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Tracks Unwrapped

Embraceable You

 

 

George and Ira Gershwin

George and Ira Gershwin

 

There are so many fine recordings of this song it is hard to know quite where to begin. Most of us know the song without its introduction, so let's start there:

Dozens of girls would storm up
I had to lock my door
somehow i couldn't warm up
to one before
what was it that controlled me
what kept my love life lean
my intuition told me
you'd come on the scene
lady listen to the rhythm of my heartbeat
and you'll get just what I mean

George and Ira Gershwin first wrote Embraceable You in 1928. It was intended as part of an operetta, East Is West, that in the end was never published.

Philip Furia's Ira Gershwin: The Art Of The Lyricist tells us after the failure of the show Treasure Girl, Ira Gershwin became convinced that individual songs 'alone do not make a show'. This 'fuelled the brothers' desire to write a truly integrated show. With that goal in mind they accepted Ziegfeld's invitation to write the songs for a musical adaptation of East Is West, a successful play about Americans in China ...'

'With the Florenz Ziegfeld impresario's assurance that there would be equally close integration of songs and story in East Is West, the Gershwins studied the play for places where character and story could blossom into song. For one such moment they wrote In The Mandarin's Orchid Garden, about a Chinese girl who feels like a common 'buttercup' who 'did not grace the loveliness of such a place'... Their hopes for a fully integrated musical were dashed, however, when the whimsical Ziegfeld, upon reading a novel about a young actress who longs to become a Ziegfeld girl, decided it could be transformed into a musical that would celebrate his own Follies. Summoning the Gershwins into his office, he told them to shelve East Is West and get to work on his new brainchild - Show Girl - which would go into rehearsal in two weeks'.

 

Florenz Ziegfeld Jr

 

 

 

 

Gorl Crazy poster

 

 

In Howard Pollock's book George Gershwin; His Life And Work, Pollock says: 'According to Ira, Ziegfeld shelved East Is West because it would have been too costly to mount - about three times more expensive than Show Girl. But such subtle numbers as In The Mandarin's Orchid Garden, Sing Song Girl and Yellow Blues could not have provided much encouragement; the show clearly would not only have been expensive but risky. In any case, Ziegfeld held out hopes for a 1929 mounting, though as relations between him and the Gershwins deteriorated over Show Girl, the New York Times reported in August that Vincent Youmans, not Gershwin, would provide the scrore. Ziegfeld further contacted P.G. Wodehouse about writing the lyrics. But as the year unfolded, between competition from film and radio and the eventual stock market crash, any such prospect became increasingly unrealistic. East Is West might have been one of Ziegfeld's final triumphs; as things turned out its collapse signalled the end of an era.'

Embraceable You eventually surfaced two years later in the Broadway musical Girl Crazy where Ginger Rogers sang it in a routine choreographed by Fred Astaire. The show also featured a good number of jazz musicians. The Jazz Standards website tells us: 'The orchestra for the performance was the Red Nichols Band which included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. The star-studded orchestra thrilled the audiences with jam sessions during the intermissions. George Gershwin conducted the music at the premier before handing the baton over to Earl Busby. Girl Crazy would run for 272 performances'.

 

 

 

 

We don't have a video of the version from the stage show, but here is a video of Judy Garland performing the whole song in the 1943 movie of Girl Crazy. Ironically, Judy Gardand's character is also called 'Ginger' (Ginger Gray).

 

 

 

The story line features Danny Churchill Jr (Mickey Rooney), a young womanising playboy who has been sent by his father to 'Cody College', hoping that will get him to stay away from girls and knuckle down to his studies. On the way there, Danny meets Ginger, the local postal mistress, fancied by all the students. College life does not go well for Danny but he gradually settles in until Danny and Ginger learn that the college must close, due to falling numbers of students. Using his father's society and business contacts, Danny approaches the state governor and extracts a promise that the college may be reprieved if enrollments improve. Danny decides to put on a show to 'bring back the old west' and persuades the college Dean to buy the first ticket. Tommy Dorsey's band is engaged, the event is a success, student enrollments roll in, and the future of the college is assured'.

Here is the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra playing Sy Oliver's arrangement of Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm from the film (the clip comes in two parts) with Mickey Rooney on piano. Rooney was an accomplished musician and played musical parts in several of his films - drums in Strike Up The Band and The Strip as well as piano spots. He also played vibes and as we know, sang in many movies.

 

 

 

 

Here is a video from The Strip with Mickey playing drums with the Louis Armstrong band (including Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard and Earl Hines) apparently there have been debates about overdubbing, but it looks pretty realistic to me).

 

 

 

Following the movie version of Girl Crazy, Billie Holiday recorded Embraceable You in 1944. The interpretation is very different to that of Judy Garland and in 2005 it became Billie' Holiday's 5th song to get a Grammy Award (the others were God Bless The Child, Strange Fruit, Lover Man and Lady In Satin, Crazy He Calls Me followed in 2010). This clip of Billie singing the song includes her 1944 and 1957 versions.

 

 

 

 

Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you
Embrace me, you irreplaceable you
just one look at you my heart grew tipsy in me
You and you alone bring out the gypsy in me
I love all the many charms about you
above all i want my arms about
Don't be a naughty baby...
come to papa come to papa do
My sweet embraceable you.
..

 

If the Billie Holiday version is worthy of a Grammy, the Charlie Parker versions of Embraceable You are classics. This beautiful first recording comes from 1947 with Miles Davis (trumpet), Charlie Parker (alto sax), Duke Jordan (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Max Roach (drums).

 

 

 

This second recording from two years later features Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Tommy Turk (trombone), Charlie Parker (alto), Lester Young and Flip Phillips (tenor), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums).

 

 

 

The Jazz Standards website goes on to say: 'MGM again visited the well in 1966 with Girl Crazy as the basis for the film, When the Boys Meet the Girls, starring Connie Francis and Harve Presnell. Suffice it to say the highlight of the musical was the songs. Over sixty years after making its debut, Girl Crazy was once again on Broadway, this time as the basis for the 1992 hit Crazy For You. The musical opened on February 19th and ran for 1622 performances. Seven of the songs from Girl Crazy were included in the score along with 13 other Gershwin songs'.

Crazy For You has been staged on many occasions since then. It has become a popular high school production and it is currently on tour around the UK in a professional production during the autumn of 2017 and into 2018 - click here for dates and venues. London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama also staged it as their end of year show in July this year. Here is a video of Embraceable You from the show performed by Kathryn Parks as Polly Baker and Logan O'Neil as Bobby Child/Zangler in this Sarasota production of Crazy of You.

 

 

 

 

 

As you can imagine, the song has been recorded numerous times. Try this take on Embraceable You by Ornette Coleman with Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone), Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (bass) and Ed Blackwell (drums). Apparantly, this is the only tune Ornette Coleman ever recorded from 'the Great American Songbook.'

 

 

 

 

On the website smallsrecords.com, there is a page about the Frank Hewitt album, Fresh From The Cooler - Frank Hewitt (piano), Ari Roland (bass), Jimmy Lovelace (drums), recorded at Smalls in 1996. On the page, Chris Byars (saxophonist with the Frank Hewitt Quintet) recalls:

'I had the pleasure of riding home with Frank after the Smalls Saturday late night at 5:00 am. We would rarely share a cab; most often we would Frank Hewittbe stuck waiting for the uptown #1 train that ran every 25 minutes at that time. There was an odd mix of riders: drunken revelers, service industry people on their way to work, and me and Frank. While he was more than thirty years my senior, we shared a brotherly inter-generational friendship that is one of the side benefits of the jazz business. We had both recently become permanently sober, and together we kept a lucid vigil on the rowdiness of the late night train station by sharing one story after another'.

 

Frank Hewitt

 

'Frank always saved his trademark jokes for an audience of at least three, so I was treated to his wild anecdotal repertoire, accounts of growing up in Harlem, his stint in the service, his encounters with Bud Powell. I remember Frank recounting hearing Bird and Diz at Carnegie Hall: "Yeah, that concert was okay, but then I went to hear the band at Birdland later that night, and that was the best music ever!" Once he visited Bud Powell's house in the morning, and walked in on him practicing Embraceable You - stark naked. Frank figured he needed some time to pull himself together, so he went downtown for a while, basically killing time until the afternoon. After six hours had passed, again he entered the Powell residence, and to his surprise, there was Bud, still naked, still playing Embraceable You'.

'His anecdotes boiled down to the same message; life is full of unexpected and bizarre surprises - don't forget to enjoy every moment while you can. I didn't take our many dozens of late night rides for granted, but I never guessed how few were left'.

Let's end with this video of Embraceable You played by Barros Veloso (piano); Bernardo Moreira (bass) and João Moreira (trumpet) recorded at the Hot Club of Portugal in April this year.

Fortunately, this pianist is fully clothed. As well as being a respected pianist, António José de Barros Veloso is also a doctor and an author; bassist Bernardo Moreira and his friend, Luis Villas Boas, were the originators of the Hot Club in the 1950s. "Luis worked at the airport and had access to the passenger lists, which he checked religiously for names of any jazz musicians who might be on their way to Paris," Moreira said. "When he found one, we would go out and meet the flight. The musicians were usually delighted to have some place to go during the stopover." When they missed the name of Dexter Gordon, another jazz fan at the airport steered the legendary tenor saxophonist in the right direction. João Moreira is a Lisbon based jazz trumpeter and head of jazz department at Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa.

 

 

 

just one look at you my heart grew tipsy in me
You and you alone bring out the gypsy in me
I love all the many charms about you
above all i want my arms about
Don't be a naughty baby...
come to papa come to papa do
My sweet embraceable you.
..

 

 

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More Tracks Unwrapped:

Angel Eyes
The Water Is Wide
Things Ain't What They Used To Be
Fables Of Faubus

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2017

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