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Sweet Lorraine (1928)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Vocalist Armstrong delivers a sincere ‘Sweet Lorraine’ as Peterson’s quartet supports him with grace and depth.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 37
Music Cliff Burwell
Lyrics Mitchell Parish

Written in 1928, ”Sweet Lorraine” found modest popularity with a recording by Rudy Vallee and his Heigh-Ho Yale Collegians. In that same year clarinetist Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra made an instrumental recording of the song for the Vocalion label. Further recordings were made Isham Jones and His Orchestra (1932), and jazz violinist Joe Venuti (1933).


More on Rudy Vallee at JazzBiographies.com

It was Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra’s 1935 Brunswick recording, however, that made the pop charts for one week in October, rising to number seventeen. For Teddy Wilson it would be one of the first of dozens of hits he would produce in the 1935-1937 time frame.


More on Billie Holiday at JazzBiographies.com

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

“Sweet Lorraine” was Clifford Burwell’s only hit composition. He worked as a pianist for several popular bands including Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees.


More on Cliff Burwell at JazzBiographies.com

Mitchell Parish is best known for penning the lyrics to “Star Dust” in 1929, but “Sweet Lorraine” was his first hit.


More on Mitchell Parish at JazzBiographies.com

The endurance of “Sweet Lorraine”as a favorite among jazz performers may be attributed, at least in part, to Nat “King” Cole, who kept the song in the limelight with his popular recordings. Cole’s fondness for “Sweet Lorraine” began as a Chicago teenager listening to clarinetist Jimmie Noone play. This was undoubtedly sometime after Noone’s group was called “Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra,” as the Apex Club was raided and closed down for serving alcohol during prohibition in 1930. Nat was 13.

“Sweet Lorraine” would play a memorable part in Cole’s transition from piano player to vocalist. The legend, which also reveals the source of his royal nickname, is told by Leslie Gourse in the liner notes for The Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio: The MacGregor Years, 1941-1945. Initially Cole’smain interest was piano, but in 1938, while performing in a Los Angeles nightclub, a tipsy customer asked him to sing, and Cole refused.

The customer insisted. Bob Lewis, the club owner, told Nat to sing-or else. So Nat sang “Sweet Lorraine” ...[and the] customer and everyone else liked the way Nat sang. Bob Lewis put a tinsel crown on Nat’s head and said, “I crown you Nat ‘King’ Cole.”

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Author/educator Forte devotes a page to his musical analysis of the song.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Sweet Lorraine”

Original Key F major, with a modulation to Bb major during the bridge
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality Major
Movement 85% ascending step-wise with downward skips not exceeding a major 3rd

Comments     (assumed background)

This melody is extremely motivic and uses the same pattern. The “A” motif consists of an ascending scale, followed by a skip of a downward third, from which the pattern repeats. In the “B” section (bridge), the motif is a simple scale moving up a fourth by step, then returning. This makes for a tune that “stays in the ear” and is easy to learn.

Harmonically the “circle of fifths” is used extensively, bearing some resemblance to, among others, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place,” “Charleston, and “All of Me.” The I chord is followed by either a VI7 chord (“A” section) or a III7. In either case, the progression cycles back to the tonic key in a predictable fashion.

This tune should pose few problems for the experienced performer. The novice will find familiarity with scale patterns and the circle of fifths to be useful.

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 dad used to play “Sweet Lorraine” very rhythmically on the piano. I loved Nat “King” Cole’s version, and I had to find a way for a girl to sing it. The song lends itself to being sung by an observer, so I just altered the lyrics: “He just found joy, he’s as happy as a baby boy.” I never tire of singing it.

Nancy King, jazz vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“Sweet Lorraine” was included in these films:
  • Something’s Gotta Give (2003, Stephane Grappelli)
And on stage:
  • Stardust (1987)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Sweet Lorraine" may be found in:

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

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

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

The period of the late 1930s and early ‘40s was a time of great interest in jazz. A number of indie record companies appeared, allowing their artists a freedom rarely granted by the big companies. In 1940, the Hot Record Society produced an album featuring New Orleans jazz veteran Sidney Bechet along with Chicago jazz stalwart Muggsy Spanier. The rhythm section consisted of ex-Ellington bassist Wellman Braud and guitarist Carmen Maestren (from Tommy Dorsey’s band), an unusual combination.

The recordings came out in a 12” 78 rpm album, a novelty for jazz music at that time. Their version of “Sweet Lorraine” is memorable not so much for solo work but for the wonderful interplay between the instrumentalists, who created a beautiful, mellow ensemble sound rarely heard from a pickup group.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet: 1940
Classics 638

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

“Sweet Lorraine” is closely associated with Nat “King” Cole. Hearing Cole perform it with his trio (The Best of Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classics, Vol. 1 (1942-1946)) gives one all the necessary information for being able to learn the tune. The improvisational possibilities within “Sweet Lorraine,” meanwhile, are explored most influentially on numerous recordings by Art Tatum, particularly those featuring his piano alone (20th Century Piano Genius).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Art Tatum
20th Century Piano Genius
1996 Polygram 31763
Original recording 1955
This 2-CD set features two solo piano renditions of “Sweet Lorraine.”’ The tempo ranges from a relaxed medium swing on one version to a brighter tempo on the other, but both versions are irresistible and feature Tatum at his most swinging.
Nat "King" Cole
The Best of Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classics, Vol. 1 (1942-1946)
Blue Note Records 33571
Original recording 1943
Cole recorded “Sweet Lorraine”’ on multiple occasions and was perhaps the tune’s definitive vocal interpreter. This swinging trio version is one of his best.
Jo Jones
The Essential Jo Jones
1995 Vanguard 101
Original recording 1958
”Papa Jo”’ leads his trio (with brothers Ray Bryant on piano and Tommy Bryant on bass) through a tight and infectiously swinging “Sweet Lorraine.”’
Benny Carter and Oscar Peterson
Benny Carter Meets Oscar Peterson
1990 Pablo 2310926
Original recording 1986
Alto saxophonist Carter was 79 years young when he met up with Peterson for this relaxed, soulful rendition of “Sweet Lorraine.”’
Stephane Grappelli
Shades of Django
Polygram Records

Grappelli takes “Sweet Lorraine”’ at a relaxed medium tempo and his irrepressible sense of swing proves to be a perfect fit for the tune.
Cassandra Wilson
Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
It is unusual to hear a female vocalist interpret this song, but Wilson does a fabulous job in this slow duo exploration with pianist Mulgrew Miller.

- Noah Baerman

Kenny Barron Trio
2001, Candid Records
Original recording, 1991, Black Lion Productions Ltd
”Sweet Lorraine”’ succumbs to pianist Barron’s gentle touch, while bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley give her a little nudge.
Nat King Cole
Complete After Midnight Sessions
Blue Note Records

This is Cole’s jazziest vocal album, featuring his trio--John Collins (g) and Charlie Harris (b)--with guests Lee Young (d), Willie Smith (as), Harry Edison (tp), Stuff Smith (v), and Juan Tizol (tb). They cover three of the top standards, including one of Cole’s signature songs, “Sweet Lorraine.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Lester Young
The Lester Young Trio
Polygram Records 21650
Original recording 1946
Though this CD was issued under Lester Young’s name, Young is nowhere to be heard on this tune; this is one of four tunes on the album that instead features the tenor saxophone of a very young Dexter Gordon along with the trumpet of Harry “Sweets” Edison. The bandleader here is Nat “King” Cole; although Cole was known for his vocal renditions of “Sweet Lorraine,” he sticks to the piano here.
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson
1997 Verve 539060
Original recording 1957
The old guard meets the new guard with surprisingly touching results. Vocalist Armstrong delivers a sincere “Sweet Lorraine”’ as Peterson’s quartet supports him with grace and depth.

- Ben Maycock

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

Cliff Burwell and Mitchell Parish

Year Rank Title
1928 37 Sweet Lorraine

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