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The Man I Love (1924)

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Origin and Chart Information
“A highlight of this recording is the playing of her musical soulmate, Lester Young, and sometime Bing Crosby accompanist Joe Sullivan on piano.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 18
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Sometimes a song manages to succeed against all odds. As the sheet music for “The Man I Love” was on its way to production, it was unceremoniously dropped from the 1924 Broadway musical Lady, Be Good! The song was then included in Strike Up the Band (1927), which closed during its out-of-town tryouts. It was then slated for the Ziegfeld hit Rosalie (1928), a team effort by Sigmund Romberg, the Gershwins, and P.G. Wodehouse. Yet again the song was dropped before the show opened. Even a modestly successful 1930 revival of Strike Up the Band could not end the song’s streak of bad luck as the Gershwins agreed to drop it before the show opened.

Despite such endless setbacks, the homeless composition had become popular in London and Paris as Lady Mountbatten, a Gershwin friend, had returned to Europe with a copy of the sheet music. Slower to catch on in the United States, the popularity of “The Man I Love” crested in 1928 with five recordings on the pop charts in the same year. A 1927 recording by Marion Harris led the way, entering the charts in March and rising to number four.

  • Marion Harris (1928, #4)
  • Sophie Tucker (1928 #11)
  • Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (1928, Vaughan DeLeath, vocal, #15)
  • Fred Rich and His Orchestra (1928, Vaughan DeLeath, vocal, #19)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1937, #20)

More on Marion Harris at JazzBiographies.com

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

“The Man I Love” was also the signature song for George Gershwin’s weekly CBS radio show, Music by Gershwin, which ran from 1934 to 1935.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

The ballad’s checkered past was not due to lack of appeal and it became one of Gershwin’s biggest hits despite the lack of a successful production association. The song’s problem stemmed more from the fact that it just didn’t fit in a lively musical. Standing alone “The Man I Love” was wonderful, but in a show it brought the action to a near standstill.

As improvisational vehicles, many songs could not endure the transition from the loose Dixieland style of the “Roaring Twenties” to the smooth swing sound of the 1930’s. They were dropped from jazz musicians’ catalogs, performances and recordings and relegated to period collections and specialty bands. There are, however, a handful of songs written in the mid-twenties or earlier that have persisted as the topmost jazz standards: W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914); George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” (1924) and “Oh, Lady Be Good” (1924); and the Ken Casey, Maceo Pinkard, Ben Bernie composition “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925).

More information on this tune...

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

(The lyricist himself, over five pages, discusses the song’s history and lyric and tells anecdotes.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

In William G. Hyland’s The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950, the author points out that “The Man I Love” is the best-known Gershwin example of a song’s metamorphosis. “It began as a verse to another song, which was never completed. Ira liked it and suggested changing it to a refrain, rather than a verse.”

Written in what amounts to an A1-A2-B-A3 form (the second and fourth sections are slightly different from the first) “The Man I Love” has always been attractive to jazz musicians. The melody is catchy, the departure in the bridge is surprising, and the repetition of its four-bar melodic phrases, coupled with the steadily descending harmony, provides a predictable basis for improvisational tangents. -JW

Musical analysis of “The Man I Love”

Original Key Eb major, turning to C minor during the bridge
Form A1 – A2 – B – A3
Tonality “A” is major; “B” is parallel minor.
Movement The “A” motif is a step up and down, ending with a skip up a third, repeated over different harmonies and on different pitches. “B” starts out stepwise and then leaps up a sixth, followed by a step and a skip down and a step up.

Comments     (assumed background)

The initial chord progression descends step-wise in a unique way. The harmonic catalyst is when the initial I chord turns minor, becoming a ii7 of the chord below it (in the original key, Eb – Ebm7 – Db). The next two chord changes are common-tone ones, as the melody note–fifth scale degree–becomes the augmented fifth of the one that follows. The next chord changes require only the movement of the bass to become the “Neapolitan” chord of V7 (a “Neapolitan,” or N6, is a half-step higher than the chord it resolves to and is sometimes used as a substitute for the V7 chord).

“B” is the old “I – II7– V7” progression, but in the minor, it is given a haunting, searching quality. The parallel minor here uses a common-tone, diminished chord to lead into the ii-V7 progression, returning the song to the original key.

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

I started singing “The Man I Love” when I was young. I sang it really sweet and cute, a young girl’s wish, believing a big, strong man would come along to love me and take care of me, and I’d do my best to “make him stay.” As I matured the song took on tragic dimensions, deep longing for something lost or missed. I sing it differently today.

Nancy King, jazz vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“The Man I Love” was included in these films:
  • Rhapsody in Blue (1945, Hazel Scott)
  • The Man I Love (1946, Ida Lupino dubbed by Peg La Centra)
  • Young Man with a Horn (1950, Doris Day, Harry James Orchestra)
  • Sincerely Yours (1955, Liberace)
  • The Helen Morgan Story (1958, Ann Blyth dubbed by Gogi Grant)
  • Lady Sings the Blues (1972, Diana Ross)
  • New York, New York (1977, Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro dubbed on sax by Georgie Auld)
  • Hot Shots! (1991, Valeria Golino)
  • Hero (1992)
  • About Adam (2000, Kate Hudson)
  • For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000, Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna) HBO biopic
And on stage:
  • Lady Be Good (1924, Adele Astaire) withdrawn
  • Strike Up the Band (1927, Vivian Hart, Roger Pryor, reprised as "The Girl I Love" by Morton Downey) Broadway musical
  • Rosalie (1928) (Outtake)
  • Who Cares? (1970, New York City Ballet)
And on television:
  • Who Cares? (2004, New York City Ballet) PBS
Reading and Research
Additional information for "The Man I Love" may be found in:

William G. Hyland
The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950
American Philological Association
Hardcover: 336 pages

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

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

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

David Ewen
Great Men of American Popular Song
Prentice-Hall; Rev. and enl. ed edition
Unknown Binding: 404 pages

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

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

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

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

(2 pages 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, music analysis and performers.)

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: Broadway productions, film productions, history, performers and style discussion.)

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

(5 pages including the following types of information: anecdotal, history and song lyrics.)

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

(4 pages including the following types of information: history and lyric analysis.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

Edward Jablonski
Gershwin: A Biography
Bdd Promotional Book Co

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

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

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: lyric analysis and music analysis.)
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

Recorded 15 years after its introduction, vocalist Billie Holiday’s 1939 version of this tune is a soulful performance, evoking an after-hours atmosphere. A highlight of this recording is the playing of her musical soulmate, Lester Young, and sometime Bing Crosby accompanist Joe Sullivan on piano. However, it’s Coleman Hawkins unique 1943 treatment that surprised the jazz world.

Normally played as a ballad, Hawkins doubled the tempo for an extended romp. From the first chorus, by Eddie Heywood, the players eschew the melody in favor of improvisation. Hawkins, who had a keen ear for talent, utilizes young lions Oscar Pettiford on bass and Shelley Manne on drums to round out the rhythm section.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Billie Holiday
The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol
8: 1939-1940. Sony 47030

Coleman Hawkins
Ken Burns' Jazz Collection: Coleman Hawkins
Polygram Records: #549085

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

The place to start with “The Man I Love” is Billie Holiday’s compelling 1938 performance (The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol.8: 1939-1940). As for instrumental versions, a landmark moment occurred in 1943 for both the song and for saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. This Hawkins performance of “The Man I Love” (Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Coleman Hawkins) features the saxophonist at his peak and is also significant for its role in signaling the arrival of the influential bassist Oscar Pettiford, who plays a short but forward-looking solo here.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Lester Young
The Lester Young Trio
Polygram Records 21650
Original recording 1946
The ideas flow endlessly on this relaxed, swinging performance. Young is accompanied by drummer Buddy Rich and, in a rare sideman appearance, pianist Nat “King” Cole.
Art Tatum
Piano Starts Here
Sony 64690
Original recording, 1933
On this solo piano performance, Tatum takes “The Man I Love” at a medium tempo, and the underlying pulse is relaxed and swinging. Nonetheless, he manages to insert breathtaking runs that sound as if there are at least two pianists there.
Mary Lou Williams
Live at the Cookery
1994 Chiaroscuro 146
Original recording 1975
This track should be enlightening for those unaware of how modern Williams’ playing was. Her take on “The Man I Love” is striking in its harmonic richness.
Ray Charles
Genius After Hours
2001 Rhino 2735232
Original recording 1956
On this slow-tempo performance we can hear Charles’ influential, soulful sound as well as his underrated straight-ahead jazz skills. His trio here includes the great bassist Oscar Pettiford.
Miles Davis
Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants
1991 Original Jazz Classics 347
Original recording 1954
Miles gives us a lyrical ballad performance with a group that also includes Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk.

- Noah Baerman

Don Shirley
...Plays Love Songs/Don Shirley Trio
1999 Collectables 2758
Original recording
Pianist Shirley is impossible to categorize because he incorporates classical, jazz, spiritual, and folk styles into his playing. At last his work is being reissued on CD. Here he takes “The Man I Love” around the block with a solo opening and a duo with cello. Then he picks up the tempo with bass and finally gives it a full concert reading at breakneck speed with cello and bass.

- Sandra Burlingame

Ella Fitzgerald
Oh, Lady, Be Good! Best of the Gershwin Songbook
1996 Polygram 529581
Original Recording 1959
With Nelson Riddle’s arrangement, this rendition of the song is as close to perfection as one can get. Fitzgerald’s elegance does “The Man I Love”’ justice.
Betty Carter
Look What I Got
1990, Polygram 835661
Original recording, 1988
Carter was a vocalist in a realm of her own when interpreting standards. She makes a narrative of “The Man I Love,”’ disregarding the melody at times and dragging out phrases to emphasize their story qualities. Several young musicians went through “The Carter School of Music,”’ and some of the graduates appear here: Benny Green (p), Winard Harper (d), Michael Bowie (b), with tenor saxophonist Don Braden.
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers
1991, Original Jazz Classics 444
Original recording, 1975
On an album which the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD calls a “glorious sparring match with (Oscar) Peterson,”’ Sims proves again his limitless understanding of the Gershwin’s music. He revisits “The Man I Love”’ twenty years after making a recording of it that stood the jazz world on its ear.

- 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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