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My Funny Valentine (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
“You haven’t heard ‘My Funny Valentine’ if you’ve missed this classic version with Miles on muted trumpet, backed by one of his most famous quintets...”

- Jon Luthro

Rank 6
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Lorenz Hart

Mitzi Green introduced “My Funny Valentine” in the Broadway musical, Babes in Arms. Her character, Susie Ward, sang to Ray Heatherton whose character was (conveniently) named Valentine, “Val” White. The show opened at the Schubert Theater on April 14, 1937, and ran for 289 performances. “My Funny Valentine” subsequently went onto the recording charts in 1945, with Hal McIntyre and His Orchestra (Ruth Gaylor, vocal) taking it to number sixteen.

 

More on Mitzi Green at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

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

Babes in Arms was the first “true” Rodgers and Hart musical. That is to say, this is the first time that they wrote the book (dialog) as well as the music and lyrics. Their storyline was the forerunner of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” formula, which provided a format for a sequence of song and dance numbers while allowing the inclusion of a thin plot and some modest character development.

 

More on Richard Rodgers at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Lorenz Hart at JazzBiographies.com
 

The show is also notable for choreographer George Balanchine’s “dream ballet” sequence, one of the first of its kind. Other songs in the original Babes in Arms production included, “Babes in Arms,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Where or When,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and “Johnny One Note.”

Babes in Arms was adapted to the big screen by MGM in 1939 and was the third in a series of nine movies starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Arthur Freed produced and Busby Berkeley directed this film, which retained some of the original plot but only the songs “Babes in Arms” and “Where or When” from the score.

“My Funny Valentine” has at one time or another been a specialty number for countless performers, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Miles Davis, and Chet Baker.

More information on this tune...

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


(This books contains 25 pages on the song--its history, analyses of the music and lyric, performers, recordings, and information on the songwriters. “My Funny Valentine” is one of twelve thoroughly documented songs in the book.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

In 1927 Lorenz Hart took the novel approach of combining antiquated words with contemporary colloquialisms in “Thou Swell” from A Connecticut Yankee (1927), resulting in lines such as “I choose a sweet lollapalooza in thee.” In “My Funny Valentine” the rarely-sung verse repeats his previous approach with “thou’s” and “thy’s” and “doth” and “hast”; for example, “Thou knowest not my dim witted friend.” But the refrain does not include any archaic words or colloquialisms, with the exception of “my favorite work of art”.

Richard Rodgers’ refrain has a descending bass line, which William Zinsser (Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs) says, “is the foundation that holds up the whole song.” Its engaging melody is basically the repetition of a six-note phrase in the first four bars followed by variations on that theme. -JW

Musical analysis of “My Funny Valentine”

Original Key C minor, with a shift to relative major in “B”section
Form A – B – C – D with a four-measure tag, although “B”,“C,” and the tag share much of the same melodic material with “A”
Tonality 70% minor, 30% major (during the bridge and the tag)
Movement Ascending scale-wise, then falling a bit before starting upward again and then soaring by leaps into the upper range; overall melody line is a climbing one, reaching a climax at the end just before the tag.

Comments     (assumed background)

This is a very nicely constructed melody that rises tentatively, then falls repeatedly, only to rise a bit higher each time. The harmonic progression of the “A” section is led by a chromatically descending bass line that changes each chord (somewhat reminiscent of “In A Sentimental Mood” and “Blue Skies”).

In the original key, it looks like this: Cm – G7/B –Eb/Bb – Am7(b5) – Ab – Eb/G – Fm – Eb – Dm7(b5). From the last chord, it is an easy return to C minor. On “B” the Fm becomes an Fm7(b5), facilitating movement to the relative major key. The bridge at “C” uses the I – vi – ii7 – V7 progression of “Heart and Soul” and “Blue Moon” until modulating back to the minor key using the viim7(b5)– V7/i sequence.

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

“My Funny Valentine” is an exception to my rule in regard to being pure about the lyric and message. Miles (Davis) introduced it so musically that I can get over the silly lyrics. Most lyrics have to read like a poem to me—not this one: “Is your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak, are you smart?” Now what’s that about? But I read that this song was originally sung into a mirror, a kind of self-esteem check, and that helps get me past the lyrics.

Jay Clayton, jazz vocalist
www.jayclayton.com


“My Funny Valentine” is a beautiful song with very interesting changes. The melody inspires the improviser, and the changes challenge the intellect. It offers many possibilities for change.

David Friesen, jazz bassist
www.davidfriesen.net


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Soundtrack information
“My Funny Valentine” was included in these films:
  • Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955, Jeanne Crain, dubbed by Anita Ellis)
  • Pal Joey (1956, Kim Novak)
  • Waiting to Exhale (1995, Chaka Khan)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Matt Damon)
  • The Company (2003, appearing four times: by Elvis Costello, Chet Baker, the Kronos Quartet, and the piano/cello duet of Marvin Laird and Clay Ruede)

And on the small screen:

  • Cold Feet (1997-2003, British TV series which aired in the United States on the Bravo network, Chet Baker)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "My Funny Valentine" may be found in:

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


(5 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.)

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


(25 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis, music analysis, performers, recordings and song writer discussion.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
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
Spiral-bound


(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 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis and performers.)
Also on This Page...

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

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

Jazz History Notes

Although Chet Baker’s vocal version is one of the best known renditions of this tune, Chet’s version with Gerry Mulligan, from 1952 is one of his first recording sessions and is a haunting version of the tune, no doubt helped along by the acoustics of the empty San Francisco Blackhawk nightclub. Baker’s approach on this track is strangely reminiscent of Clifford Brown.

Yet another version by Baker/Mulligan, a live date from 1953 (complete with clinking glasses, no less), is two minutes longer than the ’52 version and features Baker in a more expansive and looser mode.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker
Original Jazz Classics 711

iTunes
Gerry Mulligan
The Original Quartet With Chet Baker [2-CD SET]
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1953
iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “My Funny Valentine.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Chet Baker and Miles Davis are the two trumpet players most closely associated with the cool jazz movement, though for Davis that is but one of the many subgenres in which he was a major influence. Both of these artists recorded “My Funny Valentine” on numerous occasions with moving and influential results. Baker recorded the tune several times instrumentally, but it is his first vocal version (My Funny Valentine) that proved to be a landmark moment both for him and for the song. Davis, meanwhile, first recorded the song with his classic group of the 1950s (Cookin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet), a performance that stands out as one of his most significant ballad performances. His 1964 Carnegie Hall performance (My Funny Valentine) was also noteworthy, helping to signal the new sound of his groundbreaking 1960s unit.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Bill Evans, Jim Hall
Undercurrent
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1962
This is Bill Evans’ first full-length recording after the death of his valued bassist Scott LaFaro. He finds a highly interactive and stimulating partner in guitarist Hall, and the two romp with abandon through a surprisingly up-tempo version of this song.
iTunes
Miles Davis
My Funny Valentine
Sony 93593
Original recording 1964
By 1964 Davis was going in an increasingly modern direction and was demanding greater flexibility and interaction from his band. The rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams was very much up to the task, as evidenced by their epic version of one of Miles’ signature tunes.
iTunes
Anita O'Day
Sings the Winners
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1957
O’Day gives this song a dark edge, toying with the melody as an instrumentalist might.
iTunes
Chucho Valdes
Live at the Village Vanguard
2000 Blue Note 20730

The brilliant Cuban pianist Valdes finds the Latin soul within this standard, finding a perfect balance between fire and lyricism.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Bobby Timmons
This Here Is Bobby Timmons
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics #104
Original recording, 1960
Timmons sets a classical mood in his introduction and closing to “My Funny Valentine.”’ In between, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Jimmy Cobb help swing it. The trio also takes us for a ride through some of Timmons’ own well-known compositions.
iTunes
Jacky Terrasson
Smile
2003, Blue Note

This is a wonderful, free take on “My Funny Valentine” with Sean Smith (b) and Eric Harland (d). The pianist’s version of the album’s title cut alone is worth the price of admission.
iTunes

- Sandra Burlingame

Gerry Mulligan
What Is There to Say?
1994, Sony 52978
Original recording, 1958
Art Farmer opens this haunting version of the song on trumpet with the baritone saxophonist weaving lines behind him before improvising his own solo on bari and then switching roles. This CD is a marvelous example of Mulligan’s “piano-less”’ quartet.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Miles Davis
Cookin'
Original Jazz Classics 128
Original recording, 1956
You haven’t heard “My Funny Valentine”’ if you’ve missed this classic version with Miles on muted trumpet, backed by one of his most famous quintets: Red Garland (p), Paul Chambers(b), Philly Joe Jones (d), and John Coltrane (ts), who sits this one out. Another classic recording that is a must for jazz fans.
iTunes
Chet Baker
My Funny Valentine
1994, Blue Note 28262
Original recording, Pacific Jazz, 1954
This compilation includes Baker’s initial vocal on “My Funny Valentine,”’ which became one of the trumpeter’s signature songs. The fragility of his voice, his beautiful trumpet tone, and his youthful good looks made women swoon. If you’re unfamiliar with Chet, this is a good place to start.
iTunes

- Jon Luthro

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

Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

Year Rank Title
1937 6 My Funny Valentine
1939 82 I Didn't Know What Time It Was
1935 91 My Romance
1934 94 Blue Moon
1932 118 Lover
1938 123 This Can't Be Love
1935 124 Little Girl Blue
1940 181 It Never Entered My Mind
1937 208 Where or When
1937 222 Have You Met Miss Jones
1938 228 Spring Is Here
1927 246 My Heart Stood Still
1927 278 Thou Swell
1936 284 There's a Small Hotel
1938 289 Falling in Love with Love
1928 310 You Took Advantage of Me
1941 335 Bewitched
1937 336 The Lady Is a Tramp
1932 337 Isn't It Romantic
1926 429 Blue Room
1932 449 You Are Too Beautiful
1940 455 I Could Write a Book
1925 489 Manhattan
1935 527 It's Easy to Remember (and so Hard to Forget)
1929 536 With a Song in My Heart
1930 671 Dancing on the Ceiling
1936 825 Glad to Be Unhappy
1942 842 Ev'rything I've Got (Belongs to You)
1942 908 Wait Till You See Her

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