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On the Sunny Side of the Street (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“On this McHugh tribute album Cassandra Wilson delivers the song with an uncharacteristic melancholia that further enhances [Terence] Blanchard’s lovely, lyrical trumpet”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 55
Music Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

On February 25, 1930, Harry Richman introduced “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in Lew Leslie’s International Revue at the Majestic Theater in New York City. The show ran for ninety-five performances, and, although a flop, the Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh score will long be remembered for producing the two hits, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Exactly Like You,” both of which became jazz standards.


More on Harry Richman at JazzBiographies.com

More on Lew Leslie at JazzBiographies.com

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” appeared on the pop charts first by Ted Lewis and His Orchestra in February of 1930. Shortly after, Harry Richman’s recording (which had “Exactly Like You” on the B-side) climbed to number thirteen. All told, the charting hits included

  • Ted Lewis and His Orchestra (1930, Ted Lewis, vocal, #2)
  • Harry Richman (1930, #13)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1945, The Sentimentalists, vocal, #16)
  • Jo Stafford (1945, with the Pied Pipers and Paul Weston and His Orchestra, #17)

In addition, “Exactly Like You” was recorded by Ruth Etting, Sam Lanin, Benny Goodman, and Don Redman.


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

Only Broadway’s best were to survive during the Great Depression, and International Revue was not one of them. Despite the lavish budget, the cast (Gertrude Lawrence, Harry Richman, Jack Pearl, Anton Dolin, and Argentinita), dance direction by Busby Berkeley, and a McHugh/Fields score, the musical was not well thought out and disappointed critics and audiences alike. Overly long, the opening night show didn’t begin its second act until 11:00 P.M. The producers also miscalculated the appeal of Spanish dancer La Argentinita in her U.S. debut. Although she would later find international popularity, the International Revue audience did not understand her dancing, and many walked out during her performance. Gertrude Lawrence was particularly disappointed, counting International Revue as her third flop in a row.


More on Gertrude Lawrence at JazzBiographies.com

Jimmy McHugh is the published composer of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” but there is at least a little doubt as to the song’s pre-publication origin. There are rumors that “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “If I Had You” were originally Fats Waller compositions, ones he had composed and then sold the rights to for quick cash. Indirectly supporting the rumors is a document on the Rutgers-Newark Online website regarding their Dana Library Institute of Jazz Studies collection of Waller memorabilia:

[The collection] includes several drafts of music in Waller’s hand. These are basically early attempts (first versions or rough sketches) of songs Waller was writing, made in pencil on music manuscript paper ...the collection includes some instrumental parts in Waller’s handwriting (for “Walkin’ The Floor” and “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around”).

Though the 1935 copyright of “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” attributes the music to Jimmy McHugh, the fact that these parts are in Waller’s handwriting argues strongly that he, not McHugh, was the original composer of the song (see Machlin, “Fats Waller Composes”, Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95, pp. 1-24).


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

The strength of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is its surprising and inventive melody. Regardless of who wrote the music, there is no denying the song’s tone is cheerful, buoyant, and bouncy. With Dorothy Fields’ casual, optimistic lyrics, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was a perfect pick-me-up for depression-weary listeners. In spite of its occasional characterization as a bumptious novelty song, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” has been a favorite of jazz greats, musicians and instrumentalists since its publication.


More on Jimmy McHugh at JazzBiographies.com

More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(Simon devotes four pages to anecdotes and performers of the song and includes the sheet music.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “On the Sunny Side of the Street”

Original Key C major
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality Major throughout
Movement The tune soars up and down over a range of an octave and a third, using steps, skips and leaps.

Comments     (assumed background)

For a tune with a fairly wide range that bounces all over the place, it is catchy and memorable. The initial motif consists of three upward steps and an upward skip of a third, followed by an upward leap of a sixth. It then cascades downward in a series of descending seconds and thirds. This is followed by yet another series of upward steps, followed by an upward sixth.

In the “B” section, the leaps (sixths and sevenths) are downward from the upper range of the tune, giving it tonal balance. The harmonic progression contains a few surprises. It starts out with I – III7 (similar to “Charleston,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You”), but, instead of proceeding to the logical resolution of VI or vi, it lands on a IV (in the key of C major--this is C – E7 – F). Following through to the V7, it then takes another unexpected turn by going on to III7 in first inversion (i.e., from G7 to E7/G#), creating a smooth bass line upward on its way to vi. From there it is a simple circle of fifths (using minor substitutions) that get us back to the tonic key.

“B” uses two series of “V7-I” cycles: I7 – IV (in the original key, C7 – F), then II7 – V7 (D7 – G7). This particular progression is found in the “B” section of not a few other standards and show tunes (“Cloudburst” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” are two examples). Sometimes, minor substitutions are used; for example, in the key of C, Gm might be inserted before C7 going to F, then Am, before D7 going to G, creating a “ii – V7 – I” variation of this progression.

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

The positive attitude of this song attracts me. (Get out of the shade! The glass looks half FULL from the other side of the street!) The lyric and the music are light, jovial, playful--“can’t you hear that pitterpat....” Again, a consistent feature of all great songs is that the words, not in just content but in meter and flow of the phrasing, reflect the melody, as this one does. (Another great example of that is “Willow Weep for Me” where melody and lyrics almost seem shaped like a willow tree.) The harmonic changes of “On the Sunny Side” may be old-fashioned, but they’re not as predictable as some. There’s a lot of room for invention and exploration. Dizzy Gillespie did an alternate set of lyrics (which are a ball!) on a recording he did with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins.

Robert Moore, vocalist, trumpeter, harmonica player, songwriter

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Soundtrack information
“On the Sunny Side of the Street” was included in these films:
  • Is Everybody Happy? (1943, Ted Lewis Orchestra)
  • Nobody’s Darling (1943)
  • Jammin’ the Blues (1944, Marie Bryant)
  • On Stage Everybody (1945)
And on stage:
  • Lew Leslie’s International Revue (1930, Harry Richman) Broadway revue
  • Swing Parade of 1946 (1946)
  • Two Blondes and a Redhead (1947, Tony Pastor Orchestra)
  • Make Believe Ballroom (1949, Frankie Lane)
  • Sunny Side of the Street (1951, Frankie Laine)
  • The Benny Goodman Story (1956, Benny Goodman and His Orchestra)
  • The Eddie Duchin Story (1956, Tyrone Power dubbed by Carmen Cavallaro)
  • The Helen Morgan Story (1958, Ann Blyth dubbed by Gogi Grant)
  • The Gene Krupa Story aka Drum Crazy (1959)
  • The Silencers (1966, Dean Martin)
  • Sugar Babies (1979, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller)
  • Micki and Maude (1984, Frank Sinatra)
  • Another Woman (1988, Teddy Wilson)
  • Texas Tenor: The Illinois Jacquet Story (1991)
  • J.F.K. (1992, Sidney Bechet)
  • A League of Their Own (1992, Manhattan Transfer)
  • Father of the Bride, Part II (1995, Steve Tyrell)
  • Stuart Saves His Family (1995, Jack Sheldon)
  • Mrs. Winterbourne (1996, 1-Shirley MacLaine, Ricki Lake; 2-Sophie B. Hawkins)
  • Lucky in the Rain (1997) Connecticut
  • American Splendor (2003, Lester Young, Oscar Peterson Trio)
And on television:
  • Carnivale (2003, Lionel Hampton) HBO drama series, Season 1, Episode 4 "Black Blizzard"
  • Frasier (2003, John Mahoney, Wendie Malick) "Freudian Sleep" Season 11, Episode 14
Reading and Research
Additional information for "On the Sunny Side of the Street" may be found in:

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(4 pages including the following types of information: anecdotal, performers and sheet music.)

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

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

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

(1 page 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.)

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.)

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

Vibraphonist, drummer and vocalist Lionel Hampton, by the late 1930s, was a star member of the Benny Goodman Quartet, and his prior credits included work with Louis Armstrong.

RCA Victor persuaded Hampton to organize all-star groups for a series of impromptu recordings. The results were almost always amazing. Hampton’s keen sense of talent enabled him to pick musicians who might never have recorded together. In 1937, a group that included Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s star alto saxophonist, recorded “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Hodges’ lithe, soulful alto playing (based on the New Orleans soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet) was the hit of the session, and the tune became a regular part of Hodges’ repertoire.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Lionel Hampton
Small Combos, 1937-1940
Giants of Jazz 53050

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

Louis Armstrong’s classic “On the Sunny Side of the Street” performance from 1934 (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) is an important version of the tune and is historically significant for foreshadowing the beginning of a more refined approach that he would take in subsequent years. Nat “King” Cole, meanwhile, was the perfect person to project the lightheartedness of the song, and he recorded it several times, including a 1946 performance with his trio (Transcriptions). Like Armstrong and Cole, particularly during his years with his trio, Dizzy Gillespie managed to find the difficult balance between the roles of artist and entertainer. His version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt (Sonny Side Up) is an indisputable classic.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Louis Armstrong
Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
Original recording 1930
Armstrong made this recording in France with mostly European musicians. His playing and singing are remarkably mature and restrained, though without losing the joy that characterizes his music.
Dizzy Gillespie
Sonny Side Up
1997 Polygram 521426
Original recording 1957
Gillespie is known as a great trumpet player, bandleader and entertainer and all these facets are in ample evidence here. He sings irresistibly and plays wonderfully, joined by the twin tenor saxophones of Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt (the two Sonnys making this song choice no accident).
Jimmy Smith
Back at the Chicken Shack
1990 Blue Note Number
Original recording 1960
This album, considered by many to be the definitive representation of organ-based soul jazz, features organist Smith with two of his most important sidemen, guitarist Kenny Burrell and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Their funky, blues-drenched “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is a bonus track that was released for the first time when the album came out on CD.

- Noah Baerman

Nat King Cole Trio
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1949
Cole recorded this tune several times with his trio, and he is in particularly relaxed form on this swinging version.
Sidney Bechet
2001, Melodie Jazz Classics

Clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Bechet leads the band here, infusing the song with a wonderful New Orleans flavor and plenty of interweaving horn play.
Lester Young, Oscar Peterson Trio
Lester Young with Oscar Peterson Trio

Young, clearly invigorated by the support of Peterson’s swinging trio, offers a creative, flowing performance on this medium-tempo track.
Billie Holiday
The Complete Commodore Recordings
Original recording 1944
Given how much Holiday tends to be associated with tragic songs, it is striking to hear how well she does with completely upbeat material. This lighthearted performance with pianist Eddie Heywood is no exception.
Art Tatum
At the Piano, Volume 1
1992 GNP Crescendo 9025
Original recording 1943
Tatum is quite relaxed on this medium-tempo live performance, though he interjects plenty of his signature runs throughout.
Kenny Barron
The Only One
1994 Reservoir 115
Original recording 1990
Barron, with his dependable trio with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley, interprets “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with an impeccable sense of swing.
Nicholas Payton
Dear Louis
2001 Verve/Universal

The listener is thrown slightly off-kilter with this highly inventive version by trumpeter Payton. His arrangement makes the song almost unrecognizable as vocalist Dianne Reeves plays with tempo and harmony.
Diana Krall
Stepping Out
2000 Justin Time 50
Original recording 1992
While “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is a bonus track on Krall’s debut album, the song is a welcome addition. Krall’s wonderful vocal delivery and dynamic, rollicking piano make the song a highlight.

- Ben Maycock

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

Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh

Year Rank Title
1932 38 Don't Blame Me
1930 55 On the Sunny Side of the Street
1930 113 Exactly Like You
1928 162 I Can't Give You Anything but Love
1935 195 I'm in the Mood for Love
1928 564 I Must Have That Man

Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Jerome Kern and Jimmy McHugh

Year Rank Title
1935 999 I Won't Dance

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