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But Not for Me (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“In 1958 Ahmad Jamal took the jazz world by storm with his release of At the Pershing. In addition to ‘Poinciana,’ his unique version of ‘But Not for Me’ became a signature tune for him.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 54
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Ginger Rogers introduced an Alvin Theatre audience to “But Not for Me” during the first performance of Girl Crazy on October 14, 1930. Although the role of postmistress marked Rogers’ Broadway debut as a leading lady, she lost the limelight to newcomer Ethel Merman who brought down the house with her introduction of “I Got Rhythm.”


More on Ginger Rogers at JazzBiographies.com

Girl Crazy was originally written as a vehicle for Bert Lahr, but when he turned down the part for legal reasons, Willie Howard, a master of accents, was brought in to take his place. The Red Nichols band was the orchestra for the performance, a talent-laden group that included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. The star-studded orchestra thrilled audiences during the intermissions with impromptu jam sessions. George Gershwin, himself, conducted the music at the premier before handing over the baton to Earl Busby. Girl Crazy would run for 272 performances in part due to its wonderful score that included “Bidin’ My Time,” “Sam and Delilah,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “Treat Me Rough!” and “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!”

A 1932 RKO film adaptation of Girl Crazy, starring Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, relied on sophomoric comedy rather than the original Gershwin score and retained only “Bidin’ My Time,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “But Not for Me.” Variety called it “a weak sister” of the Broadway production.

A 1943 release of the film fared much better. MGM’s Girl Crazy was the eighth Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film and was generally well reviewed. The original story and score were left almost intact and all of the songs were included along with “Fascinating Rhythm” from 1924’s Lady Be Good.

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 onFebruary 19th and ran for 1622 performances. Seven of the songs from Girl Crazy were included in the score along with 13 other Gershwin songs.

Despite the song’s popularity with jazz performers, “But Not for Me” was a pop chart hit only once, rising to number twelve in 1942 for Harry James and His Orchestra with vocalist Helen Forrest.


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

More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

“But Not for Me” has been performed by many instrumentalists and (female) vocalists alike. Philip Furia, in his book, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, comments,

“But Not for Me” and “The Man That Got Away” fall in the category Ira dubbed “Ladies in Lament.”

And, indeed, ladies that have lamented include Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Carol Sloane, Chris Connor, Diana Krall, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta Jones, and Sarah Vaughan.

More information on this tune...

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

(The lyricist himself discusses the song’s history and its lyric.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me
1990 MCA 9108
Original recording 1958
Jamal’s trio performs “But Not for Me” at a medium tempo with characteristic swing and sparseness. Aside from the great sounds and Jamal’s influence on other jazz musicians, this recording is also significant because of its immense commercial success, even by pop standards.
John Coltrane
My Favorite Things
1990 Atlantic/WEA 1361
Original recording 1961
This performance finds Coltrane very much in a state of transition. While he was already beginning to explore the world of modal jazz at this point, here he challengingly reharmonized “But Not for Me” in a manner that relates to the harmonic terrain he had covered with “Giant Steps.”

- Noah Baerman

Buddy Defranco
Mr Clarinet (Special Packaging)
Umvd Labels

Clarinetist DeFranco rips through a fleet and frenetic bop version of the song backed by the superb rhythm section of pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Art Blakey.
Miles Davis
Bags Groove
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 245
Original recording, 1954, Prestige
At the top of his game and surrounded by such heavyweights as Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins, trumpeter Davis is bright and energetic on two bop readings of the song.
Billie Holiday
All Or Nothing at All
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
In this infectious performance with the likes of Barney Kessel and Jimmy Rowles, Holiday manages to sound joyfully swinging while still evoking the song’s wistful qualities.
Modern Jazz Quartet
1991 Original Jazz Classics 57
Original recording 1953
The MJQ’s signature mix of bluesy swing and classically-influenced refinement is in very much in evidence on this performance from early in the group’s life.
Sun Ra
Holiday for Soul Dance
1992 Evidence 22011
Original recording 1960
Those who associate Sun Ra primarily with the avant-garde may be surprised by this swinging performance. The spotlight here is on Ra’s playful piano and arranging as well as the fiery, creative tenor saxophone of John Gilmore.
Dinah Washington
Swingin' Miss 'D'
Polygram Records

Vocalist Washington delivers a dynamic and heartfelt performance of the song backed by a swinging, horn-packed, Quincy Jones Orchestra.
Giacomo Gates
Fly Rite
1998, Sharp Nine Records 1011

Gates is in the tradition of vocalese masters Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks. After an up-tempo chorus of the song he sings a scat solo created by Chet Baker’s drummer, Artt Frank, but never sung by Chet Baker. The title of the album, by the way, is Monk’s “Epistrophy,” with lyrics by Gates.
Chris Connor
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
1999, Collectables Jazz Classics
Original recording, 1956
Connor stepped away from her usual small group setting to record with a string orchestra, tastefully arranged by Ralph Burns. Taking the tune at a very slow tempo, Connor sets the scene with the verse and invests “But Not for Me”with wistfulness.

- Ben Maycock

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