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(I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You) (1932)

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Origin and Chart Information
“A Ghost of a Chance” became the property of tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, whose 1940 version with Calloway bested later versions by Hawkins and Young.

- Chris Tyle

AKAGhost of a Chance
Rank 66
Music Victor Young
Lyrics Bing Crosby
Ned Washington

Bing Crosby introduced “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” with his 1933 recording on the Brunswick label. An immediate success, Crosby’s recording appeared on the pop charts in January of 1933 and rose to number five. The producers at Brunswick Records obviously did not anticipate “Ghost of a Chance” becoming one of the top jazz standards of all time, placing it on the B-side of “Just an Echo in the Valley,” a song from the film Going Hollywood.

 

More on Bing Crosby at JazzBiographies.com
 

A few months later Brunswick again demonstrated their lack of confidence in “Ghost of a Chance,” releasing a rendition by Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra (featuring vocalist Muzzy Marcellino) on the B-side of “I’ll Take an Option with You.”

Initial popularity is not always a predictor for jazz standards. Crosby’s “Just an Echo in the Valley,” surpassed his “Ghost of a Chance,” climbing the charts to number two while Fio Rito’s “I’ll Take an Option with You” overtook his “Ghost of a Chance,” peaking at number five. Today, on the other hand, there are 50 CD recordings of “Ghost of a Chance” for every one of “Just an Echo in the Valley” and over 150 for every one of “I’ll Take an Option with You.”

 

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

Crosby also performed “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” in the 1933 Paramount film short “Please,” which starred Mary Kornman, Vernon Dent, Dick Elliott, and Dickie Kilby. Other songs in the short’s score included “Please” and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me.” With a twenty-two minute running time, the plot needed to be simple: Bing helps a girl with her car and her boyfriend becomes jealous. The guys sing to see who gets the girl and Crosby wins.

“I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” is now praised universally by jazz fans, jazz musicians, and jazz critics. Alec Wilder, in his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, says, “It’s a very special, extremely tasteful ballad.”

 

More on Victor Young at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Ned Washington at JazzBiographies.com
 

More information on this tune...

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


(In his authoritative book on American popular song, writer/composer Wilder offers a short musical analysis of “Ghost of a Chance.”)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Using a 32-bar A-A-B-A form, lyricists Washington and Crosby start out each A section with two rhyming 2-bar phrases, declaring love, desire, and doubt for one who is popular to the point of being unattainable. The last four bars of each A section start with “And,” “But,” or “’Cause” and end with the song title and hook, “I don’t stand a ghost of a chance with you.”

The cleverly written bridge starts out,

If you’d surrender just for a tender kiss or two,
You might discover that I’m the lover meant for you.

Washington and Crosby use inner rhyming to create a contrasting mood, a modicum of hope in a wonderful but otherwise melancholy song. -JW

Musical analysis of “(I Don’t Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)”

Original Key C major
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement Section “A” is mostly static; repeated notes are interspersed with an occasional skip, then a leap and a skip up to the top of the song’s range before an arpeggiated descent; “B” is generally upward by steps and skips.

Comments     (assumed background)

The initial harmonic progression of section “A” is descending and controlled by the bass line: C – B7(+5) – Bb – A7(b9) – Ab – C/G (similar to “Lover”), followed by a vi – ii7 - V7 that resolves deceptively to another descending progression starting on the bVII7 chord of Bb7 and ending on the V7 for the repeat. The second time, this resolves to I. Section “B” is mostly ii7 – V7 – I(i), played once in C major and a second time in E minor before using a circle of fifths with minor substitutions in order to return to the tonic.
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
“(I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)” was included in these films:
  • Folies Bergere (1935, Maurice Chevalier)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "(I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)" may be found in:

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.)

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.)

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.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

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

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Jazz History Notes

Even though one of the first great recordings of this tune was by cornetist Bobby Hackett in 1938, “A Ghost of a Chance” became the property of the great but short-lived tenor saxophonist Chu Berry. Berry had, as his colleague guitarist Danny Barker stated, a “great inner feeling with great facility and technique; speed, topped with a beautiful tone, and he never once stopped practicing and experimenting.” “Ghost...” was his feature with the Cab Calloway Orchestra. Berry, along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, was part of the great triumvirate of tenor players of the ’30s and ‘40s. Even though influenced by Hawkins, Berry’s 1940 version with Calloway bested later versions by Hawkins and Young.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Bobby Hackett
At the Jazz Band Ball 1938-1940
Jasmine Music 2579

Cab Calloway and Chu Berry
Swinging Big Band Leader
EPM Musique 159872

Lester Young
Lester Young, 1943-1947
Giants of Jazz 53073

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “(I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You).” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Saxophonist Chu Berry provided an early instrumental classic in 1940 as a member of Cab Calloway’s ensemble (Swinging Big Band Leader). Thelonious Monk’s 1957 solo piano version (Thelonious Himself) is also a classic and is a wonderful place to learn the nuances of the tune. These nuances are also very well displayed on Billie Holiday’s 1955 performance featuring the saxophone of Ben Webster (Music for Torching: The Billie Holiday Story, Vol. 5).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Himself
1991 Original Jazz Classics 254
Original recording 1957
This performance, from Monk’s first full solo piano album, is both an important version of the tune and a definitive example of his approach to interpreting standard ballads. The stark angularity of Monk’s solo ballad style proves to be extremely compatible with the song’s pathos.
iTunes
George Shearing, Carmen Mcrae
Two for the Road
Concord Records
Original Recording 1980
Vocalist McRae and pianist Shearing are both justly revered for their abilities to tenderly interpret standards with little or no additional accompaniment. Surprisingly, this album is their only recorded collaboration, and this ballad performance is a highlight.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Billie Holiday
Music For Torching
1995 Verve 527455
Original recording 1955
Who better to evoke the loneliness of this song than Billie Holiday? Tenderness abounds as she and saxophonist Ben Webster engage in dialogue.
iTunes
Benny Carter
Sax A La Carter
2004 Blue Note 93513
Original recording 1960
Carter manages to find the bluesy swing alter ego of a tune usually interpreted as a ballad. It does not hurt that he is accompanied by the exceptionally swinging rhythm section of pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Mel Lewis.
iTunes
Clifford Brown/Max Roach
Brown and Roach Inc
1990 Emarcy 814644
Original recording 1954
Clifford Brown’s trumpet harbors a sad, ethereal tone on this melancholy rendition of the song which is at the same time heartbreakingly plaintive and deeply satisfying.
iTunes
Lennie Tristano
1946-1947
2002, Melodie Jazz Classic 1184
Original recording 1946
A highly original and dramatic reading from pianist Tristano, this solo effort is intriguing and seductive. It draws the listener in with its passion and sophisticated chording.
Wes Montgomery
Movin' Along
1991 Original Jazz Classics 89
Original recording 1960
Montgomery begins by interpreting the melody beautifully in octaves, as was his signature. Along the way, he plays other sections in single notes and block chords, while also making room for a piano solo by Victor Feldman.
iTunes
Diana Krall
Love Scenes
Grp Records

Pianist/vocalist Diana Krall offers a gentle yet evocative reading of the song. Her delivery is playful and passionate over the laid-back rhythm of bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone.
iTunes
Illinois Jacquet
Bottoms Up
1991, Original Jazz Classics 417
Original recording, 1968
Tenor sax man Jacquet delivers an introspective, moody version of the song. His playing is resonant and commanding, conveying the heavy yearning of the lyrics.

- Ben Maycock

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

Bing Crosby, Ned Washington and Victor Young

Year Rank Title
1932 66 (I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)

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