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I Got Rhythm (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Among jazz instrumentalists, ‘I Got Rhythm’ is hands-down the most common Gershwin song.”

- C. Andre Barbera

AKAI've Got Rhythm
Rank 73
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Not only did Ethel Merman introduce “I Got Rhythm” in the Broadway musical, Girl Cray, but Girl Crazy introducedEthel Merman to Broadway. The show opened on October 14, 1930, at the Alvin Theatre and ran for 272 performances. Ginger Rogers was the co-star of the show, but in her debut as a leading lady she lost the limelight to Ethel Merman.

Girl Crazy was originally written as a vehicle for Bert Lahr, but when he turned down the part for legal reasons, Willie Howard was brought in to take his place. The orchestra was the Red Nichols Band, including Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. This star-studded orchestra thrilled the audiences with jam sessions during the intermissions. George Gershwin conducted the music at the premier, but after that Earl Busby took over the baton.

A short time later, in 1930, Red Nichols and His Five Pennies with vocalist Dick Robertson took “I Got Rhythm” onto the recording charts, rising to number five. In 1931 Ethel Waters’ rendition peaked at seventeen, and in 1932 a Louis Armstrong version also rose to seventeen. Later on, in 1967, The Happenings (yes, the Happenings) recorded a rock version of “I Got Rhythm” which sold over a million copies and, according to The Happenings Official Web Site, placed number one on the charts.


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

In 1930 Ethel Merman had left her secretarial position and was just breaking into show business. An oft-repeated story was of her audition for Girl Crazy with George and Ira Gershwin. Merman was nervously lost in thought as to how she might phrase one of the songs by these songwriting masters who were seated before her. George Gershwin mistakenly thought Ethel Merman was tentative about his compositions. He offered to change anything she didn’t like in the songs. Surprised, she blurted out, “They will do very nicely, Mr. Gershwin.” The Gershwins were impressed by what they took as self-assurance, a quality for which Merman would later become well known. Her sensational performance in Girl Crazy was the beginning of a five-decade career; her last New York performance was at Carnegie Hall in 1982.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

Other songs in the Girl Crazy score include:

  • “Bidin’ My Time”
  • Embraceable You
  • “Sam and Delilah”
  • But Not for Me
  • “Treat Me Rough!”
  • “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.

Girl Crazy was also the basis for the 1966, MGM film, When the Boys Meet the Girls, starring Connie Francis and Harve Presnell. Suffice it to say that the best thing about this musical was its songs.

And finally, Girl Crazy was used as the basis for the 1992 Broadway hit, Crazy for You, which openedFebruary 19, 1992, and ran for 1622 performances. Seven of the songs from Girl Crazy were included in the score along with 13 other Gershwin songs.

“I Got Rhythm” was George Gershwin’s favorite among the songs he composed for Broadway musicals. An indication of this affection was the dedication to his brother Ira of his last concert work, The “I Got Rhythm” Variations, which was written expressly for a 1934 concert tour with the thirty-piece Leo Reisman Orchestra, conducted by Charles Previn. The 12,000-mile tour was a self-financed affair to celebrate the tenth anniversary of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

More information on this tune...

Will Friedwald
Stardust Melodies
Pantheon; 1st edition
Hardcover: 416 pages

(The author devotes 30 pages to ”I Got Rhythm” including its significance in history, analyses of the lyric and music, information on the songwriters, performers, and recordings. Eleven other great American songs are examined in depth in the book.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Quintet of the Hot Club Of France
Swing from Paris
Emarcy Import
Original recording 1935
This recording documents the rise to prominence of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring guitarist Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Both soloists are on fire on this spirited performance.
Count Basie & His Orchestra
America's #1 Band
Original Recording 1950
This dynamic live recording shows the Basie band in its prime. Featured soloists on this tune include Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Vic Dickenson on trombone and Lester Young on tenor saxophone.
Benny Goodman
Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert
Sony 65143
Original recording 1938
A tour-de-force quartet performance of “I Got Rhythm” was a highlight of this groundbreaking concert. Clarinetist Goodman, pianist Teddy Wilson, drummer Gene Krupa and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton are all in peak form and meld beautifully.
Ella Fitzgerald
Oh, Lady, Be Good! Best of the Gershwin Songbook
1996 Polygram 529581
Original Recording 1959
Nelson Riddle’s orchestra begins with a slow, string-heavy reading of the verse. Once the main part of the tune enters, though, it’s vintage, swinging Fitzgerald, complete with some restrained but masterful scatting.
Nat King Cole Trio
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1949
Pianist Cole’s classic trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Johnny Miller is heard in peak form on this virtuosic up-tempo instrumental performance.
Art Tatum
Art Tatum's Finest Hour
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1940
Pianist Tatum is heard here in his trio with bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Tiny Grimes. The bright tempo and challenging harmonies of the tune sound like toys in Tatum’s hands as he slashes his way through the tune.
Hampton Hawes
Hampton Hawes Trio, Vol. 1
1991 Original Jazz Classics 316

Pianist Hawes always struck a natural balance between the traditional and the modern. His energetic and soulful trio performance of “I Got Rhythm” is one of the prime examples of this.

- Noah Baerman

Mark Murphy
Crazy Rhythm and His Debut Recordings
1999 GRP Records 670
Original recordings 1956-1957
Vocalist Murphy sounds as great today as he did in this composite of early recordings. He’s always taken liberties with every aspect of a song to make it his own. In the mid-section of “I Got Rhythm”’ the backup musicians go crazy while he holds a deliberate pace. He also includes the seldom heard verse.
King & Moore
Potato Radio
1993, Justice Records 802

Vocalist Nancy King and bassist Glen Moore set a new rhythmic pattern for “I Got Rhythm” before Nancy scats it to Mars and back, settling back in to end with a giggle.

- Sandra Burlingame

Charlie Parker
Polygram Records 517173
This twelve-minute rendition is from a live no-net performance of Jazz at the Philharmonic. It’s a virtual wall of jazz sound and excitement.
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers
1991, Original Jazz Classics 444
Original recording, 1975
This recording has a crackerjack line-up, including Oscar Peterson, piano; Joe Pass, guitar; George Mraz, bass; and Grady Tate, drums. Zoot is in fine form and finds plenty of meat in this timeless standard.

- Jon Luthro

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