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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

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Tenderly”

Original Key Eb major
Form A - B1 - A - B2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement Primarily skips. The main motivic device of “A” is a rising third followed by a fall of a minor second, perhaps recalling the movement of waves near the shore, referred to in the lyric. There are large leaps in the “B” sections of minor and major 7ths ascending and octaves descending.

Comments     (assumed background)

This tune is strongly Impressionistic with faint echoes of Faure and early Debussy. The “A” melody is repetitive over a changing harmonic progression. The “B” melody builds on an initial rising seventh followed by a descending third (in the chords of the moment, this is Cb up to Bb over an Abm7, descending to G over a Bb13). In the second and third repetitions, an intermediate step between the first and second notes of this motif is added, outlining the 3rd, 5th and 9th of the underlying chord. Harmonically, the voice leading is very orthodox–few surprises here. The melody is challenging in that many of the important tones are the “color” tones of the chord–the major 7th, the raised 11th, the 13th, etc. A good aural familiarity with “extended” and altered harmonies will be helpful in learning this piece.
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

“Tenderly” is one of those songs that I never sang unless someone requested it. Then one day I realized how beautiful it was. It has large intervallic jumps which make it exciting. Fortuitously, I have the facility to make them happen, and I can improvise on them because my voice works with my mind. Even impaired, I’d sing it—even if my voice cut out.

Nancy King, jazz vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“Tenderly” was included in these films:
  • Torch Song (1953, Joan Crawford dubbed by India Adams, Michael Wilding dubbed by Walter Gross)
  • The Tender Game (1958, Ella Fitzgerald, The Oscar Peterson Trio)
  • Scenes from a Mall (1991)
  • The Myth of Fingerprints aka All Around the World (1997, Rozz Nash Sextet)
  • Playing by Heart (1999, Chet Baker)
  • Return to Me (2000, Jackie Gleason and His Orchestra)
And on television:
  • The Jackie Gleason Show (1952-1970 CBS comedy variety show) Theme for The Poor Soul segment
  • The Muppet Show (1976, Dr. Teeth, The Electric Mayhem) Season 1, Episode 16
  • The Sopranos (1999, Chet Baker) HBO drama series, Season 1, Episode 3 "Denial, Anger, Acceptance"
  • Six Feet Under (2001, Soulstice) HBO drama series, Season 1, Episode 2, "The Will"
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Tenderly" may be found in:

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(4 pages including the following types of information: anecdotal, performers, song writer discussion and sheet music.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages

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

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

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

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

“Tenderly” seems to have been written with sensuous saxophonists in mind. But the first jazz recording of it was by Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson in 1950.

Two 1951 recordings are interesting because they are by Americans who had left the US for France, where the sessions were made. Trumpeter Bill Coleman, who visited France in the ‘30s and recorded with Django Reinhardt, did a version, and then the first of the saxophonists, the great but under-appreciated Don Byas did his cover. The following year, altoist Johnny Hodges (the master of the sensual saxophone), who had left Duke Ellington to form his own group, laid down his interpretation (and so did his former boss). Not to be left out, tenor sax legend Lester Young had his turn in 1953.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson 1950
Classics 1198

Bill Coleman
Bill Coleman 1951-1952
Classics 1339

Don Byas
Don Byas 1951-1952
Classics 1315

Johnny Hodges
The Small Group Sessions Vol. 4
Blue Moon 1031

Lester Young
Comp Lester Young Studio Session on Verve
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1954
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Tenderly.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

For digging into this tune, one is virtually obligated to begin by listening to Sarah Vaughan sing it, and her original version of it (1946-1947) is definitive from that standpoint in spite of its somewhat syrupy production. Among more modern interpretations, Bill Evans’ waltz-time version with Sam Jones and “Philly” Joe Jones (Everybody Digs Bill Evans) has impacted a great many musicians since the release of Everybody Digs Bill Evans in the late 1950s.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD 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

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

Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence

Year Rank Title
1946 26 Tenderly

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