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Just Friends (1931)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The magnificent Mr. Bey rephrases ‘Just Friends,’ taking it mid-tempo with bassist Ron Carter, drummer Victor Lewis, and a string quartet.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 85
Music John Klenner
Lyrics Sam M. Lewis

This standard is a poignant ballad about two lovers who have drifted apart and are now “Just Friends.” Red McKenzie and His Orchestra introduced “Just Friends” in October of 1931 with “Time on My Hands” on the flip side.


More on Red McKenzie at JazzBiographies.com

However, it was not McKenzie’s cover that put “Just Friends” on the charts. In February of 1932, Russ Columbo, one of the most popular singers of the era, performing with Leonard Joy’s Orchestra, took the song to the charts for three weeks where it peaked at number fourteen. In April of the same year, Ben Selvin and His Orchestra put “Just Friends” on the charts for two weeks, also climbing to number fourteen. Selvin was a violinist who made more recordings than any other bandleader.


More on Sam M. Lewis at JazzBiographies.com

More on John Klenner at JazzBiographies.com

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

“Just Friends” is the most often recorded song written by Klenner and Lewis, a team who seems to have shared a common interest in words. Sam M. Lewis wrote the lyrics to “Street of Dreams” (1931) and John Klenner wrote the lyrics to “Down the River of Golden Dreams” (1930) and “On the Street of Regret” (1942).

More information on this tune...

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

(Author/composer Alec Wilder offers a musical analysis of “Just Friends” in his definitve book on American popular song.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Just Friends”

Original Key G major
Form A – B1 – A – B2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement Downward fifths, fourths, and thirds with embellishing tones. Upward movement is mainly by step. Long, sustained pitches.

Comments     (assumed background)

What was originally a ballad is usually played uptempo today because of slow melodic and harmonic rhythm (only two measures contain more than one chord change, and most of the piece is one chord change every two measures). Harmonic progression starts out with IV – iv – I, similar to “After You’ve Gone,” but then proceeds to a ct˚7 (following descending bass line from the fourth scale degree), and then to a ii7 – V7 deceptively resolved to iii – vi. It settles here in the relative minor briefly before returning to II7(V7/V) – V7.

Again, there is a deceptive resolution going into the second “A,” for the V7 goes to IV (some use a chromatic passing chord here). The slow, sustained nature of this piece has led jazz players to add embellishing chords and substitutions over the years. One example is the addition of a bVII chord following IV in measure 4 of sections “A”. Nowadays, the leading-tone diminished seventh chord in mm 7-8 of “A” is replaced with a biii and bVII (in the original, Cm7 – F7 instead of Bb˚7).

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

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Soundtrack information
“Just Friends” was included in these films:
  • Just Friends* (1993)

And on the small screen:

  • Ramona (2003, miniseries, Chet Baker).
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Just Friends" 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.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

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

No doubt the jazz world owes Charlie Parker a great debt for bringing this tune into the jazz oeuvre after years of being treated as a sentimental ballad.

Several early West Coast cool jazz players latched on to the tune in the mid-1950s. Chet Baker’s swinging vocal version from 1955 is a classic, while an album from 1957 features the great but underrated tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca and pianist Carl Perkins (who recorded a solo version in 1956, and sadly died at the age of 30). Kamuca’s up-tempo version is an interesting departure from the versions by Parker and Baker.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Chet Baker
The Best of Chet Baker Sings
Blue Note Records 92932

Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca / 4
VSOP Records 17

Carl Perkins
Introducing Carl Perkins
Boplicity Records 8

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

Charlie Parker cemented the relevance of “Just Friends” to modern jazz musicians thanks to his ballad interpretation of 1950 with a string section (Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes). Chet Baker’s 1955 performance (The Best of Chet Baker Sings) is taken at a swinging medium tempo and is a definitive vocal interpretation of the tune, while also featuring some vintage Baker trumpet. Pat Martino’s up-tempo 1967 version (El Hombre), meanwhile, helped to popularize the tune among guitarists and organists.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
John Coltrane
Coltrane Time
1991 Blue Note 84461
Original recording 1958
This recording, from the only recorded session with Coltrane and avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor, is somewhat controversial for the tensions between Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Dorham, who was frustrated by the dissonance of Taylor’s playing. As such, this music is often written off as a historical curiosity. However, both Coltrane and Taylor both play wonderfully, and it is a rare opportunity to hear Taylor’s iconoclastic playing in the context of a standard tune and a straight-ahead rhythm section.
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Meets Hawk!
1999 Polygram 63479
Original recording 1963
This performance of “Just Friends” teams tenor giant Rollins with one of his primary influences, Coleman Hawkins. The results are fascinating, as Rollins plays with an elusiveness seldom heard on his most famous recordings, while Hawkins more than holds his own in a more modern context than his own most famous recordings.
Pat Martino
El Hombre
1991 Original Jazz Classics 195
Original recording 1967
The wonderfully talented and still very young guitarist Martino is heard here on his debut recording as a leader. His influential sound is heard in full bloom here on a burning rendition of “Just Friends,” alongside a rhythm section of Philadelphians featuring organist Trudy Pitts.

- Noah Baerman

Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes
Polygram Records 23984
Original recording, 1950
Charlie Parker fulfilled his wish to play with strings and included a stellar version of "Just Friends"' among his song selections.
Tony Bennett
1990 Sony 40424
Original recording 1964
Bennett croons this one gently over a relaxed ballad backdrop. Notably, his band consists of Stan Getz on saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, all playing with striking restraint.
Lee Konitz
1997 Original Jazz Classics Number
Original recording 1974
Konitz, on alto saxophone, takes many creative twists and turns in this performance, much of it a sort of dialogue with the brilliant French pianist Martial Solal. Bassist Dave Holland and Drummer Jack DeJohnette offer creative, flexible accompaniment.
Andy Bey
Tuesdays in Chinatown
2001 Encoded Music
Original recording 1991
The magnificent Mr. Bey rephrases "Just Friends,"' taking it mid-tempo with bassist Ron Carter, drummer Victor Lewis, and a string quartet. A stunning version. No wonder the Jazz Journalists Association voted him Jazz Vocalist of the Year in 2003.
Marian McPartland
Just Friends
1998, Concord 4805

In the spirit of her radio show, “Piano Jazz,” McPartland invites some of her pianist friends--Tommy Flanagan, George Shearing, Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck, and Gene Harris--to join her in some duo piano outings. Shearing joins her on “Just Friends.”
George Cables
Cables Fables
1995, Steeplechase

Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums), who are now pianist Bill Charlap’s frequent rhythm section, aid and abet pianist Cables’ up-tempo take on “Just Friends.” The CD also includes Cables’ beautiful composition, “Helen’s Song.”

- Ben Maycock

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

John Klenner and Sam M. Lewis

Year Rank Title
1931 85 Just Friends

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