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Skylark (1941)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Carmichael’s easygoing delivery and everyman drawl are offset by the sophistication of a band including such luminaries as Art Pepper and Jimmy Rowles.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 62
Music Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics Johnny Mercer

In 1942 “Skylark” appeared on the pop chart four times. The first recording was by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra featuring vocalist Ray Eberle, and it rose to number seven. All told, the hit recordings were

  • Glenn Miller (1942, Ray Eberle, vocal, #7)
  • Harry James (1942, Helen Forrest, vocal, #11)
  • Dinah Shore (1942, with Rosario Bourdon and His Orchestra, #5)
  • Bing Crosby (1942, with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra, #14)

More on Glenn Miller at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ray Eberle at JazzBiographies.com

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

Hoagy Carmichael originally wrote the composition that would become “Skylark” for a musical about his deceased friend, Bix Beiderbecke. The song’s melody is said to have been based on Beiderbecke solos, at least the phrasing, a claim supported by the composition’s original title, “Bix Lix” (“Bix Licks”). Though the musical did not get produced, Carmichael reworked the composition and passed the melody on to Johnny Mercer who, some months later, called Hoagy and sang him “Skylark.” By that time Carmichael had forgotten he wrote it!


More on Hoagy Carmichael at JazzBiographies.com

More on Johnny Mercer at JazzBiographies.com

Young Man with a Horn was to have been the title for the Beiderbecke musical, the same as the1938 novel by Dorothy Baker that was partially based on Beiderbecke’s life. In 1950 Warner Brothers produced the film Young Man with a Horn, based on Baker’s novel and starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day. In the film Douglas portrays a trumpet player (dubbed by Harry James) in a downhill battle with alcohol after he marries a wealthy neurotic played by Bacall. Hoagy Carmichael narrates the tale as well as playing a substantial role as Douglas’ piano playing friend. Movie critics generally find something to like about the film and are almost unanimous in their praise for the musical score, which includes many standards.

“Skylark” was the second in what Richard Sudhalter in his Carmichael biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael calls Carmichael’s “musical aviary.” First came “Mr. Bluebird” (1935) with lyrics by Carmichael, and finally there was “Baltimore Oriole” (1942) with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster (“I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good”).

In his Mercer biography titled Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer, Philip Furia explains the yearning expressed in “Skylark” as a voicing of the lyricist’s longing for Judy Garland with whom he had a stormy affair. Mercer told a friend that he wrote “I Remember You” for Garland and that “One for My Baby” (1943) bemoaned her loss.

Johnny Mercer claimed that “Skylark” was not inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792-1822) poem, “To a Skylark,” although the similarities cannot be ignored. Both men were sad geniuses who turned to the skylark for answers: Mercer, with regard to romance queries, “Won’t you tell me where my love can be?” Shelley, with broader concerns, requests, “Teach me half the gladness, That thy brain must know...”

More information on this tune...

Richard M. Sudhalter
Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 432 pages

(Carmichael’s biographer devotes two pages to an analysis of the music and lyric.)
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
Hoagy Carmichael
Hoagy Sings Carmichael
2000 Capitol 46862
Original recording 1956
Carmichael is heard here singing one of his classic tunes in an unusually jazz-oriented context, with a terrific band featuring alto saxophonist Art Pepper and pianist Jimmie Rowles.
Tal Farlow
Tal Farlow's Finest Hour
2001 Verve 549677
Original recording 1952
This recording features guitarist Farlow in the innovative trio of vibraphonist Red Norvo. By the time of this recording, Red Mitchell had replaced Charles Mingus on bass, but they still had some important music left in them. On this performance Farlow coaxes some surprising sounds from his guitar.
Paul Motian
On Broadway, Vol. 3
2004 Winter and Winter 919055
Original recording 1991
Drummer Motian has made quite a bit of stirring music with his unorthodox trio featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. On this recording, the group is augmented by Charlie Haden on bass and by Lee Konitz, who offers some wonderful soprano saxophone on their performance of “Skylark.”

- Noah Baerman

Stan Getz & Jimmy Rowles
The Peacocks
2000 Koch 7867
Original recording 1975
Getz plays beautifully on this ballad performance, as does his duet partner, pianist Jimmie Rowles, who is featured prominently throughout this album.
Carmen McRae
Birds of a Feather
2002 Verve 314589515
Original recording 1958
Vocalist Carmen McRae kicks off this bird-themed album with a weighty, eloquent version of "Skylark."' McRae's voice is in top form and her interpretation of the song makes it one of the finest.
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
1991 Orig. Jazz Classics #38
Original recording, 1962, Riverside Records
Freddie Hubbard's moving trumpet solo is the highlight of this poignant reading from one of the finest hard bop groups in jazz history.
Paul Desmond
1997, Sony 65133
Original recording, 1974, Legacy
Alto saxophonist Desmond includes two versions of the title track. Both readings feature Desmond's clear, bright tone and gift for taking a song through some intriguing musical hoops.
Kenny Barron
Green Chimneys
1994 Criss Cross 1008
Original recording 1983
Most of this album presents a 1983 trio session with Ray Drummond and Ben Riley, but a bonus on the CD version is this solo piano rendition of “Skylark” from 1987. Barron’s gentle touch and lyricism are on full display here.
Winard Harper
Trap Dancer
1999, Savant 2013

This version of "Skylark"' features trumpeter Patrick Rickman playing melody while saxist J.D. Allen weaves lines around him. Drummer Harper is at his most subtle, with Eric Revis on bass and George Cables at the piano.

- Ben Maycock

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