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Polka Dots and Moonbeams (1940)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Sinatra enjoyed a succession of several dozen hits with the Dorsey band, his first being the ballad ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’...”

- JW

Rank 79
Music Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics Johnny Burke

The 1939 recording of “All or Nothing at All” is sometimes credited as Frank Sinatra’s first hit, but in actuality it didn’t make the charts until its re-release four years later in 1943. Harry James had hired Frank Sinatra after hearing him on a New York radio station, and they recorded the song shortly before Sinatra left to join Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1940. Sinatra enjoyed a succession of several dozen hits with the Dorsey band, his first being the ballad “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” which hovered at eighteenth place on the charts for one week. In 1942 Sinatra struck out on his own, appearing that year on the charts with “Night and Day.”


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

In the late 1930’s and throughout the 1940’s Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote mostly for Bing Crosby, and Crosby’s films and were so successful that they became know as the Gold Dust Twins. Not all their compositions were written for films. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “Imagination” (1939) were both written for the Tommy Dorsey band, and neither had any screen affiliation.


More on Jimmy Van Heusen at JazzBiographies.com

More on Johnny Burke at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(This book contains a short biography of Johnny Burke and over eight pages of his lyrics, including those for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”)
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
Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
The Essential Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (2CD)
Original Recording 1940
Sinatra presents perhaps the definitive vocal rendition of this song with the expert backing of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Sinatra’s wry delivery fits well with the lighthearted nature of the song.

- Noah Baerman

Sarah Vaughan
Swingin' Easy
1992 Polygram 14072
Original recording 1954
The incomparable vocalist delivers a lovely rendition of the song within an intimate trio setting.
Wes Montgomery
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of ...
2003, Riverside
Original recording, 1960
Hard bop guitarist Montgomery set the standard for not only the song but also the style of a generation of jazz guitarists that would follow. His lyrical version is West Coast laid-back. Note: The sound quality of the original CD release was not even as good as the LP. Be sure and get the audio CD referred to here.
Bud Powell
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 2
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1953
Powell is best known for his jaw-dropping pyrotechnics, but his Tatum-inspired ballad playing was significant as well. Here he gives a gentle, lush performance in a trio with bassist George Duvivier and drummer Art Taylor.
Chet Baker
Chet Baker In New York
1991 Original Jazz Classics 207
Original recording 1958
Baker, known to many as a vocalist, sticks to the trumpet here, giving a wonderful interpretation of the melody, followed by a lyrical improvisation. Pianist Al Haig also has ample space to shine.
Bill Evans
California Here I Come
2004 Verve 268102
Original recording 1967
This creative, super-tight performance documents pianist Evans at a gig at New York’s Village Vanguard alongside his new band member Eddie Gomez on bass and his old friend “Philly” Joe Jones on drums.
Cassandra Wilson
Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
Thirty years after Sarah Vaughan's version, Cassandra Wilson gives the song a refreshing take. Wilson and trio allow themselves to explore while respecting the past, turning the tune into a modern, swinging waltz.
Oscar Peterson
Romance: The Vocal Stylings of Oscar Peterson
Original recording, 1956, Verve
If you’re feeling flush and can spring for an import, you won’t be sorry about this one. With the backing of Herb Ellis and Ray Brown, Peterson sings and plays a dozen standards, including “But Not for Me” and “Spring Is Here.” Purportedly he was told to give up singing because he sounded too much like Nat “King” Cole. This is his only vocal album.

- Ben Maycock

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