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Tenderly (1946)

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Origin and Chart Information
Sarah Vaughan, at the composer’s request, recorded ‘Tenderly’ in 1947.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 26
Music Walter Gross
Lyrics Jack Lawrence

In the early 1940’s pianist Walter Gross wrote a tune, known informally as “Walter’s Melody,” that he played for friends and at club dates. One of Gross’ friends, singer Margaret Whiting, introduced the pianist to lyricist Jack Lawrence who, in turn, wrote lyrics for the tune. Gross initially objected to “Tenderly” for the title, arguing that it sounded like direction for a performer, but he eventually came around.


More on Walter Gross at JazzBiographies.com

In 1946 Gross took a position as A&R (artists and repertoire) director with Musicraft, an independent record label with which Sarah Vaughan had already signed her first long-term contract. In 1947, at Gross’s request, Vaughan recorded “Tenderly,” accompanied by (husband/manager) George Treadwell and His Orchestra. It was a modest hit which rose to number twenty-seven on the pop charts.


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

In 1950 the Lynn Hope Quartet’s recording of the song rose to number nineteen, but it was Rosemary Clooney’s 1952 recording, accompanied by Percy Faith and His Orchestra, that popularized “Tenderly.” Clooney would later comment that “Technically it’s the most satisfying record I ever made.” Satisfying financially as well, Clooney’s recording climbed to number seventeen and went on to become a million seller. The 1953 Billboard Disc Jockey poll voted “Tenderly” the number six all-time record.

In 1961, German Orchestra leader and composer (“Strangers in the Night”) Bert Kaempfert’s recording of “Tenderly” entered the pop charts briefly, climbing to number thirty-one.

Despite the song’s subsequent popularity, Vaughan is credited with bringing “Tenderly” into the world of jazz. It was her first solo hit and has been credited as marking her transition from jazz artist to popular singing star. Vaughan would record two more hits with Musicraft in 1948, “Nature Boy” and “It’s Magic,” before moving on to recording with the major labels, including Columbia and Mercury.


More on Sarah Vaughan at JazzBiographies.com

Jack Lawrence’s lyrics tell the story of love found, while reflecting the tone of Gross’s composition within an atmosphere of warmth and vulnerability. He cleverly created a series of inner rhymes using paired phrases such as “evening breeze caressed the trees,” “trembling trees embraced the breeze,” that drew attention away from the fact that the lines are repeatedly ending with the title, “Tenderly,” a word he hopes the listener will never forget.


More on Jack Lawrence at JazzBiographies.com

In 1953 “Tenderly” made a memorable appearance on the soundtrack of the MGM musical, Torch Song. Joan Crawford plays a Broadway star, hell-bent on success, who falls in love with blind piano player (Michael Wilding). A recipient of the Harvard Lampoon Worst Films Award for 1953, the movie, shot in 18 days, is now sought after for its “camp” appeal, especially Crawford’s vicious character and her performance (in blackface) of the Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz “Two-Faced Woman,” which Clive Hirschhorn, in his book Hollywood Musicals, says is “one of the worst production numbers ever put on film.” Critic Pauline Kael comments, “The viewer is asked to admire Joan Crawford’s legs and her acting, which consists of pushing her mouth into positions meant to suggest suffering. The first is easy; the second impossible.” Crawford’s vocals, including “Tenderly,” are dubbed by India Adams.

More information on this tune...

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(Author/drummer Simon devotes four pages of this book to “Tenderly.” He relates anecdotes, discusses the songwriters, lists the performers, and provides the sheet music.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Eric Dolphy With Booker Little
Far Cry
1991 Original Jazz Classics 400
Original recording 1960
Dolphy treats us to a landmark solo performance on alto saxophone. His innovative style always made room for melody, and the balance between lyricism and edginess is striking here.
Sarah Vaughan
1998 Melodie Jazz Classic 989
Original recording 1947
This is the first of Vaughan’s many recordings of this tune. It may not be her most “jazzy” rendition, but she sings the melody beautifully, making this an ideal introduction to the song.
Bill Evans
Everybody Digs Bill Evans
Original Jazz Classics 68
Original recording, 1958, Riverside Records
In a trio with bassist Sam Jones and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones, Evans offers a spirited and creative waltz-time performance.

- Noah Baerman

Bud Shank
By Request
1997, Milestone 9273

Shank’s edgy alto sax is energizing, and “Tenderly” never sounded less tender. He opens it up tempo and swings into a wonderful improvisation underscored by the stellar rhythm section: Cyrus Chestnut (p), George Mraz (b), Lewis Nash (d).

- Sandra Burlingame

Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
Trumpeter Armstrong is fantastic and Ella is pure magic as the two greatest voices in jazz inspire each other in this flawless reading of “Tenderly.”’ Oscar Peterson at the piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, and bassist Ray Brown take it beyond perfection.
Phineas Newborn Jr
Harlem Blues
1991 Original Jazz Classics 662
Original recording 1969
Ray Brown introduces “Tenderly”’ on solo bass before the trio with pianist “Finest,”’ as Ray called him, kicks in with Elvin Jones on drums.
Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Harry, Ray Brown, J.C. Heard, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster, Ben Webster
King of the Tenors
Polygram Records

The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD raves that “’Tenderly’ has never been more “tender”’ than in the hands of saxophonist Ben Webster. Breathy and romantic, Webster is in top form and surrounded by the ultimate sidemen in Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown.
Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, John Patitucci, John Scofield
Gary Burton & Friends - Departure
Concord Records

As expected with a lineup like this, there are moments of sheer brilliance during this slow shuffle rendition of the song. Guitarist John Scofield, pianist Fred Hersch, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Peter Erskine join the vibraphonist.
Duke Ellington
Original recording 1957
Ellington conducts from the piano, but it is clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton who steals the show with his heartbreaking eloquence.

- Ben Maycock

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