest, Peter Thurston. Frankie is one of three sisters under the guardianship of Jimmy Reeves (Fred Astaire) whose wealthy parents have taken the orphaned girls into their household. Peter Thurston is a house guest and famous aviator. Frankie has written some lies about Jimmy in her diary -- her lying being a comic leitmotif in the show. The diary, however, has gotten locked up in Jimmy's safe and in order to retrieve it, she has enlisted Thurston's help. As they make their plans, they begin to fall in love and sing "He Loves and She Loves." Later in the show Frankie and Peter sing "'S Wonderful," to one another, an affirmation of the progress of their romance. The latter song turned out to be the show's big hit, two recordings making the charts, the biggest seller by Frank Crumit.
Frank Crumit sings "'S
Wonderful," on his Victor record 21029, recorded October 25, 1927 (a month before the show opened on Broadway, November 22). His version reached number 5 on the Billboard charts in January, 1928. The lyrics Crumit sings consist of
refrain1, verse 2 and refrain 2 almost exactly as Ira wrote them and as they were sung by Adele Astaire and Allan Kearns in the original version of Funny Face. The exceptions in Crumit's arrangement include changing "boys" to "girls" in a line sung in the show by a female (Adele Astaire as Frankie) and changing the second refrain by replacing its last four lines with a repeat of the first four. Also, he is attentive to the pronuncations Ira wanted. e. g. clipping syllables as in "'S" for "it's," etc. Crumit is accompanied by Jack Shilkret on pipe organ. Go to the Lyrics Lounge, this page, or to The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin to read the full lyric. There you will note that Ira Gershwin wrote three more verses and four more refrains that were not used in the show but have been variously sung by other performers over the years.
Jimmy's (Fred's) Love interest is another of the sisters, June, played by Gertrude McDonald, to whom he sings "My One and Only" (titled in the show as "What Am I Going to Do?"). This was Fred's crack at both singing and dancing one of the several songs from Funny Face that would turn out to be a standard.
It's interesting to note that although Fred and Adele are the stars of the show (as they had been previously in other Gershwin shows), being sister and brother in real life, they never played opposite one another as a romantically involved couple.
Adele and Fred do get to sing and dance together in the show on the title song as well as the famously satirical number "The Babbitt and the Bromide."
The song mocks the trivia-saturated conversation of a segment of contemporary society as did Sinclair Lewis in his 1922 novel Babbitt and
humorist Gelett Burgess did in his 1906 lampoon of "tiresome bores," Are You a Bromide?(Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, p. 411).
There is no known video of Fred and Adele singing and dancing the "The Babbitt and the Bromide" but we know the number included the dance routine that first made the Astaires famous -- "The Runaround." You may recognize Fred's dancing partner in the clip below -- even though Fred feigns not to.
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly perform (singing and dancing together for the first time) "The Babbitt and the Bromide" (music by George Gershwin, words by Ira Gershwin, originally from the 1927 show Funny Face) -- here, in the 1946 movie Ziegfeld Follies.
Isaac Goldberg was a musicologist and close personal friend of both George and Ira who published his critical biography of George during the composer's lifetime. Goldberg observed first hand how close the brothers were, living and working and thinking together as well as sharing their lives with the rest of the Gershwin family in any number of apartments and houses in Manhattan. Goldberg muses capturing what the brothers' symbiotic collaboration on "'S Wonderful," both poetically and technically, must have been like:*
George has been rambling over the keys and has come upon a sensuous, gliding music that expresses insidiously the general notion of ecstacy in love. . . . He plays it to Ira; he plays it, in fact, to everybody who'll listen. That's George. Ira is soon humming the tune unaided. He feels, better than an outsider would feel, the very psychology of the music; and, as he points out, words, may suit a specific rhythmic outline and yet be false to the essential meaning of the tune. Against this, from the very nature of the collaboration, he is protected.
The music to the
verses -- I quote the second stanza -- is one of those sequences that George manages with such simple skill. Beginning his phrase on the fourth note of the scale he climbs, with each succeeding phrase, diatonically up to the octave, then phrase-wise descends to the fifth, with two lines to introduce the
refrain. To this happy musical thought Ira metes an alternative of apocopate [of or pertaining to the cutting off of the last syllable or sound of a word] rhymes that are equally happy:
Don't mind telling you,
In my humble fash,
That you thrill me through
With a tender pash.
When you said you care
'magine my emosh;
I swore then and there
You made all other boys seem blah;
Just you alone filled me with AAH!
The chopped-off rhymes provide a clever preparation for the opposite effect in the refrain, where it is the beginning of the word, not the end, that disappears. For the chorus Ira has a sudden inspiration. To George's melting ecstasy he matches an ecstatic expression that at once is true to the singer and his milieu, and mirrors the melting, linguistically:
You should care for me!
'S awful nice--
'S what I live to see!
You made my life so glamorous
You can't blame me for feeling amorous, oh!
That you should care for me!**
Ira here catches the spirit of the music note for note, rising with it to the climax on "glamorous--the melody here is Schubertianly felicitous--and fitting it with glovelike fidelity in all its lines and curves. It is in such adaptiveness as this, rather than in the literary quality of the words, that a lyricist shows his mettle. Nor was this case any more accidental than George's music. Ira has matched it often (Goldberg, pp. 199-201, Ungar paperback Ed.).
[*The quotation above is perhaps longer than the rules of fair use permit, especially as it contains a portion of the lyric, but it fits and enhances the ability of the content of this page to fulfill its purpose in discussing the origins of "'S Wonderful" to such an extent that we felt it necessary. If the publisher/copyright holder of the book feels otherwise, please contact us and we will take it down.]
**perhaps the performance most faithful to the intent of the composer and the lyricist, on this page at least, is the 1927 Frank Crumit recording (Listen above.)
John O'Hara Appointment in Samarra (originally published New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1934 -- Penguin Classics Deluxe, shown above)
One of Ira Gershwin's pet peeves through the portion of his life coming after writing "'S Wonderful" was singers undoing his attempt to create a particular set of sound effects in his lyric for this song. George said with regard to this, "Now, in song lyric writing, sound is one of the most important things, and I don't think anybody surpasses my brother, Ira, when it comes to inventing song titles. He fancies abbreviation. For example, "Sunny Disposish" and "'S Wonderful." And don't ever let Ira hear you say 'It's Wonderful.' Just "'S Wonderful,' 'S Marvelous'." Sound, in fact, was Ira's "principle reason for writing the lyric for "'S Wonderful." specifically, as he notes in his memoir Lyrics on Several Occasions, "to feature the sibilant sound effect" produced by "deleting the 'it' of 'it's' and slurring the leftover 's'" into "Wonderful" (p. 52, paperback Ed.). He gets annoyed and "baffled" when any of a number of singers restore what he has taken out by singing "It's Wonderful," "It's Marvellous," etc.
Ira also used other versions of what he called "syllable clipping" in the song. He had heard comedian Walter Catlett clip some syllables such as "pash" for "passion" and and "delish" for "delicious" during his performance in the Gershwin's show Lady, Be Good! from the previous year, 1926, and found it amusing. Consequently Ira decided to try it in his lyric for what became "'S Wonderful" as well as in his lyric for "Sunny Disposish" that he had written with Phil Charig for the revueAmericana, also from 1926. Furthermore, these kinds of syllable alterations and other affectations of speech had been around, used in light verse, for example; and in fact, as Philip Furia reveals, were active in the parlance of the era. There existed a twenties-speak or "flapperese" as Furia calls it, current among twenty-somethings that is parodied in the book for Smarty/Funny Face. It was a kind of early 2th century precursor to the later 20th century Valley Girl dialect and, no doubt, endless other such linguistic fads taken up by younger sets across the generations. Ira's versions such as "fash," "pash," "emosh," and "devosh" came out of the jazz age air, his creative imagination, and his penchant for fooling around with sounds for their own sake. Again as Furia notes, he was "pushing linguistic playfulness to new extremes" and in the process "making language itself the wondrous subject, a linguistic exuberance that reflects the joyous confusion of falling in love" (The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists pp. 133-34, paperback Ed.). Ira Gershwin wound up making his lyric and "'S wonderful" itself quite au courant and with the same strokes of his pen, immortal.
"Immortal" would have surprised the modest Ira but perhaps not as much as the charge of being immoral did when one "proper twenties" critic called his use of the phrase in "'S Wonderful," "feeling amorous," "obscene." He notes this in his memoir Lyrics on Several Occasions written in 1959, at the same time wondering what the critic would have thought of "these Freedom-of-Four-Letter-Speech days" -- not to mention of these 21st century days (p. 253, paperback Ed.).
Whether or not certain sounds (e.g. "ish") and slurrings produced by syllable clipping had been associated with inebriation before Ira wrote "Sunny Disposish" and "'S Wonderful" (apparently he never intended them as such) is unclear, but they were afterward as is illustrated when John O'Hara in his 1934 novel Appointment in Samarra has his main character, who drinks himself to death, listen to three of his favorite phonograph records just before he dies--one of which is bandleader Jean Godkette's 1927 version of Sunny Disposish" (Robert Kimball,The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin, p. 76).
Williams sings "Sunny Disposish" (performance c. 1930),
music by Phil Charig and lyrics by Ira Gershwin
from the revue Americana (1926), perhaps Ira's first use of "syllable clipping" -- e.g. "disposish," "delish," "sill" (for "silly") and "redic" (for "ridiculous")
Much has been made of the syllable clipping that characterizes the lyrics for "'S Wonderful." Deena Rosenberg points out that Ira Gershwin had, in fact, introduced a new contraction into written English by clipping the "it" from "it's" and "slurring" the remaining 'S' [into] the remaining word, causing a sibilant effect." She goes on to note that the use of the contraction parallels "the gliding, falling thirds that characterize the melody." She emphasizes, however, that Ira knew that what he wrote down was already common in colloquial spoken English, which Ira Gershwin says is crucial for the modern lyricist. She quotes him as writing in 1930, "Listening to the argot in every day conversation results in pay-dirt for lyric writers." Interestingly Ira notes that such phrases that have already become cliches in speech and print somehow revert to their "original provocativeness" when they are "fitted to an appropriate musical turn" (pp. 160-61). So the art of the popular songwriter winds up revitalizing and even establishing colloquial elements within the language. When this happens in a standard song such as "'S Wonderful" such such colloquial expressions are immortalized.
Taking a contrarian view of "'S Wonderful," Alec Wilder, the dean of Songbook critics, admires Ira Gershwin's lyric, but not George's music in "'S Wonderful." The overall effect for him, of a song that has become, in his words "part of our musical language," is monotony. He writes, "It's verse is a monotony of imitative phrases which no amount of adroit harmony can leaven" and "The tune is memorable, granted--but it is so, I think, because of its association with the lyric," which although overly dependent on a word like "paradise," works for Wilder because Ira Gershwin has freshened it to the colloquial "'S Paradise." On the other hand, "the germinal idea of the [music] is repeated, before it's over, seven times and, with one imitation of it, eight. Perhaps the intention is monotony, but unless I hear it colorfully arranged, it leaves me cold . . . ." (p. 139).
Ted Gioia understands Alec Wilder's characterization of "'S Wonderful" (See just above.) as having a degree of "monotony" but "leavens" the charge by noting that George Gershwin's use of repeated notes served to facilitate the great variety of interpretations that have been created by performers over the years. He writes:
Few Gershwin songs have shown themselves so capable of reinvention, reinterpretation, and--yes, finally!--rejoicing. "'S Wonderful" has worked as a swing, bop, or trad chart; as stride or Latin; hot or cool. A half century after the Gershwins wrote it, the song was recast as a bossa nova tune by João Gilberto--and the very low-key qualities Wilder castigated make it effective in this different idiom. (p. 416).
Howard Pollack adds that in "'S Wonderful" the "artfulness of the harmony and counterpoint lay so hidden as to be practically invisible," making the song, for Wilder, unable to compensate for its "monotony"; nevertheless, Pollack notes, it became "a special favorite among jazz instrumentalists, who apparently appreciated its melodic charm, its smart harmonic structure, and its general atmosphere of knowing whimsy. . . . Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie [being] only a few of the many fine jazz musicians who released versions of the tune" (Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, p. 411).
1938 Benny Goodman Quartet
album: The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings
Notes: Benny Goodman, Clarinet; Teddy Wilson, piano; Lionel Hampton, Vibraphone; Gene Krupa, drums. Recorded in Chicago, October 12, 1938, the album contains two takes on "'S Wonderful" (both remastered in 1996) as well as 21 other tracks of the Goodman trio and Quartet. The album contains liner notes by Loren Schoenberg. "Benny Goodman not only led one of the most influential big bands in the world, he played classical music like the best of them, and he ushered the 'small combo' movement into jazz. This collection contains ground-breaking songs (sometimes in the form of multiple takes) from 1935-1939. Made up of trio and quartet dates, plus a few scattered vocal tracks, this compilation contains some remarkable moments in jazz history."
(Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
2005 Bill Charlap
album:Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul
Notes: Charlap opens the "'S Wonderful" track with a Twentiesish, George Gershwinesque piano style for the refrain before the trio (Bill Charlap, piano; Kenny Washington, drums; Peter Washington, bass) moves into a twenty-first century rendering of the remainder. Instead of this change being a break, it comes across as an effective bridge between what was called jazz then (1927) and is now. The album spreads to include other players. Over all album personnel includes Bill Charlap (piano); Peter Washington (double bass); Phil Woods (alto saxophone); Frank Wess (tenor saxophone); Nicholas Payton (trumpet); Slide Hampton (trombone); Kenny Washington (drums).
(Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
"'S Wonderful" and Dance
"'S Wonderful" has a kind of dance life of its own beyond its original presence as a song in the 1927 Broadway show, Funny Face. Although we have not as yet determined just how much dancing was done by Adele Astaire and Allan Kearns during their original performance, George Gershwin biographer Howard Pollack writes the following:
Tellingly, the Funny Face songs that involved one or the other of the Astaires -- "Funny Face," "He Loves and She Loves," High Hat," "'S Wonderful," "Let's Kiss and Make Up," "My One and Only," and "The Babbitt and the Bromide" -- similarly feature catchy rhythms and short phrases, a combination that suited both the Astaires' dancing abilities and their vocal limitations, and that presumably helped foster the special success of these songs as well (Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, p. 410).
The most common way a song hits the road to becoming a standard is via singers and bands performing and recording it after it's initial use in the vehicle for which it was written, usually a show or a movie. Today people familiar with "'S Wonderful" as a song will likely have never seen it performed in Funny Face, certainly not in the 1927 original or even in one of several subsequent but infrequent stage revivals. Most will know it through recordings such as those in the Cafe SongbookRecord / Video Cabinet, which are uniformly vocal or instrumental renditions. Some, however, will be familiar with its use in other productions where it was both sung and danced to. Here are three famous examples of "'S Wonderful" that include dance. No doubt these performances augmented the song's status as a standard as well as its overall place in popular culture.
In the movie An American in Paris (1951), Jerry (Gene Kelly) and
Henri (Georges Guétary) sing, whistle and dance to "'S Wonderful"
in a competitive duet about the charms of their respective love interests,
unaware they are in fact the same woman, Lise (Leslie Caron). The film
bearing the title of George Gershwin's orchestral suite of 1928, uses some seventeen
Gershwin songs and concert pieces within its score including "'S Wonderful."
Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn perform (sing and dance to)"'S Wonderful" in the
1957 movie Funny Face. He begins with a few bars from the title song "Funny Face"
and transitions to "'S Wonderful," which concludes the film. The movie version
bears little resemblance to the 1927 show (which also starred Astaire)
except for the inclusion of four of the show's songs: "Funny Face,"
"How Long Has This Been Going On" (written for the show but not used in it),
"He Loves and She Loves," and "'S Wonderful."
Tommy Tune and Twiggy perform (sing and dance to) "'S Wonderful" from the
1983 Tony award winning musical My One And Only. The show, a descendent of
the 1927 Gershwin show Funny Face, used six Gershwin numbers from that show plus a song
that was dropped, "How Long Has This Been Going On," but had a virtually totally rewritten
Click here to read the lyrics for "'S Wonderful" as sung by Ella Fitzgerald on the 1959 album The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, as well as for the "original version" as sung by Adele Astaire (as Frankie) and Allan Kearns (as Peter) in the 1927 Broadway show
Funny Face, for which it was written.
Singers in determining which lyrics they will perform, pretty much abide by the rule, "you pay your royalty money and you make your choice," the result being a multiplicity of combinations of verses and refrains (or portions thereof) depending on what suits whom. The Gershwins who wrote some five
verses and six
refrains for "'S Wonderful" -- though most were not used in the original version of the show (See the Complete Lyrics for all of them.), make a wide range of combinations possible. The recorded version that comes closest to what was used in the original show (basically the first two verses and the first two refrains) is by Frank Crumit. Ella Fitzgerald on her Gershwin Songbook album, however, goes her own way. She starts with verse 2, follows it with refrain 1; and after an instrumental interlude by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra next takes the first four lines of refrain 6, adds the last two lines of refrain 2 and concludes with the last two lines of refrain 6 -- with a series of partial repetitions of its last line. Click here to read her version and here to listen to it. Ira Gershwin was not crazy about the alterations singers made, being a bit of a stickler, but also being a pragmatist didn't do anything about it except maybe collect the royalty checks. Even Michael Feinstein, who is well known for his faithfulness to original lyrics, especially to those of Ira Gershwin, for whom as a young man he worked as a secretary and archivist, changes it up in his versions. Stacey Kent includes verses that are seldom heard elsewhere.
For the published lyric, see The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin:
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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet: Selected Recordings of
(All Record/Video Cabinet entries
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.)
(*indicates accompanying music-video)
Notes: Although many listening to this performance today (in the 21st century) would not think of it as jazz, it would have been called that in 1927-28. Presumably the arrangement is by Gershwin himself and similar to if not the same as the one published in George Gershwin's Songbook in 1932, in which were included the arrangements by him of eighteen of his songs based on his playing of them at countless parties and other events. These arrangements are difficult to play, Gershwin himself explains, because they include variations that composers inevitably create for songs of their own that they play repeatedly, in his words, "to indulge the desire for complication and variety that every composer feels when he manipulates the same material over and over again." He emphasizes their difficulty by adding they are "not for little girls with little hands" (quoted in George Gershwin: A Study in American Music, Isaac Goldberg supplemented by Edith Garson., p. 311 paperback Ed. -- Goldberg's book is the first critical biography of Gershwin, written while the composer was still alive. The author was a close friend of the Gershwins).
The recording on the album and on the video below was recorded at Columbia Studios in London, June 12, 1928 (Columbia 5109). The album shown above is a two CD set consisting of recordings of George Gershwin on piano made during the 1920's and 1930s. These recordings are not from piano rolls but are Gershwin himself at the piano; and, according to the liner notes, document "Gershwin's commercial recording career including all his commercial solo piano and piano with orchestra recordings." Included are songs made at Columbia studios in London during 1926, some with Gershwin accompanying Fred and Adele Astaire; concert pieces including Rhapsody in Blue with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra in the New York City Victor studios June 10, 1924, four months after the famous premier performance in Aeolian Hall, New York; the finale of Corncerto in F (the only recording of him playing any of this work) and An American in Paris with Nat Shilkret; selections from Porgy and Bess with Gershwin accompanying Lawrence Tibbett and Helen Jepson; and various recordings from radio shows.
The above referenced George Gershwin's Songbook originally published in a limited edition in 1932 was republished in 1960 by Simon and Schuster under the title, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook. Video: same track as on album shown above.
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Notes: This album contains 24 songs by the 1920s-30s singer-comic Frank Crumit. A few of the songs, contain ethnic stereotypes that would be offensive today (and should have been then) but the comic numbers are otherwise very funny and the ballads very affecting. Individual MP3s from this album are currently unavailable, but the same track of "'S Wonderful" can be bought as an MP3 at Amazon
from a different album -- but listen to the sample at Amazon to see if the static level is acceptable to you.
"A major vaudeville, radio, and recording star during the 1920s and early '30s, Crumit was less excitable than Al Jolson, subtler than Ted Lewis, more audible than Whispering Jack Smith, funnier than Irving Kaufman, and about as funny as Billy Murray. This Living Era compilation is a valuable treasure chest containing some of Crumit's best work." (from CD Universe product description). Video: View and listen in the center column (this page) to the entire track with Crumit slice show as well as further notes on Crumit's recording. (Please complete or pause one
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Notes: Bernard Clifton and Adele Astaire performed "'S Wonderful" together in the 1928 London production of Funny Face, Clifton having replaced Allan Kearns from the Broadway cast. As for George Gershwin being "at the piano" on the album track, we are not sure. Certainly iTunes designation of this being a "soundtrack" is incorrect. Soundtracks come from movies, which these tracks certainly don't. More likely it is a "show cast" album recorded in a studio during the London run of the show. According to Michael Feinstein, Adele also made a studio recording of "'S Wonderful" with Fred in London in 1928, though they did not perform the song together on stage and it is not on this album. Video: The audio track on the video is from a London recording dated by the YouTube uploader as November 29, 1928, which was during the run of Funny Face in London. (It opened on November 8, 1928, at the Prince's Theater in the West End.) This is almost certainly the same track as on the album above. Is the piano by George? Don't know. The 78 rpm label gives only the singers' names plus "with Novelty Orchestra conducted by Julian Jones."
Notes: Will Friedwald in his book Sinatra! The Song Is You A Singer's Art, dates the recording as being from the January 3, 1951 broadcast of Frank's mostly forgettable radio show Meet Frank Sinatra on CBS. The only redeeming components of the show were, for Friedwald, "his subtly swinging versions of "'S Wonderful," "One for My Baby," and "The Moon Was Yellow" . . . recorded with a hip rhythm section only [that] swing like songs Sinatra would record four or five years later" (p. 196 hardcover Ed.) -- suggesting that this, Sinatra's only recorded version of "'S Wonderful," is a preview of his Capitol period of recording that included much of his best work. (Please complete or pause one
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Notes: The Complete Sessions, produced by Norman Granz, joins Astaire with six members of Jazz at the Philharmonic: tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, trumpeter Charlie Shavers, pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Alvin Stoller. They recorded forty songs associated with the career of Fred Astaire. The "'S Wonderful" track is indeed wonderful. One can understand why so many songwriters themselves prefer Astaire's renderings of their songs to those of any other performer. Check out his phrasing here.
As the story goes, when the recording sessions were complete, Astaire presented each of his accompanying musicians with a 24 K gold ID bracelet with the name of the musician on the front and "Fred" on the back. Video: currently unavailable
Notes: The tracks from Ella's Gershwin Songbook album appear on any of a number of CD albums, of which this 3 CD set is among the most economical. "The Songbook series remains one of Ella Fitzgerald's major contributions--among many--to American popular music and this in particular is one of the best of the sizeable bunch. . . ." Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, California between January 5 and August 20, 1959, personnel includes: Ella Fitzgerald (vocals); Nelson Riddle (arranger, conductor); Benny Carter, Ted Nash, Ronnie Lang (alto saxophone); Plas Johnson (tenor saxophone); Pete Condoli, Don Fagerquist, Mannie Klein, Dale McMickle, Shorty Sherock, Cappy Lewis (trumpet); Vincent DeRosa (French horn); Israel Baker, Teddy Pederson (trombone); Karl DeKarske (bass trombone); Ed Gilbert (tuba); Buddy Collette, Jewell Grant, William Green, Champ Webb, Harry Klee (woodwinds); Katherine Julyie (harp); Paul Smith, Loe Levy (piano); Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel (guitar); Joe Mondragon, Joe Comfort, Ralph Pena (bass); Mel Lewis, Alvin Stoller (drums); Larry Bunker, Frank Flynn (percussion). Producer: Norman Granz.
Notes: From 1961 through c. 2009, the year this CD set was issued, the 76 tracks on the set (Ella Fitzgerald Twelve Nights in Hollywood) languished without being put into an album. The recordings were originally made under the supervision of Norman Granz. All the tracks were taped over twelve nights of live performance at The Crescendo, a club in Hollywood where Ella was accompanied by Paul Smith, piano on some tracks and Lou Levy on others; Herb Ellis, guitar; Gus Johnson, drums; and Wilfred Middlebrooks, base. The set includes several tracks of Ella live never before heard, tracks she had just recorded or had yet to record in the studio, and old chestnuts she revisited in a fresh way." Video:
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Notes: The CD includes two of João Gilberto's (The originator of Bossa Nova) albums: Amoroso (1977) on tracks 1-8, and Brasil (1981) from 9-14, "'S Wonderful" being the first track on Amoroso. This is may be the best known version of "'S Wonderful" even though João doesn't adhere to Ira Gershwin's colloquial 1920s American pronunciations. Certainly its bossa nova style is the precursor to several other treatments of "'S Wondefrul" by artists such as Diana Krall, Stacey Kent and John Pizzarelli. Video 2: live concert version (c. 1978 in Italy?)
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Notes: On this, Feinstein's first album, the vocal accompaniment is duo pianos: David Ross and Feinstein himself. In the liner notes to the CD, Feinstein comments that at the time the Broadway show My One and Only opened (1983 two years before this album was released), he played the show's version of "'S Wonderful," for Ira. He was amused saying, "Don't those people realize I wrote those songs more than 50 years ago?" Feinstein observes, it was as if he was "pulling something over on everybody." He also notes "The
verselyrics, second and third
chorus[that he includes in his rendition here] have never been recorded till now."
Video: in a performance done to accompany his 2012 book, Feinstein chooses
refrains from the rather extensive list of them the Gershwins wrote for "'S Wonderful." The video also includes some introductory comments by the singer and author about the song. The 2012 book, The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, includes a chapter titled "Ira and Me" that features comments on "S' Wonderful." The CD that accompanies the book includes the recording on the video below.
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Notes: Stacey Kent (vocals) Colin Oxley (guitar), John Pierce (piano) "Stacey Kent pays tribute to Astaire in Let Yourself Go, the third stellar album for the London-based, New York-bred vocalist whose voice resembles a lighter version of Dinah Washington's. Kent shines on both gorgeous ballads ("They Can't Take That Away from Me") and solid swingers ("Shall We Dance"), and adds an easy bossa nova beat to "'S Wonderful" a la João Gilberto. Trading lines with her is Kent's saxophonist-husband Jim Tomlinson, who fronts the solid band. Flexible with the rhythms yet never straying far from the melodies, Kent also pays perhaps the ultimate compliment to many of these songs by including the oft-neglected verses." (from David Hoiuchi, Amazon editorial review)
Notes: Both albums and the DVD include a track of "'S Wonderful," live on Live in Paris (DVD and CD) and in the studio for The Look of Love. Here is a portion of the CD Universe album description for Live in Paris: "Krall & her band perform some of the tunes from Krall's studio recordings, such as 'East of the Sun (West of the Moon)' & 'Devil May Care'. Joined by special guests John Pisano (acoustic guitar) & Paulinho DaCosta (percussion) for several tracks, including the Gershwin's ''S Wonderful' The Orchestre Symphonique European, conducted by Alan Broadbent with special guest conductor Claus Ogerman, is featured on the upbeat 'Let's Fall in Love' & a haunting interpretation of 'I've Got You Under My Skin'. Featured on the album are live renditions of 'The Look of Love', the title track from Krall's platinum-certified Verve release, her first recorded version of the Joni Mitchell-penned 'A Case of You', & 'Fly Me to the Moon', a song not included on the previously-released DVD Diana Krall - Live in Paris. Recorded live at the Paris Olympia, Paris, France on November 29-30 & December 1-2, 2001 and Avatar Studios, New York, New York.
Video 2: Live in Paris (2001)
Video 3: Live in Rio (2008) on Cafe Songbook Main Stage above (Please complete or pause one
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Notes: I'm with the Band is an hour-long set recorded live at Birdland, New York City, in March 2005. Tierney Sutton's band personnel: Tierney Sutton (vocals); Trey Henry, Kevin Axt (bass instruments); Christian Jacob (piano); Ray Brinker (drums). (Please complete or pause one
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Notes: On this album, jazz singer and pianist Diane Schuur offers a tribute to two of her most important mentors, jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and singer Frank Sinatra. The album's "'S Wonderful" track recalls Getz, whose recording (Stan Getz, tenor saxophone; Al Haig piano; Tommy Potter bass; Roy Haynes, drums; recorded NYC, May 17, 1950) is among his most widely anthologized. Schuur's personnel on the album comprise a high-grade session band of Alan Broadbent (piano), Ben Wolfe (bass), Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Roni Ben-Hur (guitar), and Joel Frahm (saxophone) Video: currently unavailable