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The Way You Look Tonight (1936)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The wonderful Ray Charles is given free rein at the piano as trombonist Steve Turre leads the group through a medium-paced version of the song.”

- Ben Maycock

AKAJust the Way You Look Tonight
Rank 27
Music Jerome Kern
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

Fred Astaire introduced “The Way You Look Tonight” in the RKO musical Swing Time, the sixth of ten films he would star in with Ginger Rogers. For the film, Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern wrote one of the most popular film scores of all time, with “The Way You Look Tonight,” beating out “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Pennies from Heaven” to win the 1936 Academy Award for best song.


More on Fred Astaire at JazzBiographies.com

Swing Time was a goldmine for Fred Astaire. He recorded five of the seven songs that composed the score and each one became a hit. “The Way You Look Tonight” climbed up the pop charts to settle at the number one slot for six weeks. The flip side to that record was “Pick Yourself Up” which rose to number six. “A Fine Romance” was nearly as well received, rising to number one for five weeks while its flip side, the instrumental “Waltz in Swing Time,” peaked at number sixteen. “Never Gonna Dance” was a number five hit with its flip side, “Bojangles of Harlem,” attaining seventeenth position. Each of the recordings was made with Johnny Green and His Orchestra, and the only song that did not become a hit was the short dance number “It’s Not in the Cards.”

“The Way You Look Tonight” was covered by a number of groups, notably


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

Originally titled I Won’t Dance, after the Kern song in 1935’s Roberta, then Never Gonna Dance, Swing Time presents Fred and Ginger at the top of their form dancing to a phenomenal score. The film proved a commercial success and endures to this day as one of their top vehicles despite a flimsy plot that critics have called tedious, practically non-existent, and even asinine.


More on Jerome Kern at JazzBiographies.com

Rather than Astaire singing “The Way You Look Tonight” directly to Rogers, perhaps in an evening gown on a balcony, the film takes a lighter approach. Astaire plays the piano and sings to no one, while Ginger Rogers is washing her hair in the next room. Unexpectedly, she walks in on him as he completes the song.


More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(Author/educator Forte offers six pages of information on the song, including its history, the lyric, and analyses of both the lyric and music. There is also a companion CD.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Johnny Griffin
A Blowin' Session
1999 Blue Note 99009
Original recording 1957
Griffin asserts himself mightily on a burning-fast tenor battle with Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. Other featured artists here include drummer Art Blakey and the young trumpeter Lee Morgan.
Art Blakey
A Night At Birdland, Vol. 2
1990 Blue Note 46520
Original recording 1954
This live performance helped usher in the era of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Soloists Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown and Horace Silver play with breathtaking exuberance and dexterity on this up-tempo track.
Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day's Finest Hour
Polygram Records
Original recording 1961
Along with a great rendition of the melody, this playful performance features some O’Day scatting and a sophisticated arrangement by Jimmy Guiffre.
Barry Harris
Chasin' the Bird
1996 Original Jazz Classics 872
Original recording 1962
This is definitive bebop piano, with Harris playing inventively and creatively, backed by bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Clifford Jarvis.

- Noah Baerman

Tete Montoliu
The Music I Like to Play, Vol. 4
1990, Soul Note #121250

The Catalonian pianist goes for broke in this solo outing. “The Way You Look Tonight,”’ taken in waltz time, rises above the ordinary in his creative hands.
Fred Astaire
Steppin' Out: Astaire Sings
Polygram Records
Original recording 1952
Astaire introduced “The Way You Look Tonight” in the 1936 film Swing Time. Here he displays the vocal phrasing and delivery that made him a favorite of composers and lyricists. His stellar jazz sextet includes Charlie Shavers (t), Flip Phillips(ts), Oscar Peterson (p), Barney Kessel(g), Ray Brown (b), and Alvin Stoller (d).

- Sandra Burlingame

Tina Brooks
Minor Move
2000, Blue Note 22671
Original recording, 1958
Trumpeter Lee Morgan and drummer Art Blakey join saxophonist Brooks for a searing bop version of the song. JazzTimes commented on the recording: “the gem of the date is an inspired reading of ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’”’
Steve Turre
In the Spur of the Moment
2000, Telarc

The wonderful Ray Charles is given free rein at the piano as trombonist Steve Turre leads the group through a medium-paced version of the song. Charles is terrific in an improvisatory role that he rarely commits to CD.
Lionel Hampton Quintet
The Lionel Hampton Quintet
2001 Verve 314589100
Original recording 1954
Vibraphonist Hampton leads heavyweights, such as pianist Oscar Peterson and drummer Buddy Rich, through a swinging “The Way You Look Tonight.” Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco tops them all with his sentimental solo.

- Ben Maycock

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