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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 panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Ira Gershwin’s beguiling verse almost paraphrases the chorus. Both verse and chorus open with gloom and then transition to an uplifting close. The verse suspends the answer, however, leaving the chorus to explain what transformed the foggy day into “the luckiest day I’ve known.” While the verse is not always included on vocal recordings, it can be heard by Ella Fitzgerald (The Complete Songbooks - George and Ira Gershwin), Louis Armstrong (Ella and Louis), Chris Connor (Chris Connor Sings The George Gershwin Almanac of Song), and Rosemary Clooney (Dedicated to Nelson).

Critical analyses of “A Foggy Day” rarely fail to comment on the simplicity of the song and George Gershwin’s use of repeated notes. William Zinsser, in Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs, says that “the song is calm and mature, wise in its understatement” and that it takes its emotion from “repetitive clusters and melodic jumps.”

George Gershwin’s use of repeated notes is widely recognized and found in many of his songs including “Oh, Lady Be Good!” (1924), “That Certain Feeling” (1925), “Someone to Watch Over Me” (1926), and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (1937). In Wayne Schneider’s The Gershwin Style: New Looks at the Music of George Gershwin, contributor C. Andre Barbera says, “[Repeated notes] build melodic tension while emphasizing rhythm and holding the door open for harmonic ingenuity…the ear is simply drawn to the harmonic progressions.” The opportunity to showcase harmonic ingenuity makes these songs compelling to many jazz musicians. And shifting the complexity to the bass line increases the likelihood the song will be a hit because more artists can sing it.

Gershwin wasn’t the first or the last to use the repeated notes device. Examples are common, ranging from Chopin’s “Prelude in E minor” to Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (1944). In the October, 1998, issue of Atlantic Monthly, David Schiff points out in his article “Misunderstanding Gershwin” that “Gershwin may have taken some of his most distinctive musical touches from Chopin’s ‘Prelude in E minor’…Chopin’s melody emphasizes numerous repetitions of the same pitch…Each time a note is repeated, the harmony under it changes…making the melodic notes sound ever more intense.”

- JW

Musical analysis of “A Foggy Day”

Original Key F major
Form A – B –A – C
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Repeated notes, followed by an upward skip or an upward leap;  arpeggiated descent with step-wise embellishment.

Comments     (assumed background)

Harmonically speaking, this is one of Gershwin’s “slicker” compositions. “A” and the second half of “B” are based on the I – VI7 – II7 – V7 progression (similar to “I Got Rhythm” as well as the first four measures of “Just You, Just Me” and “Sweet Lorraine”). In fact, the harmonic progression of the first twelve measures is virtually identical to “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” However, many of the important melodic pitches fall on color notes and chord extensions (maj7, b9, b5, 11 and 13) to give this otherwise simple tune a very sophisticated tonality.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Soundtrack information
“A Foggy Day” was included in these films:
  • A Damsel in Distress (1937, Fred Astaire)
  • An American in Paris (1951, Oscar Levant, piano, not used in film)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "A Foggy Day" may be found in:

William G. Hyland
The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950
American Philological Association
Hardcover: 336 pages


(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: history.)

Wayne Schneider
The Gershwin Style: New Looks at the Music of George Gershwin
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 290 pages


(2 pages including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages


(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)

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


(4 pages including the following types of information: history and music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Film Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 536 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary and performers.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

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


(3 pages including the following types of information: anecdotal, history and song lyrics.)

Philip Furia
Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 308 pages


(1 page including the following types of information: lyric analysis.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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Jazz History Notes

Clarinetist and band leader Artie Shaw loved numbers written by top songwriters like George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. Always looking ahead, Shaw assembled a killer big band following World War II that included jazz great Roy Eldridge on trumpet and young lions Barney Kessel on guitar and Dodo Marmorosa on piano. As jazz became more complex during the beginnings of the bebop era, Shaw quickly embraced the style, and elements of it crept into his playing, as evidenced on his record of “A Foggy Day,” which also has solos by Eldridge, Kessel and Marmorosa.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw: 1945
Classics 1277

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “A Foggy Day.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s 1956 recording of “A Foggy Day” (Ella and Louis) stands out as one of the great vocal renditions of the tune. Among instrumental versions, the swinging 1956 performance by Red Garland’s trio (A Garland of Red) is a classic example of the tune as a hard-swinging number. Meanwhile, the tune’s applicability as an up-tempo vehicle is well-demonstrated on Art Tatum’s recording from the same year along with the clarinet of Buddy DeFranco (The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 7).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes

- 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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
Wynton Marsalis
Marsalis Standard Time ~ Vol.1
Sony
Original recording 1986
Trumpeter Marsalis delivers a thoughtful interpretation of the song. Controlled and understated at times, the song is played with technical perfection.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
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
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin

Year Rank Title
1924 18 The Man I Love
1924 22 Oh, Lady Be Good!
1930 24 Embraceable You
1930 54 But Not for Me
1938 57 Love Is Here to Stay
1930 73 I Got Rhythm
1926 77 Someone to Watch Over Me
1937 86 They Can't Take That Away from Me
1937 88 A Foggy Day
1927 98 'S Wonderful!
1937 158 Nice Work If You Can Get It
1937 201 Love Walked In
1927 213 How Long Has This Been Going On?
1929 320 Strike Up the Band
1924 329 Fascinating Rhythm
1929 381 Soon
1931 419 Who Cares? (So Long As You Care for Me)
1935 420 It Ain't Necessarily So
1930 487 I've Got a Crush on You
1936 766 Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
1936 927 They All Laughed
1926 983 Maybe

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward

Year Rank Title
1935 270 I Loves You Porgy
1935 539 Bess, You Is My Woman Now

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn

Year Rank Title
1929 189 Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

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