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September Song (1938)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The great alto saxophonist [Art Pepper] spends 11 minutes thoroughly exploring the song in the company of Tommy Flanagan, Red Mitchell, and Billy Higgins.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 76
Music Kurt Weill
Lyrics Maxwell Anderson

Actor Walter Huston introduced “September Song” in the Broadway musical, Knickerbocker Holiday, which opened October 19, 1938, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and ran for 168 Performances.


More on Walter Huston at JazzBiographies.com

Huston’s recording of “September Song” went onto the charts on January 28, 1938, peaking at number twelve.

All told, artists making the pop charts with “September Song” include:

  • Walter Huston (1938, #12)
  • Frank Sinatra (1946, #8)
  • Dardanelle Trio (1946, #11)
  • Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (1951, ensemble vocal, #17)
  • Liberace (1952, #27)

Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, and Willie Nelson also recorded popular versions.


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

Walter Huston had accepted his part as Peter Stuyvestant in Knickerbocker Holiday on the condition that he be allowed to sing a romantic song in the musical. One evening, after listening to Huston sing, Maxwell Anderson dashed off the lyrics to “September Song” in about an hour, and Kurt Weill finished the music later that night.

A middle-aged Stuyvestant would sing “September Song” to the young Tina Tienhoven (Jeanne Madden) in an attempt to coax her into marriage. Although tailored to his limited vocal range, Huston was expected to have some difficulty delivering the song, but his raspy, half-spoken rendition was beautiful and touching. Indeed, his biggest hurdle was not the delivery but remembering the tune.

Weill’s conductor, Maurice Abravanel, excited by the prospect of doing something new, had just quit the Metropolitan Opera to work on Knickerbocker Holiday. According to Abravanel, “When Huston heard the music of ‘September Song,’ it didn’t stay in his head.” After failing to memorize the song numerous times, Anderson suggested that they drop Huston and just let the orchestra play it. But Huston was apologetic and determined, and by opening night he knew the song and it stopped the show.

There is a history to the naming of the musical for which “September Song” was written. Most people are familiar with today’s informal definition of “Knickerbocker,” which means a native or resident of New York. Not so long ago it meant a descendant of the Dutch settlers of New York. Its origin, however, dates back to 1809 with the publication of Washington Irving’s first book.

Best known for his short stories, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, Irving used the penname Dietrich Knickerbocker for A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Knickerbocker’s History of New York, as it later became known, was a satire on the early years of New York under the reigns of three Dutch governors: Walter van Twiller (Walter the Doubter), William Kieft (William the Testy), and Peter Stuyvestant (Peter the Headstrong).

Playwright Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation of the book to Knickerbocker Holiday has Stuyvestant as the new governor. Tina Tienhoven is a young maiden pledged by her father to the older Stuyvestant, although, of course, she loves another, a younger man named Brom Broeck (played by Richard Kollmar).


More on Maxwell Anderson at JazzBiographies.com

More on Kurt Weill at JazzBiographies.com

United Artists’ 1944 film version of Knickerbocker Holiday starred Charles Coburn as Peter Stuyvestant, Constance Dowling as Tina Tienhoven, and Nelson Eddy as Brom Broeck. The biting satire of the Broadway musical was toned down so as to offend no one, and only three songs were retained from the original score. Audiences and critics alike agreed that it was a tedious disappointment.

More information on this tune...

David Ewen
All the Years of American Popular Music
Prentice Hall Trade
Hardcover: 850 pages

(Author Ewen touches on the songwriters and the history of “September Song” in his book.)
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
Red Norvo
Modern Red Norvo
Savoy Jazz 17113
Original recording 1950
On this performance, vibraphonist Norvo is at one with guitarist Tal Farlow and bassist Charles Mingus, the members of his influential, forward-looking trio.

- Noah Baerman

Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown
Sarah Vaughan W/ Clifford Brown
Polygram Records

This is a classic jazz recording and not to be missed for any of its songs. Vaughan is in the company of trumpeter Brown with Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on tenor sax, Jimmy Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, Roy Haynes on drums, and Ernie Wilkins, arranger and conductor.
Art Pepper
Straight Life
1990 Original Jazz Classics 475
Original recording 1979
This is one of the most beautiful, moving, and least sentimental versions of "September Song."' The great alto saxophonist spends 11 minutes thoroughly exploring the song in the company of Tommy Flanagan (p), Red Mitchell (b), and Billy Higgins (d).
Rosemary Clooney
Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz
2003 Jazz Alliance 12041
Original recording 1991
Clooney gets sentimental but not maudlin on this emotional duo performance with pianist Marian McPartland.
Art Tatum
Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 5
1991 Pablo 428
Original recording 1955
Tatum’s all-star group takes “September Song” at a relaxed tempo, but Tatum still romps through with characteristic fullness. Also featured here are Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet and Lionel Hampton on vibraphone.
Monty Alexander
Ballad Essentials
2000, Concord

On this particular cut pianist Alexander is joined by the extraordinary steel drummer, Othello Molineaux, who lends an ethereal touch to this very slow version.
Chris Potter/Kenny Werner
Concord Duo Series Vol. 10
1996, Concord 4695

Pianist Werner and reed man Potter capitalize on the freedom offered by the duo setting. While some of the selections can be characterized as experimental, “September Song” is more conservatively rendered, and beautifully, with Potter on bass clarinet.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
This Is New
2002 Universal

Vocalist Bridgewater devotes the entire CD to the music of Kurt Weill, covering some of his beautiful ballads and lending drama to pieces such as “Alabama Song.”

- Ben Maycock

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