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Stars over Broadway was a movie largely devoted to showcasing the singing of James Melton an opera singer who had gained new popularity as a radio singer of pop songs in a quasi-operatic style. In fact the plot of the movie involves Melton playing a hotel porter with aspirations to become an opera singer. He struggles to overcome the influence of a slick promoter played by Pat O'Brien who wants to turn him into a radio singer -- ironically more or less reversing the course of Melton's real life career.
The story of the origin of "September in the Rain" comes in two versions. When working with Harry Warren, lyricist Al Dubin typically created lyrics for melodies already written or at least sketched out by his partner but, according to Dubin's daughter Patricia Dubin McGuire in her biography of her father, in the case of "September in the Rain," the opposite was true. Dubin had come up with a title with which he was very happy and proceeded directly into the lyric. Only then did Warren create the melody.
Warren tells it a bit differently: "It was Dubin who came up with the title "September in the Rain," which I liked, and I wrote the melody from the title. We saved it until we thought we had the right spot, and with Jimmie Melton we couldn't have got off to a better start."
In any case, it was Warren's melody -- without the lyric -- that got used in Stars over Broadway. At one point in the making of the movie, the song was intended as the musical accompaniment for a Busby Berkeley dance spectacular, but the number was dropped. By the time the movie was released, the melody was heard only as background music for several scenes: It's played briefly when Al enters his room when checking out, again at Witmark's when Nora tells Al about herself, and finally as dance music at the Sky Club.
The lyric was not heard on film until May, 1937, when Melton finally got to sing it in the Warner Bros. film, Melody for Two. another vehicle featuring his vocal prowess. The lyric could be heard, however, before Melton performed it that movie, because in February of '37 Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians recorded it with a vocal by Carmen Lombardo. (Listen at YouTube.)
James Melton sings "September in the Rain,"
the version heard in the 1937 movie Melody for Two.
Warren had a very high regard for Melton. Tony Thomas quotes the songwriter as saying, "Melton was both a very nice man and a marvelous singer. That was my kind of singer, and it was a pleasure to write for him -- you knew that he could sing anything you gave him and that it would be done with skill and taste. I wish I could say that of all the people I worked with." As nice as he was and as skilled as a singer, he was not made for the movies. After Stars over Broadway and Melody for Two, Melton never appeared on screen again (Thomas, p. 96).
Dubin had begun work on "September in the Rain" in 1934. At the time, he was still basically productive and content because he and Warren were under contract at Warner Bros., and he had the money he needed to indulge his unbridled desires for food, drink and women. The pressures of having to produce lyric after lyric, however, were getting to him and at home trouble was brewing. The tensions in his marriage became so great he had to move out on several occasions. In fact, according to McGuire's biography, he finished the lyric for "September in the Rain" while living at the home of fellow songwriter Moe Jerome where he had gone to escape the tension in his house, not to mention the ban on alcohol his wife had instituted.
Despite this period being a high point for Dubin's creative output, it was the beginning of a personal downward spiral from which he would never emerge. "September in the Rain" was, in fact, the last song of genius he wrote with Warren, and in 1938, the year Warren left Warner Bros. for Twentieth Century Fox, he was humiliated that Warners assigned a young Johnny Mercer to help him write. It didn't help much. Without Warren's music and because of his personal deterioration he was never the same. It wasn't long after that Dubin left the studio -- and his heretofore brilliant career behind forever (See McGuire, p. 135 ff.).
Philip Furia and Michael Lasser in their book America's Songs, demonstrate how the combination of words and music of "September in the Rain" combine to create the images of a potent fall image that persists in memory after autumn departs and even when spring returns, an image of how "the leaves of brown came tumbling down, / Remember?"
They elaborate on how the songwriters achieve their poetic effect:
For such a remembrance the lyric's rhythm is suitably interruptive -- "remember / In September -- in the rain" -- as the conversational tone points to what's particular about the memory: "'The sun went out just like a dying ember, that September in the Rain." Looking back the song concludes that the memory of autumn remains more vivid than the current spring: "'Though spring is here, to me it's still September." The claim is hyperbolic, the language offhanded, the effect arresting (Furia and Lasser, p. 144, hardcover Ed.).
Thomas Hischak points out that recordings of "September in the Rain" including James Melton's did not catch on and the song did not become widely known until over a dozen years later when it was recorded by the George Shearing Trio in 1949. Hischak's list of other significant recordings includes Dinah Washington's hit in 1961, as well as those by Guy Lombardo, Lionel Hampton, Al Hibbler, Doris Day, The Norman Luboff Choir, Frankie Laine and Chad and Jeremy. For Cafe Songbook's selected recordings, click here.
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Arne, 10/12/2014: "BING SINGS WHILST BREGMAN SWINGS" was, to the contrary, certainly released in 1956 on Verve records. It was released again, under a different title ("Bing Sings The Great Standards") in 1963, on MGM records (They had acquired the Verve recordings by then).
Crooner Dude, 09/09/2016: Thank you, for your helpful and very informative site! As a professional singer in New York, I like to research the songs I perform--and went looking for information as to the background of this glorious song, "September In the Rain". Your site was my "one-stop-shopping"! Facts, information, clips, quotes...wow! I've bookmarked your site as one of my new favorites and look forward to further delving into your other pages. Again, thanks very much!
Cafe Songbook responds, 09/11/2016: Thank you. It is gratifying to know that a visitor appreciates our intent to present a comprehensive account of each song.
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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet: Selected Recordings of
"Septem in the Rain"
(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: These are compilation albums that include multiple tracks of movie music, but not always the soundtrack, featuring artists from Al Jolson to Doris Day. For the Melton movie soundtrack version, listen at left. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
1946 Frankie Laine
album: Singin' the Blues, Vol. 2
Notes: The "September in the Rain" track is one of Laine's early recordings on Mercury with much more of a jazz orientation than most of his later fans are familiar with, accompanied by a very swinging group consisting of, among others, Mannie Klein, trumpet; Si Zentner, trombone; Don Bonnee, clarinet; Babe Russin, tenor sax; Carl Fischer, piano and George Van Eps, guitar -- recorded in Los Angeles, Aug. 27, 1946, released 1947.
1949 Johnny Hartman
album: The Johnny Hartman Collection 1947-1972
Notes: Recorded in NYC, August, 1949. Hartman is accompanied by Erroll Garner piano; Leonard Gaskin bass; Charles Smith (drums).
"Just where Johnny Hartman's name ends up in the pantheon of great jazzy pop singers is still left open to debate. But his talents and mastery of a lyric come to the fore on this marvelous two-CD set of tunes cherry-picked from his long, if not particularly prolific, career, leaving no doubt about his prodigious talents" (fromiTunes review).
Notes: Arrangements on the album are by Buddy Bregman, Verve producer Norman Granz' choice to establish Crosby's jazz chops. Bregman has no shortage of distinguished jazz players with him to accompany Bing: Barney Kessel (guitar); Lew Raderman (violin); Virginia Majewski (viola); Edgar Lustgarden (cello); Herb Geller, Bud Shank (alto saxophone); Bob Cooper, Ted Nash (tenor saxophone); Chuck Gentry (baritone saxophone); Pete Candoli, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Maynard Ferguson, Conrad Gozzo (trumpet); Milt Bernhart, Francis Howard, George Roberts, Frank Rosolino, Lloyd Ulyate (trombone); Paul Smith (piano); Joe Mondragon (bass); Alvin Stoller (drums). Although recorded in June, 1956, the album was not released until 1963. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
1957 Sarah Vaughan
album: Sarah Vaughan and Her Trio at Mr. Kelly's
Notes: "Recorded quite early in the days of the live LP, the album captured Vaughan at her best and most relaxed, stretching out on a set of late-night torch songs and ballads. With a trio including Jimmy Jones on piano, Roy Haynes on drums, and Richard Davis on bass, Vaughan is simply captivating, easily disproving the notion that, to be entertaining, singers needed inventive arrangements and multiple voices (instrumental or otherwise) behind them" (from iTunes review).
A live performance from a year later in Sweden on the Cafe Songbook Main Stage above includes a plug for this album, though her trio has changed. Richard Davis is still on bass but Jimmy Jones and Roy Hanes from the 1957 Mister Kelly's gig in Chicago have been replaced.
1960 Frank Sinatra
album: Sinatra's Swingin' Session
Notes: Sinatra does not include the
verse. To hear it, listen to James Melton above. Also, This album is noted for its up tempo beat that Sinatra demanded from Nelson Riddle as the recording session began. The only songs that singer and leader apparently agreed to take at an appropriate slower tempo are "September in the Rain" and "Blue Moon." (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: "First Issue , which coincided with the United States Postal Service's issue of a stamp bearing the image of Dinah Washington, is a two-disc, 46-song anthology of her recordings for Keynote, Mercury, Verve, Wing, and EmArcy from 1943-1961. The set chronicles Washington's evolution from a strictly jazz and blues vocalist in the Bessie Smith tradition to an important crossover artist who could appeal equally to the pop audience. . . . This generous survey is an excellent compromise for buyers wanting a thorough anthology but who are unwilling to commit to the expensive series of box sets that comprise The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury" (Rovi, iTunes review). (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
1961/1962 Joe Williams and
Harry Sweets Edison
album: Together /
Have A Good Time (two LPs on one CD)
Notes: "When singer Joe Williams left Count Basie's orchestra to go out on his own in early 1961, at first he co-led a group with veteran trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison. Their two joint recordings for Roulette have been reissued in full on this single CD. The Together set matches Williams and Edison with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Foster and a four-piece rhythm section that includes pianist Sir Charles Thompson. Among the highlights of the dozen standards are "I Don't Know Why," "Aren't You Glad You're You," and "Lover Come Back to Me." Have a Good Time has 11 songs performed by a mostly unidentified larger group arranged by Ernie Wilkins, including fine versions of "Sometimes I'm Happy," "Old Folks," "September in the Rain," and "Moonlight in Vermont." Throughout the sets, Joe Williams did his best to de-emphasize the blues (he wanted to be known as a well-rounded singer), instead choosing to uplift and personalize standards. Excellent music" (Scott Yanow at CD Universe).
Notes: It seems likely given the resurgent interest by recording artists in "September in the Rain" in the late 1950s and very early 1960s that the young musicians who composed the Beatles at that time would have been aware of it despite it not being connected to Rock and Roll but just being a song they came to like. This recording in included more as a point of interest in the history of "September in the Rain" more than because it represents a performance that contributes to the song's intrinsic value. It came about according to the former YouTube uploader FabioQueenFan in the following manner: "On New Year's Day in 1962, The Beatles (at the time formed by John, Paul, George and Pete Best) played her first studio audition. The group travelled down from Liverpool with driver and roadie Neil Aspinall. Beset by snowstorms, the party eventually arrived just in time for the 11am audition. Brian Epstein, their manager, had travelled separately on train. The Beatles played fifteen songs altogether. Three of the songs - "Like Dreamers Do", "Hello Little Girl" and "Love Of The Loved" - were Lennon-McCartney originals. It is likely that the majority of songs were recorded in a single take without overdubs; the entire session, which began at 11 am, took roughly an hour. . . ."
(Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: This performance of September in the Rain" was given by Nancy on the Jonathan Schwartz radio show on WQEW New York in 1994. Nancy is accompanied on piano by Tony Monte. The CD is a compilation of recordings by Nancy previously unpublished, which Nancy had given to Jonathan Schwartz over a period of time. In response to the requests of his radio listeners, this two disc, 2008 CD was produced. [Typically last name is spelled "Lamott."]
2001 John Pizzarelli
and the George Shearing Quintet
album: The Rare Delight of You
Notes: Shearing has a long history with Harry Warren's "September in the Rain." Leonard Feather who produced his first recording of the song in 1949 said, "On the first date [with M-G-M] we made "September in the Rain." Everything started jumping after that. Overnight, instead of being that blind pianist who was depressing to see, George became pretty much in demand and went beyond 52nd Street [in NYC] into some rather good-paying nightclubs" (Arnold Shaw, 52nd Street: The Street Of Jazz, pp. 281-282).
Here we find Shearing teaming up with John Pizzarelli on vocal. Paula Edelstein, CD Universe reviewer, writes of the album, "Among the more delightful and memorable songs are 'September in the Rain' and 'Be Careful It's My Heart.' Pizzarelli delivers them with all their harmony and richness, quietly, softly in tune with the light and, at times, swinging piano accompaniment of Shearing." One of the hallmarks of Shearing's recording career is how time after time he made albums with vocalists. Just below Shearing is paired with Michael Feinstein.
2005 Michael Feinstein and
album: Hopeless Romantics
Notes: "It's a shame that songwriter Harry Warren's name is not as well known as some of his contemporaries like Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. For whatever reason, writing dozens of hit songs like "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and winning three Academy Awards wasn't enough to get the name recognition he deserved. Hoping to change that, Michael Feinstein pays tribute to the often-ignored composer on Hopeless Romantics, a collection of Warren songs performed by Feinstein and pianist George Shearing" (from iTunes review).
2011, 2013 Cyrille Aimée
album: Cyrille Aimée + Friends Live at Smalls
Notes: For her SmallsLIVE debut, Aimée is accompanied by jazz legend Roy Hargrove as well as tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm. The rhythm section consists of pianist Spike Wilner, bassist Phil Khuen and drummer Joey Saylor. Aimee, who is French, claims both French Gypsy and Dominican roots. Recently she has received high marks fort her appearances at Birdland in NYC.
Cyrille Aimée with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra
Notes: "The key ingredients [of the 'perfect' 'September in the Rain Track' track on Burstin' Out] are a wonderful vocalist, Cyrille Aimee, and a flawless performance by the CJO. Had lunch w. Eric Schneider, the CJO tenor soloist, and he gave me a bit of back story.
Jeff Lindberg, the CJO leader grabbed a scat performance by Cyrille, and then orchestrated a big band accompaniment. Kick-ass and flawless. So, she sings, and then the band, essentially, sings along with her on what sounds like an improvised chorus" (read the rest of the review at Amazon).
Notes: "The iconic former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox tackles an intelligent mix of Great American Songbook tunes and classic jazz, blues, and R&B on 2014’s Nostalgia. Working with producer Mike Stevens, Lennox brings her peerless voice to Gershwin and Heyward’s “Summertime” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” as well as three classics most associated with Billie Holiday: “God Bless the Child,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” and “Strange Fruit." Whether it’s music by Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, or Sammy Fain, Lennox finds a way to bring the classic melodies and sentiments to fresh new life, with smart, spare piano-based arrangements that are lightly orchestrated to perfection" (iTunes Eidtor's notes). (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)