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Embraceable You (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“It’s Bobby Hackett’s 1939 big band recording that made musicians aware of the virtues of this tune.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 24
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Ginger Rogers and Allen Kearns introduced an Alvin Theatre audience to “Embraceable You” during the first performance of Girl Crazy, on October 14, 1930. Although the Broadway musical marked Rogers’ 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

More on Allen Kearns at JazzBiographies.com

Girl Crazy was originally written as a vehicle for Bert Lahr, but when he turned down the part for legal reasons, master of accents, Willie Howard, was brought in to take his place. 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.

The Girl Crazy score also included “Bidin’ My Time,” “Sam and Delilah,” “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not For Me,” “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 and not the original Gershwin score retaining 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 added.

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.

The music for “Embraceable You” was originally written in 1928-29 for a Ziegfeld musical based on the 1918 play East is West. Although the musical was never produced, some of the songs were recycled into another Ziegfeld production, Show Girl, with “Embraceable You” being saved for Girl Crazy. A recent auction included a Gershwin sketchbook containing, among the East is West material, an early version of “Embraceable You,” slightly different and without lyrics but nevertheless the same song.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

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“Embraceable You” climbed onto the pop charts within weeks of its Broadway introduction with a Red Nichols and His Five Pennies (Dick Robertson, vocal) rendition rising to number two in November, 1930. Over a decade later, in 1941, Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Helen O’Connell on vocals had a modest hit, rising to number twenty-three.

The flip side of Red Nichols’ recording was another Girl Crazy number, “I Got Rhythm.” Nichols’“I Got Rhythm” only made it to number five, losing out to “Embraceable You.” The two songs’ relative popularity with 1930 consumers is reflected today. “Embraceable You” is recorded by more jazz artists than “I Got Rhythm,” despite the popularity of the “I Got Rhythm” chord progressions that have been used as the basis of literally hundreds of jazz songs.


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

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(Ten pages of this book are devoted to the song’s history and analyses of the music and lyric, which is included. The book also has a companion CD.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Embraceable You”

Original Key G major, with brief passages in E minor and D major
Form A1 – B – A2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement 80% step-wise, with occasional downward leaps ranging from a fourth to an octave.

Comments     (assumed background)

The chord progression and initial melodic figure are similar to “Moonlight Serenade” and “Witchcraft”–three notes ascending scalewise, beginning on the 6th, over a I – vii˚7/V7 – V7 progression (while not in Gershwin’s original version, an embellishing ii chord is often inserted between the vii˚7 and the V7)

Challenges to the performer: occasional wide interval leaps and chords with unexpected resolutions (particularly at the end of measure 12 going into 13, and 28 going into 29). Gershwin used many “embellishing” chords, which is this tune’s blessing as well as its curse. Mainly these extra harmonies are decorative and tasteful substitutions for the otherwise plain “I -V7 – I” progression. They can lead the unwary novice performer astray, however, if s/he does not remain aware of the harmonic direction. The best advice is to learn the head thoroughly with accompaniment and then begin one’s improvisations by adding embellishments to the original melody before striking out in new directions.

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

Well, what can I say? Ya’ gotta love those Gershwin boys. I recorded “Embraceable You” as part of my Sarah Vaughan tribute project. It’s a song that contains the types of interval changes and chordings that Sassy seemed to be drawn to. It has a lot of “swoops” that I have fun with whenever I sing it.

Janis Mann, Jazz Vocalist

Downward leaps. With rests - how convenient. Good for beginning voices that have trouble accommodating leaps without catches or breaks. Once the leap is mastered with the rest, make the rest shorter and shorter until the leap can be done without it. Also good for practicing initiating tone throughout the range.

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
“Embraceable You” was included in these films:
  • Girl Crazy (1930, Allen Kearns, Ginger Rogers)
  • Girl Crazy (1932, Arline Judge, Eddie Quillan)
  • Girl Crazy (1943, Judy Garland, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, MGM Studio Chorus)
  • Rhapsody in Blue (1945, Joan Leslie dubbed by Louanne Hogan)
  • Humoresque (1946)
  • Nancy Goes to Rio (1950, Jane Powell)
  • An American in Paris (1951, Leslie Caron)
  • With a Song in My Heart (1952, Susan Hayward dubbed by Jane Froman, Robert Wagner)
  • Sincerely Yours (1955, Liberace)
  • When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965, Harve Presnell)
  • Who Cares? (1970, New York City Ballet)
  • Manhattan (1979, New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta)
  • City Heat (1984, Irene Cara)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999, Paula West)
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002, Judy Garland)
  • Taking Sides (2002)
  • The Human Stain (2003, Teddy Wilson)
And on stage:
  • Crazy for You (1992, Jodi Benson, Harry Groener)
And on television:
  • I Love Lucy (1955) Episode 117, "The Fashion Show"
  • Jeeves and Wooster (1990) Granada TV comedy series
  • Crazy for You (1999, Stacey Logan, Jim Walton)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Embraceable You" may be found in:

William Zinsser
Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs
David R. Godine Publisher
Hardcover: 279 pages

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

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(10 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis, music analysis and song lyrics. (Book includes CD).)

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

(3 paragraphs 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

(2 pages 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

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

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Theatre Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 568 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary, lyric analysis and music analysis.)

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, lyric analysis and song lyrics.)

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

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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

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

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

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

Gary Giddins
Visions of Jazz: The First Century
Oxford University Press; New Ed edition
Paperback: 704 pages

(2 pages including the following types of information: music analysis and jazz solo transcription.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Although “Embraceable You*” had been recorded numerous times by various artists in the 1930s, it’s Bobby Hackett’s 1939 big band recording that made musicians aware of the virtues of this tune. About this performance, Richard M. Sudhalter wrote in his book Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz 1915-1945, “The Hackett charms are in fully early bloom; balanced phrasing, the melodic essence glowing through the embellishments; an unerring ability, as (cornetist) Ruby Braff observed, to select the most poignant intervals and chordal voices, all delivered with a heart-warming tone.” Hackett was a self-proclaimed Louis Armstrong fan, yet his approach verged on the cool and in some ways precedes Miles Davis’ playing, who was a self-proclaimed Hackett fan.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Bobby Hackett
Bobby Hackett and his Orchestra, 1938-1940
Classics 890

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

Bobby Hackett’s big band version of “Embraceable You” (1938-40) is a terrific performance and a historical stand-out. The same could be said of Charlie Parker’s rendition (Complete Dial Sessions), which displays his endless invention and offers a glimpse of how ballad playing changed in the bebop era. To become familiar with the tune, however, the place to start is with Sarah Vaughan’s historic recording of 1954 (Sarah Vaughan W/ Clifford Brown), one of her crowning moments as an interpreter of ballads.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Pee Wee Russell
Jazz Original
1997 Verve 404
Original recording 1938
Clarinetist Russell plays brilliantly on this recording with Eddie Condon’s all-star group, also featuring saxophonist Bud Freeman and trombonist Jack Teagarden. Russell would also appear the following year on Bobby Hackett’s recording of the tune.
Charlie Parker
Complete Dial Sessions
2004 Definitive 11152
Original recording 1947
There are two takes of “Embraceable You” here and each one is a gem. Bird’s playing is lyrical and creative, and having two takes to compare reveals an almost complete absence of repetition or cliches in his improvisation.
Ornette Coleman
This Is Our Music
2002 Sepia Tone 2
Original recording 1960
Coleman made this recording as an answer to those who wondered how he might interpret a standard. The result is a historical landmark, melodic and emotional yet free and unpredictable.
Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown
Sarah Vaughan W/ Clifford Brown
Polygram Records

Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan had a brilliant collaboration on this album, but Brown sits this one out. Vaughan offers an all-time classic rendition of the tune, delivering the lyric gently and creatively while backed only by her trio.
Dinah Washington
First Issue: The Dinah Washington Story (The Original Recordings)
Polygram Records

Washington, here only twenty-one years old, delivers a spirited, sultry performance with the backing of a sweet but unobtrusive large ensemble.
Eric Kloss
About Time
2002 Prestige 24268
Original recording 1965
The teenaged Kloss plays here with maturity and confidence. Heard here on alto, he interprets “Embraceable You” as an energetic swinger, aided by fellow Philadelphians Pat Martino on guitar and Don Patterson on organ.

- Noah Baerman

George Cables
By George
1991, Contemporary 87 Fantasy #14030
Original recording, 1987, Fantasy
The pianist, whom Art Pepper named “Mr. Beautiful,”’ lovingly interprets six Gershwin beauties. Five of the tunes feature his trio with bassist John Heard and drummer Ralph Penland. “Embraceable You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” are piano solos, rich with innovation but respectful of the source.

- Sandra Burlingame

Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown with Strings
Polygram Records 558078
Original recording, 1955
Brown’s bright, concise trumpet work in front of a backdrop of exquisite strings conveys the romanticism of a truly romantic song.
Billie Holiday
The Silver Collection
1990, Polygram Records #23449
Original recording, 1956-57
This CD includes two sessions. On “Embraceable You”’ Billie is joined by “Sweets”’ Edison, Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Red Mitchell, and Alvin Stoller. Mitchell said that he adopted the tune as his signature because it laid so nicely on his fifth-tuned bass.
John Stetch
Stetching Out
1996 Terra Nova 9013
Original recording 1996
Breathtaking innovation is an understatement when describing this solo piano rendition. Sophisticated and daring, Stetch takes “Embraceable You” to a whole new level of improvisation, rearranging the song without losing one ounce of the sentiment behind it.

- 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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