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Blue Moon (1934)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Blue Moon’s’ second incarnation was as the title track for Manhattan Melodrama. Before the film’s release, however, the title was changed yet again to ‘The Bad in Every Man.’”

- JW

Rank 94
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Lorenz Hart

Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” was originally written as “Prayer” for Jean Harlow in the MGM film, The Hollywood Revue of 1933. According to Richard Rodgers in his autobiography, Musical Stages: An Autobiography, Harlow’s prayer was to become a movie star, and the lyrics started out as “Oh, Lord, if you’re not busy up there, I ask for help with a prayer/ So Please don’t give me the air...” Unfortunately, because of a series of production personnel changes, the revue was scaled down to a spoof starring Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and Jimmy Durante. There was no Harlow and no “Prayer.”

The Rodgers and Hart song’s next incarnation was as the title track for the 1934 film, Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy. Before the film’s release, however, the title was changed yet again, this time to “The Bad in Every Man,” and it was sung by Shirley Ross.

It was not long after this that music publisher Jack Robbins offered a “deal” to the songwriting team: If Hart would write a more commercial lyric, Robbins would “plug it from one end of the country to the other.” Robbins suggested the song should be one of those Tin Pan Alley love songs with the words June, moon, and spoon. Just to show he could do it, and with a large measure of cynicism, Hart wrote the lyrics to “Blue Moon.” Although he did not personally like the song, it soon became a number one hit, a million-seller in sheet music sales, and, in the end, his most popular song.

In its final form, “Blue Moon” was for Rodgers and Hart their only hit not associated with a Broadway show or a Hollywood film. While its success and popularity are both irrefutable, because of the simplicity of its construction it is not critically ranked among the top Rodgers and Hart compositions.

 

More on Richard Rodgers at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Lorenz Hart at JazzBiographies.com
 

Like many other songwriters, Rodgers and Hart moved west to Hollywood as Broadway began to feel the effects of the 1929 depression. Their three-year stay proved an unpleasant experience for Rodgers as he disliked the impersonal Hollywood system and felt unproductive between movies. Hart, on the other hand, reveled in the Hollywood life enjoying the money, the free time, and the parties until dawn. The good life, however, was not without its cost. To appease producers Hart found himself writing the same types of watered-down, sentimental lyrics he had scoffed at years before, and he, too, became disgusted with the assignments.

On the pop charts, “Blue Moon” has had repeated success:

  • Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (1935, Kenny Sargent, vocal, #1)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1935, Helen Ward, vocal, #2)
  • Ray Noble’s Orchestra (1935, Al Bowlly, vocal, #5)
  • Mel Torme (1949, with Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra, #20)
  • Billy Eckstine (1949, with Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra, #21)
  • The Marcels (1961, #1 selling over 2.5 million copies)
 

More on Glen Gray at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

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

“Blue Moon” became Mel Torme’s signature song and was also the theme music for the 1930’s radio series Hollywood Hotel.

The phrase “blue moon” originated in the 1800’s. It is a cropped version of “till a blue moon” which basically means “never” or, as it also might be expressed, “until hell freezes over.” Over the past two hundred years the phrase has changed meaning several times but has come to mean two full moons in one month, a phenomenon which occurs about every 32 months.

More information on this tune...

Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers
Musical Stages: An Autobiography
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 384 pages


(The composer gives us the history of the song in his autobiography.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Just as there are songs structured on the chord changes of “I Got Rhythm” (rhythm changes), there are songs structured on the chord progressions of “Blue Moon” (“ice cream changes” or “Blue Moon changes.”) Notable among these are many of the 1950’s doo-wop ballads, such as “Earth Angel.” Because so many ‘50s ballads use the same harmonic structure, oldies groups are able to seamlessly string together medleys of doo-wop classics.

- JW

Musical analysis of “Blue Moon”

Original Key Eb major; brief modulations to Gb major and Bb major in the last half of the bridge
Form A – A – B – A
Tonality Primarily major
Movement “A” is essentially a three-note major arpeggio downward from the fifth scale degree, each note being sustained and embellished by upper and lower neighbor tones; “B” consists of a three-pitch motif of an upward second, followed by a downward third, with pitches repeated to accomodate the lyrics, and ending with an upward arppegio based on a first-inversion V chord.

Comments     (assumed background)

The harmonic progression here – I – vi – ii7 – V7—is reminiscent of (“Heart And Soul,” “Perfidia,” “These Foolish Things,” “Shangri-La,” the first four measures of “I Got Rhythm,” et. al., etc.) It is one of the most (ab) used chord progressions in history (one even hears it in at least two Mozart symphonies – the first movement of K.29 in A Major and the fourth movement of K.36 [“Linz”] in C Major).

The beauty is in the rarely heard verse (which has a descending minor progression with a modulation into the relative major that is the epitome of subtlety) and in the “B” section of the chorus. The first eight measures of “B” are simply ii – V7 – I, although the melody note actually makes the V7 a V13. Then, the composer surprises us with a iv chord, moving the progression into another ii – V7 – I in the bIII key (Gb in the original). In context, this is quite exotic and refreshing to hear. Rodgers follows this with a direct common tone modulation to the V of the original tonic (this chord is Bb in the original version), but the listener actually hears this as a I chord in Bb. This “I chord of the moment” is followed by its own V7 (F7 in the original), which turns minor and adds the 11th, thus becoming the pivot chord for the original tonic key (Eb) at the last possible moment.

It is at this point that the Marcels demonstrated a complete lack of musical sophistication, as their version completely changes these last eight measures. Instead of going to iv as Rodgers composed it, they chose to repeat the ii – V7 – I progression an additional time, then used a II7 – V7 turnaround leading into the last “A”. If one listens to the recording carefully, one can almost hear the slightest hesitation at this point –the awkwardness of uncertainty. This sort of modulation to a distant key is often difficult for the novice. The best strategy is to listen carefully for the harmonic direction and that of the inner voices – and trust one’s ear.

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).
Musicians' Comments

95% of the time this is the first song assigned in my studio. In a slow tempo there is time between phrases to allow a full, non-panicked breath. Long, connected and sustained phrases, great for teaching breath maintenance to beginners. Carries the upper tones down slowly - good for getting belters out of their power-singing--just start higher than they can belt and don’t allow a gear shifting as they descend--and for “crossing the break” work. Also useful for teaching how to initiate tones without a hard onset--most phrases start with voiced consonants or on-glide vowels.

Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer

Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards -- Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.


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Soundtrack information
“Blue Moon” was included in these films:
  • The Marx Brothers’ At the Circus (1939, harp solo by Harpo Marx)
  • Words and Music (1948, Mel Torme)
  • Malaya (1950, Valentina Cortesa)
  • East Side, West Side (1950)
  • With a Song in My Heart (1952, Susan Hayward dubbed by Jane Froman)
  • Beloved Infidel (1959)
  • New York, New York (1977, Robert De Niro and Mary Kay Place)
  • Grease (1978, Sha-Na-Na)
  • An American Werewolf In London (1981, Three versions: The Marcels, Bobby Vinton and Sam Cooke)
  • Arthur (1981, Dudley Moore, Piano)
  • The Remains Of The Day (1993)
  • Apollo 13 (1995, The Mavericks)
  • Babe (1995)
  • Cet Amour-La (2001, Billie Holiday)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Blue Moon" may be found in:

David Ewen
Great Men of American Popular Song
Prentice-Hall; Rev. and enl. ed edition
Unknown Binding: 404 pages


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

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages


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

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


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

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages


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

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


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers
Musical Stages: An Autobiography
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 384 pages


(3 paragraphs including the following types of information: history.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
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Reading & Research

Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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Jazz History Notes

Frankie Trumbauer was the mentor of tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Trumbauer played C melody saxophone (an instrument pitched between the alto and tenor), enabling the player to read the melody from piano music without transposing.

A member of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Trumbauer had a symbiotic relationship with Beiderbecke, but after Bix’s death in 1931 Trumbauer’s playing tended to be lackluster. His recording of “Blue Moon” in 1934 is the tune’s first jazz recording, and the highpoint of the record is the fine trumpet playing of Bunny Berigan.

On the other hand, Coleman Hawkins, a saxophonist whose playing was always superb, recorded a beautiful, sentimental version of “Blue Moon” in Paris a few months after Trumbauer’s.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Frankie Trumbauer
Frankie Trumbauer, 1932-1936
Classics 1275

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins in Europe, 1934-1939
Timeless 6

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

“Blue Moon” (The Velvet Fog) is closely identified with Mel Torme. He recorded the tune several times, but his original recording from 1949 is still standard-bearer. Billie Holiday’s 1952 performance (The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes) is also significant both for her own reading of the tune and for the work of her stellar supporting cast. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, meanwhile, is responsible for a definitive instrumental rendition of the tune with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (Three Blind Mice, Vol. 1).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Billie Holiday
The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes
2005 Verve 8030
Original recording 1952
Holiday sounds unusually joyous on this wonderful and important small-group recording. This is due in no small part to the uplifting playing of the all-star band featuring Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Flip Phillips on tenor saxophone and Oscar Peterson on piano.
Art Blakey
Three Blind Mice, Vol. 1
1990 Blue Note 84451
Original recording 1962
This performance is a feature for Freddie Hubbard, who was at this point coming into his own as an influential voice on the trumpet. Hubbard’s playing is frequently breathtaking here, deftly finding the balance between extreme lyricism and impressive displays of dexterity and creativity.
iTunes
Kenny Barron
Live at Bradley's
2002 Sunnyside 3002
Original recording 1997
At the time of this 1997 recording, pianist Barron and drummer Ben Riley had been playing together for over twenty years. The two played often at the now-defunct New York club Bradley’s with bassist Ray Drummond rounding out the trio, and this recording documents one of those gigs. Barron’s gift with ballad playing and his trio’s subtle interplay are on full display here.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Mel Torme
The Velvet Fog
2000 ASV Living Era 5346
Original recording 1949
Vocalist Torme offers a classic performance here, singing with great tenderness in front of a large ensemble led by Pete Rugolo.
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown with Strings
Polygram Records 558078
Original recording, 1955
Trumpeter Brown delivers a wonderful, lyrical interpretation of the song. His sharp sound is softened somewhat by the backing string arrangement.
iTunes
Betty Roche
Singin' and Swingin'
1992 Original Jazz Classics 1718
Original recording 1960
The former Duke Ellington singer gives the simple lyrics a little more weight with her husky voice and soulful delivery.
Roy Eldridge/Dizzy Gillespie
Roy and Diz
1994 Verve 314521647
Original recording 1954
This rendition is a friendly sparring session between the two trumpeters. While they trade licks on this song, there is an obvious spirit of teamwork.
iTunes
Carmen McRae
Blue Moon
2000 Polygram 829
Original recording 1956
McRae swings joyfully through this performance of “Blue Moon,” which documents a little-heralded but fruitful collaboration with arranger and composer Tadd Dameron.
iTunes
Mel Torme
Swingin' on the Moon
1998, Polygram #511385
Original recording, 1960
One of Torme’s best albums sees him at his most mature and limber. His rendition of “Blue Moon” is impeccably smooth and heartfelt. It is no surprise that this song became his calling card.
iTunes
Don Shirley
...Plays Birdland Lullabies/Show Tunes
2001 Collectables 2790
Original Recording 1955
This two-for-one CD is another example of the genius of pianist Shirley whose amazing body of work is finally being reissued on CD. “Blue Moon” is given a truly reverential treatment.

- Ben Maycock

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

Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

Year Rank Title
1937 6 My Funny Valentine
1939 82 I Didn't Know What Time It Was
1935 91 My Romance
1934 94 Blue Moon
1932 118 Lover
1938 123 This Can't Be Love
1935 124 Little Girl Blue
1940 181 It Never Entered My Mind
1937 208 Where or When
1937 222 Have You Met Miss Jones
1938 228 Spring Is Here
1927 246 My Heart Stood Still
1927 278 Thou Swell
1936 284 There's a Small Hotel
1938 289 Falling in Love with Love
1928 310 You Took Advantage of Me
1941 335 Bewitched
1937 336 The Lady Is a Tramp
1932 337 Isn't It Romantic
1926 429 Blue Room
1932 449 You Are Too Beautiful
1940 455 I Could Write a Book
1925 489 Manhattan
1935 527 It's Easy to Remember (and so Hard to Forget)
1929 536 With a Song in My Heart
1930 671 Dancing on the Ceiling
1936 825 Glad to Be Unhappy
1942 842 Ev'rything I've Got (Belongs to You)
1942 908 Wait Till You See Her

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