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'S Wonderful! (1927)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The appeal to jazz musicians is not the lyrics … so much as the repeated-note melody of the bridge combined with the riff-like melody in the A section.”

- C. Andre Barbera

Rank 98
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

The musical comedy Funny Face opened to rave reviews on November 22, 1927. That night Adele Astaire and Allen Kearns would introduce “’S Wonderful!” a song that would immediately bewitch the Alvin Theater audience.

 

More on Adele Astaire at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Allen Kearns at JazzBiographies.com
 

Funny Face starred comedian Victor Moore and the brother and sister team of Fred and Adele Astaire. Originally titled Smarty, the musical was overhauled after a disappointing opening at Philadelphia’s Shubert Theatre. The new title was Fred Astaire’s affectionate nickname for his sister.

With music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and a book written by Fred Thompson and Paul Gerard Smith, the revamped musical would go on to enjoy a successful run of 244 performances. Included in the original score along with “S’Wonderful!” were hits such as “Funny Face,” “Let’s Kiss and Make Up,” “He Loves and She Loves,” and “My One and Only (What Am I Gonna Do?)”

 

More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com
 

Immensely popular from the outset, “’S Wonderful!” hit the pop charts twice in 1928. Its first appearance of the year was courtesy of Frank Crumit who took it to fifth place that January. The song struck success again in March when an Ipana Troubadors recording reached twelfth place.

 

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

The Astaire siblings, on the other hand, were not to share in the same good fortune enjoyed by “S’Wonderful.” While vacationing in the summer of 1928 Fred was a passenger in a serious automobile accident, and Adele was badly burned in a boating accident, requiring weeks to recuperate in hospital. Despite the setbacks they were both in London that fall for another 263 performances of Funny Face.

The 1957 Paramount film Funny Face is generally well-reviewed and was based on an unproduced play named Wedding Day and also starred Fred Astaire, this time with Audrey Hepburn. The songs were mostly Gershwin, four of which were in the original show.

More information on this tune...

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages


(Furia analyzes the lyric.)

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


(Wilder analyzes the music.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Arguably, the lyrics are what make “S’Wonderful!” so wonderful. The slurred transformation of words such as “It’s Wonderful”(“S’Wonderful”) and “It’s Marvelous” (“S’Marvelous”), coupled with clipped syllables from words in the verse (“fashion” becomes “fash”, “emotion” becomes “emoshe”), creates a whimsical wordplay within a sophisticated song. In such context the lyrical device is clever, not just cute, making it memorable to the listener.

Interestingly, the song appeals to jazz musicians despite its lack of musical complexity. As with many standards, it is the listener’s knowledge of the lyrics that makes “S’Wonderful!” a recognizable and enjoyable target for jazz arrangements. The simplicity of the song offers musicians a good vehicle to showcase their improvisational skills. In Wayne Schneider’s The Gershwin Style: New Looks at the Music of George Gershwin, contributor C. Andre Barbera says,

“S Wonderful!” is George Gershwin’s most skeletal song. The appeal to jazz musicians is not the lyrics … so much as the repeated-note melody of the bridge combined with the riff-like melody in the A section.

The appeal of this simplicity is twofold: it allows the musician more freedom to improvise, and it takes the emphasis off the melody, accentuating the rhythmic and harmonic progressions. -JW

Musical analysis of “’S Wonderful!”

Original Key Eb major with false key change to G major in the bridge
Form A1 – A2 – B – A3
Tonality Major throughout; almost completely pentatonic; range of only an octave
Movement “A” is based on a downward minor third repeated twice, followed by a downward interval or step up. “B” is all step-wise over a three-note range.

Comments     (assumed background)

There is some speculation that this very simple melody was inspired, influenced by, or based on canonical chants that Gershwin heard as a boy in the synagogue or possibly in a Yiddish theatre production. Certainly the downward minor third could be the “mother of all intervals,”  existing in virtually all folk music traditions, work chants, field hollers and sacred chants. It’s even one that children seem to know innately (“nah-nah-nah”). In addition, the pentatonic scale is the most ancient of all recorded musical scales. Underneath its “skeletal” simplicity, there is something almost mystical about this tune. Wedded to the sophisticated harmonic progression (I – bii˚7 – ii7 – V7 – I) and Ira’s petulant and witty lyric (itself based on Yiddish dialect), this is a powerful piece of music.
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

As far as “’S Wonderful!” I guess it remains a favorite as most all the Gershwin tunes do. It’s at once sophisticated, happy, clever, and has all the features that make the Gershwins’ music timeless. It lends itself to endless interpretations and interesting variations.

Jean Ronne, jazz pianist


Good for beginning to learn the sound of chord changes behind the melody. The first three phrase-lets are exactly the same notes with different chords behind. The chords will dictate improvisatory choices. Don’t ignore the verse --especially “her” words, they make all the “‘s”s make sense.

Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer

Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards -- Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.


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Soundtrack information
“'S Wonderful!” was included in these films:
  • Rhapsody in Blue (1945, )
  • An American in Paris (1951, Gene Kelly)
  • Funny Face (1957, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn)

And on Broadway:

  • My One and Only (1983, at the St. James Theater, 767 performances)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "'S Wonderful!" may be found in:

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages


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

Wayne Schneider
The Gershwin Style: New Looks at the Music of George Gershwin
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 290 pages


(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)

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


(3 paragraphs 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, lyric analysis and music analysis.)

Ira Gershwin
Lyrics on Several Occasions
Limelight Editions
Paperback: 424 pages


(3 pages including the following types of information: history and song lyrics.)

Philip Furia
Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 308 pages


(3 paragraphs including the following types of information: lyric analysis.)

Gerald Mast
Can't Help Singin'
Overlook Press; Rei edition
Paperback: 400 pages


(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: lyric analysis and music analysis.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

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Jazz History Notes

George Gershwin’s catchy tune was around for eleven years before Benny Goodman recorded it with his quartet in 1938. The next year, vocalist Lee Wiley, along with some of Eddie Condon’s gang, did a slow version for a Gershwin tribute album.

In one of the many sessions of standards that Coleman Hawkins recorded in 1944, his version of “’S Wonderful” is performed by a swinging group including hot trumpeter and frequent colleague Roy Eldridge and pianist Teddy Wilson (also on Goodman’s version). (There are two takes from this session on different CDs listed below.) The following year Artie Shaw’s big band recorded an excellent arrangement of the tune, featuring the leader on clarinet. It wasn’t until 1950 with Stan Getz’s rendition that this tune began to be recorded again with frequency.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Lee Wiley
Lee Wiley Sings the Songs of George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter
Audiophile 1

Coleman Hawkins
1943-1944
Classics 807

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins 1943-1944, Vol. 2: The Alternates
Neatwork 2011

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

Fred Astaire was the vocalist most closely associated with “’S Wonderful,” (Fred Astaire's Finest Hour) and his 1952 recording with Oscar Peterson gives us the dual pleasure of a charming, faithful rendition of the tune, while putting it in the context of an exceptional jazz performance. As for instrumental versions, the Stan Getz recording of 1950 (B000005HAL ) with the young Horace Silver on piano is an all-time classic .

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Stan Getz
The Complete Roost Recordings
Blue Note Records 59622
Original recording 1950
The immensely influential saxophonist Getz is heard here at the beginning of his prolific career as a bandleader. His own playing is fabulous, as is that of the pianist he had recently discovered, Horace Silver.
iTunes
Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire's Finest Hour
2003 Verve 52402
Original recording 1952
In a jazz setting, Astaire revisits this song with which he is so closely associated. Accompanying him on this classic performance are Oscar Peterson’s group, augmented by Charlie Shavers on trumpet and Flip Phillips on tenor saxophone.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Helen Merrill/Clifford Brown
Helen Merrill with Clifford Brown
Polygram Records 14643
Original recording 1954
Vocalist Merrill was in top form when she collaborated with trumpet genius Clifford Brown and arranger Quincy Jones. This swinging, up-tempo romp on “’S Wonderful” is a highlight of that collaboration.
iTunes
Art Tatum
The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 1
Pablo
Original recording 1954
Pianist Tatum is on fire here, as are his cohorts, alto saxophonist Benny Carter and drummer Louis Bellson.
iTunes
Sonny Stitt
Kaleidoscope
Original Jazz Classics 060-2
Original recording 1952
Saxophone master Stitt delivers a straight-ahead, solid offering, full of robust phrasing and playful asides. Though the sound quality is not pristine the bebop shines through.
iTunes
George Van Eps
Mellow Guitar
1999, Euphoria Records
Original recording, 1956
When Van Eps' debut album was released it was a sensation among jazz fans at a time when great jazz filled the airwaves. The master seven-string guitarist is not only an extraordinary technician but a creative genius, and the orchestral backing, used subtly and occasionally, is masterful. Great selections throughout.
iTunes
Eddie Harris
The In Sound/Mean Greens
1993 Atlantic 71515
Original recording 1965
The brilliant, underrated saxophonist Harris plays “’S Wonderful” with a propulsive Latin feeling, interacting with the buoyant rhythm section of pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins.
iTunes
Diana Krall
The Look of Love
2001 Verve 314549846
Original recording 2001
The Canadian pianist and torch singer gives the song her trademark smolder. Her husky voice and eloquent playing draw listeners in and hold them entranced.
iTunes
John Pizzarelli
All of Me
1992, Novus 63129

This album hails from the early days of the prolific guitarist and singer. Pizzarelli’s version of “S’Wonderful” swings with the best of them.
iTunes
Red Garland
Manteca
1991, Original Jazz Classics 428
Original recording, 1958
Pianist Garland, bass player Paul Chambers, and drummer Arthur Taylor are joined by conga player Ray Barretto in a version that stands out for its exceptional solos.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

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

George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin

Year Rank Title
1924 18 The Man I Love
1924 22 Oh, Lady Be Good!
1930 24 Embraceable You
1930 54 But Not for Me
1938 57 Love Is Here to Stay
1930 73 I Got Rhythm
1926 77 Someone to Watch Over Me
1937 86 They Can't Take That Away from Me
1937 88 A Foggy Day
1927 98 'S Wonderful!
1937 158 Nice Work If You Can Get It
1937 201 Love Walked In
1927 213 How Long Has This Been Going On?
1929 320 Strike Up the Band
1924 329 Fascinating Rhythm
1929 381 Soon
1931 419 Who Cares? (So Long As You Care for Me)
1935 420 It Ain't Necessarily So
1930 487 I've Got a Crush on You
1936 766 Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
1936 927 They All Laughed
1926 983 Maybe

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward

Year Rank Title
1935 270 I Loves You Porgy
1935 539 Bess, You Is My Woman Now

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn

Year Rank Title
1929 189 Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

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