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I Can't Get Started (with You) (1935)

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Origin and Chart Information
In 1974, Bunny Berigan’s 1937 recording of ‘I Can’t Get Started’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 5
Music Vernon Duke
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

“I Can’t Get Started” was introduced by Bob Hope, who sang it to Eve Arden in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. Opening on January 30, 1936, at the Winter Garden Theatre, the Broadway revue ran for 115 performances.


More on Bob Hope at JazzBiographies.com

Less than a month later, Hal Kemp and His Orchestra, with vocalist Skinnay Ennis, saw their hit recording of “I Can’t Get Started” rise to 14th place on the recording charts. In 1938, Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra’s 1937 rendition rose to tenth place (Bunny Berigan, vocal.)


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

Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 was remarkable in several ways: It was Fanny Brice’s last appearance in a Broadway show; it was George Balanchine’s Broadway debut as a choreographer; and, despite the name, Florenz Ziegfeld had been dead for over three years. Credit for production of the show was given to Billie Burke, but it was actually a Lee and J.J. Schubert production. The Schubert Brothers had purchased the rights to Ziegfeld’s name and had also used it to produce the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934.

It is quite surprising to find Bob Hope introducing a standard. In a New York Times article, theater and film critic Vincent Canby said, “It was, however, sung for laughs, with (Eve) Arden making caustic comments about Mr. Hope’s passion.” Bob Hope may not have been as gifted a singer as partner Bing Crosby, but he managed to see three of his songs make the recording charts:

In addition to Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, and Eve Arden, the original cast included Gertrude Niesen, Josephine Baker, Hugh O’Connell, Harriet Hector, and Judy Canova.

Other songs in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 were “Time Marches On,” “He Hasn’t a Thing Except Me,” “My Red-Letter Day,” “Island in the West Indies,” “Words Without Music,” “Economic Situation,” “Fancy, Fancy,” “Maharanee,” “Gazooka,” “That Moment of Moments,” “Sentimental Weather,” “5 A.M.,” and “Modernistic Moe.”


More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

Gershwin’s lyrics are an example of a list song. (Other list songs include “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top” and “Let’s Do It.”) Describing frustration and defeat, the words itemize a series of grand accomplishments, which apparently have little effect on their object of affection.

Composer Vernon Duke originally had his sights set on a career in classical music. In the book The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950, William G. Hyland writes, “In order to make a living, Dukelsky was forced to adopt an alter ego, Vernon Duke (a name given to him by the Gershwins).”


More on Vernon Duke at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(This book contains four pages on the song including the sheet music, a history of the song, and information on musicians who have performed it.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Billie Holiday
The Collection
2004 Sony 61538
Original recording 1938
Holiday wonderfully captures the beauty of the melody and the wistful feeling of the lyric. Saxophonist Lester Young, as was so often the case, is the perfect foil for Holiday’s singing.
Bunny Berigan
1996 EPM Musique 157622
Original recording 1937
See the Jazz History Notes (above).
Lennie Tristano
2002, Melodie Jazz Classic 1184
Original recording 1946
This was one of the first recordings on which Tristano presented his asymmetrical rhythms and use of dissonance to the world. However, he never loses sight of the song and its mood.
Mary Lou Williams
Live at the Cookery
1994 Chiaroscuro 146
Original recording 1975
Williams digs into this tune, making a lush statement alongside her duet partner, bassist Brian Torff.
Sonny Rollins
Night at the Village Vanguard
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1957
Rollins presents a warm-toned, lyrical take on this song which manages to sound full and lush in spite of the absence of a chord-playing instrument in his trio.

- Noah Baerman

The Jim Hall Trio
1992, Concord 4161
Original recording, 1981
With bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke the virtuoso guitarist makes an intensely romantic statement on “I Can’t Get Started.”’ The CD also includes a killer arrangement of “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings.”’

- Sandra Burlingame

Artie Shaw
The Last Recordings: Rare and Unreleased
1991, Music Masters Jazz 65071
Original recording, 1954
This 2-CD set of standards is a treasure for Shaw fans. On “I Can’t Get Started”’ the clarinetist is heard with Hank Jones (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), Joe Roland (vibes) and Irv Kruger (drums).

- Ben Maycock

Carmen McRae
Here to Stay
Original recording 1955
Carmen’s voice and articulation are superb. Her accompanists on this song are Dick Katz, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Wendell Marshall, bass; and Kenny Clarke, drums. Elsewhere on the CD she performs with Ernie Wilkins’ orchestra, and with the Mat Matthews Quintet.
Chet Baker
Chet Baker: Young Chet
Blue Note Records 36194
Original recording, 1956, Pacific Jazz
As always, Chet’s lyricism carries the day. Bobby Timmons’ delicate piano is an understated buoyancy. Other personnel include Jimmy Bond (bass) and Peter Littman (drums).
Paul Bley
Introducing Paul Bley
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 201
Original recording, 1953
Pianist Bley filters the standards through his own creative spirit, but on this CD he adheres closely to the mainstream jazz idiom. For those wanting to become familiar with Bley’s piano mastery, this CD is a good start.

- Jon Luthro

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