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A Foggy Day (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘A Foggy Day’ has been described as ‘beautiful,’ ‘easy-going,’ ‘atmospheric,’ and, interestingly, ‘timeless,’ considering the brothers are said to have written the song in less than an hour.”

- JW

AKAA Foggy Day in London Town
Rank 88
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Fred Astaire introduced “A Foggy Day” in the 1937, RKO musical, A Damsel in Distress. Later that year his recording of the song would rise to number three on the pop charts. “Things Are Looking Up” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” two other songs from the Gershwin score, were also charting hits, with the latter rising to number one. “A Foggy Day” was on the charts again early in 1938 when Bob Crosby and His Orchestra, with vocalist Kay Weber, saw their version rise to number 16.


More on Fred Astaire at JazzBiographies.com

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

Based on a P.G. Wodehouse novel, published in 1919 A Damsel in Distress had proven itself a popular commodity years before George Gershwin had a notion of making it into a musical comedy. It had already been made into a 1920 silent film and then graced the stage as a play in 1928. Gershwin’s attraction to the book was understandable. The central figure in the novel is a character named George who, though successful as a composer, is unsuccessful at finding the right woman to marry.

It is intriguing to consider that even though the book predates the RKO movie by eighteen years, it is conceivable that the fictional George contained elements of (the real) George Gershwin’s personality. Ohio State Professor John Mueller, co-author of the hit musical A Foggy Day (Shaw Festival, Ontario Canada), writes in his background notes, “As it happens, George Gershwin had been a rehearsal pianist for Miss 1917, a musical Kern and Wodehouse had worked on, and the promising young composer may have been in mind when the whimsical novelist got around to dubbing his American songwriter-hero.”


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

The casting for A Damsel in Distress did not go smoothly. RKO was forced to find another partner for Fred Astaire when, after seven movies together, Ginger Rogers demanded a break from musicals. With Joan Fontaine replacing Rogers, the movie company attempted to compensate by including the comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen. While audiences were disappointed with the break in tradition, they were thrilled with the superb Gershwin score.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Author/educator Forte devotes four pages to the history of the song and an anlysis of its musical content.)

Ira Gershwin
Lyrics on Several Occasions
Limelight Editions
Paperback: 424 pages

(The lyricist himself gives an anecdotal history of the song and discusses his lyric.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Red Garland
A Garland of Red
1991 Original Jazz Classics 126
Original recording 1956
Already featured in the Miles Davis Quintet, Red Garland made his recording debut as a leader here alongside bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor. “A Foggy Day” is one of Garland’s most swinging performances, which is really saying something.
Art Tatum/Buddy DeFranco
The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 7
Pablo 2405430
Original recording 1956
Here we get to hear two jazz giants pushing each other to dazzling heights. Pianist Tatum burns on this late-career performance, as does clarinetist Buddy DeFranco.
Billie Holiday
All Or Nothing at All
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
One of Holiday’s last small-group recording sessions is documented here. The performance is slow and melancholy as it begins, but revs up to a bright swing before long. Jimmie Rowles’ piano and Barney Kessel’s guitar are particularly sympathetic in tandem with Holiday’s voice, and other soloists include Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet and Ben Webster on tenor saxophone.

- Noah Baerman

Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
What better antidote to a foggy day than these infectious sounds? Aside from the ebullient vocals, the rhythm section (anchored by Oscar Peterson) is a major source of the song’s momentum.
Ahmad Jamal
Chamber Music of the New Jazz
2004 GRP
Original recording 1955
Long out of print, this new reissue features pianist Jamal in the company of Ray Crawford (guitar) and Israel Crosby (bass) savoring "A Foggy Day."' Elsewhere Crawford plinks out the rhythm on his guitar in a most unusual way.
Charles Mingus
Pithecanthropus Erectus
1990, Atlantic Jazz 8809
Original recording, 1956
The bass player and all-round genius manages to keep a tight rein on the heavy improvisation without hindering creativity. It is one of the most ambitious interpretations of the song.
Wynton Marsalis
Marsalis Standard Time ~ Vol.1
Original recording 1986
Trumpeter Marsalis delivers a thoughtful interpretation of the song. Controlled and understated at times, the song is played with technical perfection.
Mel Tormé
Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire
1994, Bethlehem
Original recording, 1956
The combination of Marty Paich's arrangements, stellar jazz musicians, and Tormé's insightful approach to the songs that Astaire introduced makes this a desert island disc.
Bireli Lagrene
Blue Eyes
1998, Dreyfus 36591

Although guitarist Lagrene styled himself after Django Reinhardt early in his career, little of the gypsy peaks through in this set dedicated to Frank Sinatra

- Ben Maycock

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