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Willow Weep for Me (1932)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Between the joyous singing of Armstrong and the buoyant accompaniment of Oscar Peterson’s group, one can only imagine the willow weeping tears of joy!”

- Noah Baerman

Rank 13
Words and Music Ann Ronell

“Willow Weep for Me” was introduced by vocalist and whistler Muzzy Marcellino performing with Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra. Their October, 1932, Brunswick recording entered the pop charts December 3, 1932, and rose to number seventeen. On December 17 Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra’s Victor recording with singer Irene Taylor entered the charts and was more favorably received, rising to number two. Over thirty years later in 1964 “Willow Weep for Me” reemerged on the pop charts, this time by the British duo Chad and Jeremy.

 

More on Muzzy Marcellino at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Ted Fio Rito at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Paul Whiteman at JazzBiographies.com
 

Whether Ted Fio Rito or Paul Whiteman introduced “Willow Weep for Me” is a matter of some dispute. Ann Ronell had sold the song directly to Paul Whiteman, who presumably performed it first. Fio Rito, on the other hand, had the edge by two weeks in introducing the song to the public at large.

 

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

Composer Ann Ronell dedicated “Willow Weep for Me” to George Gershwin, the composer who helped her get her start in the music industry. In Joan Peyser’s Gershwin biography, The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin, Ronell is quoted as saying, “George was sacred to me. He was my idol. I became like a sister to the family and was his protege.” Ronell’s dedication was undoubtedly a gesture of professional thanks rather than flattery by way of imitation. In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, author Philip Furia comments that the melody is more Arlen than Gershwin and her “languorously driving lyric is much closer to Koehler than to Ira Gershwin.”

 

More on Ann Ronell at JazzBiographies.com
 

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages


(Author/educator Forte devotes three pages to the analyses of both the music and lyric and the history of the song.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

“Willow Weep for Me” is an extremely well-crafted and highly evocative song that at the same time is unusually vague for a lament. Throughout its A-A-B-A format, there are few hints as to the exact cause of the heartbreak. The singer asks of the willow tree, “weep for me,” “bend your branches,” “whisper to the wind,” “murmur to the night,” etc. Within the second “A” section there’s a wisp of a clue as to the cause of the melancholy,

Gone my lover’s dream, lovely summer’s dream

It does not seem to be a well-known lover that has left but just a summer dream, as though the love may never have been stated in the first place. Taking the Gershwin dedication into consideration, it is not difficult to imagine an aspiring Ann Ronell having unspoken romantic feelings for her idol and mentor. Perhaps the dedication of her lament carries a message beyond that of professional gratitude. -JW

Musical analysis of “Willow Weep for Me”

Original Key G major; “B” is an unsettled minor section that floats between G minor and C minor
Form A – A – B – A
Tonality The “A” section is mostly major with hints of minor toward the end; “B” is definitely minor.
Movement “A” is primarily downward via large (8ve) leaps followed by scale movement. “B” tends to be an arc, ascending then descending.

Comments     (assumed background)

This is an “Arlenesque” tune with strong blues overtones; in fact, the “A” section is essentially the first eight measures of a 12-bar blues, using substitutions and embellishing chords (I-iv I-iv instead of just four measures of I, and the IV–iv movement in mm 5-6, for example). The contrasting “B” section is vague; the ear is not quite certain whether C minor or G minor is the “tonic of the moment.” The Gm – G7 and descending Cm – Bb –Ab – G7 in mm.3-4 of “B” would seem to establish C minor, yet aurally it makes more sense to have the song continue in the parallel minor rather than the key of iv. In any event, the modulation in the last measure before the final “A”–Ab – Am7 – D7+5 –is unexpected. Although it is the most logical return to the original key, coming out of a progression in C minor it serves to reinforce the tonal ambiguity of “B.”
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

“Willow Weep for Me” is one of my favorites--a beautiful, haunting song. I love the simple melody and I think the lyrics are great. It means a lot to me because I love willow trees and hid in them as a kid. I always felt they had a certain sadness; therefore, when I recorded Portrait in 1962, it was one of the tunes I felt strongly about. I loved the way Steve Swallow and Barry Galbraith played for me on this cut.

Sheila Jordan, jazz vocalist www.sheilajordanjazz.com


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Soundtrack information
“Willow Weep for Me” was included in these films:
  • Love Happy (1950, Vera Ellen tap dances to ‘The Sadie Thompson Number’)
  • Wild Blade (1991, Ben Webster)
  • In the Line of Fire (1993)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Willow Weep for Me" may be found in:

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.)

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages


(3 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis and music analysis.)

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: film productions, history, lyric analysis and performers.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

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

Jazz History Notes

On March 19, 1939, the Count Basie Orchestra made its first recording for Columbia Records under the supervision of John Hammond. The last tune recorded that day was “Taxi War Dance,” a clever play-on-words (a taxi dance hall was a place where men paid women to dance with them). Although Basie claimed composer credit, the tune is actually based on the chords of “Willow Weep for Me.” But the record belongs to Lester Young, who opens the proceedings with arguably one of his best solos. Starting out with a quote from “Ol’ Man River,” Lester swings the “Willow’s” changes with ease, making what was once considered a ballad into a swing jazz classic.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

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

The definitive instrumental version of “Willow Weep for Me” would have to be Art Tatum’s stunning solo piano version from 1949 (Piano Starts Here). He manages to turn the tune upside down without losing the thread of the tune’s melody. As for vocal renditions, Louis Armstrong’s 1957 version with Oscar Peterson’s group (Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson) stands out as being particularly significant, not to mention irresistible.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Art Tatum
Piano Starts Here
Sony 64690
Original recording, 1933
Tatum recorded this tune a number of times, and this is one of the best. He manages at the same time to sound bluesy even while inserting strikingly modern harmonies and lyrical even while interjecting technically awesome flourishes.
iTunes
David Newman
Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman
2005 Collectables 6541
Original recording 1958
David “Fathead” Newman is heard here wailing the blues on alto saxophone, backed by a band that includes his boss, Ray Charles, on piano. This early recording is one that helped pave the way for his long, successful career.
iTunes
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
Opening Night
2002 Alan Grant Productions 1939
Original recording 1966
This recording documents the early days of one of the greatest of all modern big bands. This arrangement is hauntingly modern and the performance is brilliant.
Sarah Vaughan
At Mister Kelly's
1991 Polygram 32791
Original recording 1957
Vaughan’s acrobatic voice proves to be a perfect match for the challenging melody. The sparse accompaniment leaves her voice in the forefront, where it belongs on this performance.
iTunes
Dexter Gordon
Our Man in Paris
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1963
Gordon affirms his ballad mastery with this long exploration. The recording, made during his “exile” in Europe, features two other notable expatriates, pianist Bud Powell and drummer Kenny Clarke, along with French bassist Pierre Michelot.
iTunes
Modern Jazz Quartet
Fontessa
1990 Atlantic 1231
Original recording 1956
The lilting, lyrical side of the MJQ can be heard already in full bloom on this early recording.
iTunes
Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton Plays
1992 Delos 4008
Original Recording 1986
Walton dips into a swinging blues bag, assisted by Ron Carter (who has adopted this tune as a feature in his own performances), Billy Higgins and a five piece horn section.
iTunes
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson
1997 Verve 539060
Original recording 1957
Included on the album’s reissue, this may well be one of the happiest versions of “Willow Weep for Me.” Between the joyous singing of Armstrong and the buoyant accompaniment of Oscar Peterson’s group, one can only imagine the willow weeping tears of joy!
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Sheila Jordan
Portrait of Sheila
1989, Blue Note 89002
Original recording, 1962
Exploratory vocalist Sheila Jordan delivers a superb reading of the song. While she is restrained, there is an obvious underlying passion threatening to break the calm surface.
iTunes

- Sandra Burlingame

Kenny Clarke
Bohemia After Dark
1994, Savoy 107
Original recording, 1955
Drummer Kenny Clarke leads an all-star lineup that includes Donald Byrd and Nat Adderley on trumpets, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, and Horace Silver at the piano. The song simmers at a low heat.
Wes Montgomery
Willow Weep For Me
2002, Universal
Original recording, 1969, Verve
On this live version of the title track the guitarist is joined by pianist Wynton Kelly for a contemplative rendition of the song.
iTunes
Stan Kenton
Standards in Silhouette
Blue Note Records 94503
Original recording, 1959, Capitol
Pianist Stan Kenton leads his big band through a lush version of the song. Plenty of good solos pique the ear.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

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

Ann Ronell

Year Rank Title
1932 13 Willow Weep for Me

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