Jazz Standards.com : Jazz Standards : Songs : History : Biographies
Home Overview Songs Biographies History Theory Search Bookstore About

Yesterdays (1933)

Share your comments on this tune...

Origin and Chart Information
Roberta starred Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers and once again was well received on the strength of the Kern-Harbach score* as well as the Astaire-Rogers dance routines.

- JW

Rank 9
Music Jerome Kern
Lyrics Otto Harbach

On November 18, 1933, “Yesterdays” was introduced to a New Amsterdam Theater audience. The song was included in the score of Roberta, a Broadway musical that would enjoy a successful run of 295 performances. “Yesterdays” was an instant hit, appearing on the recording charts a week after the show opened. The recording by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra (Frank Luther, vocal) would climb all the way to third place.


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

Roberta, based on Alice Duer Miller’s novel, Gowns by Roberta, told the story of a college football player who inherits a dress shop in Paris. The plot was panned as overly romantic and just plain ridiculous; however, the songs purportedly saved what was to be Jerome Kern’s last successful Broadway show. Along with “Yesterdays” the score included such notable songs as “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” “Let’s Begin,” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” The Herald Tribune reported that there was a “sudden outburst of public whistling, humming, and crooning of its score.”

Hot on the heels of its Broadway success, Roberta found new life as a 1935 Hollywood musical. The film starred Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers and once again was well received on the strength of the Kern-Harbach score* as well as the Astaire-Rogers dance routines. The 1952 remake, Lovely to Look At, was not as well reviewed.

Another major strength of the original Broadway run was a stellar cast that included Tamara, Lyda Roberti, Sydney Greenstreet, George Murphy, Bob Hope and Fred MacMurray. Fay Templeton was given the honor of performing the lovely “Yesterdays.”


More on Fay Templeton at JazzBiographies.com

Jerome Kern was slow to embrace new styles, and there is considerable discussion about his 1930’s melodies clinging to the qualities of an operetta. Author-editor-publicist Eric Myers says, “Jerome Kern had planned Roberta as a semi-operetta along the lines of his previous hits, The Cat and the Fiddle and Music in the Air. What finally emerged was closer to traditional musical comedy, although the refulgent melodies of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’ ‘The Touch of Your Hand’ and ‘Yesterdays’ definitely have their roots in the florid ground of operetta.”


More on Jerome Kern at JazzBiographies.com

More on Otto Harbach at JazzBiographies.com

*According to Clive Hirschhorn’s book Hollywood Musicals the film Roberta retained four of the show’s original numbers, “Let’s Begin,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Yesterdays,” and “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” the latter with new lyrics by Bernard Dougall. Three more were used as background music and two were commissioned from Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields: “Lovely to Look At” and “I Won’t Dance” which was originally written by Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for a London show called Three Sisters.

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 five pages to a musical analysis of the song.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Lennie Tristano
1996 Blue Note 52771
Original recording 1949
Tristano’s unique combination of lyricism and angular dissonance is finely displayed on this influential recording.
Bud Powell
Jazz Giant
Polygram Records

Powell, still at his peak, shows off his Art Tatum inspired style of solo piano ballad playing.
Miles Davis
Highlights from the Plugged Nickel
Sony 67377
Original recording 1965
Davis revisits this tune with his ultra-flexible 1960s quintet. The tune weaves between floating introspection and confident swing and also features solos by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.
Paul Gonsalves
Gettin' Together
1991 Original Jazz Classics 203
Original recording 1960
Gonsalves, best known for his work with Duke Ellington, breaks out with a swinging version of “Yesterdays,” aided by Nat Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones and Jimmy Cobb.
Billie Holiday
The Complete Commodore Recordings
Original recording 1944
Billie Holiday interpreted this tune wonderfully, and here we are treated to two takes of it.
Carmen McRae
Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics
1997 Sony 65115
Original recording 1961
McRae’s masterful phrasing is particularly effective on this slow and subtle interpretation.
Buddy Rich/Max Roach
Rich vs. Roach
1991, Polygram 826987
Original recording, 1959
What seems like a novelty act actually means twice the value for the listener. The Buddy Rich Quintet dukes it out with the Max Roach Quintet in an up-tempo romp as each group is fed through opposite channels in the recording.

- Noah Baerman

John Bishop/Jeff Johnson/Rick Mandyck/John Stowell
2003, Origin Records

This contemporary quartet of drums, bass, tenor sax, and guitar creates a new, freewheeling “Yesterdays” before returning to the melody.

- Sandra Burlingame

Charles Mingus
Mingus Three
1997, Blue Note 57155
Original recording, 1957
This album contains a version highlighting wonderful dialogue between bass player Mingus, pianist Hampton Hawes, and drummer Dannie Richmond.
Fred Hersch/Bill Frisell
Songs We Know
1998 Nonesuch Records 79468
Original recording 1998
Spontaneous and intimate, “Yesterdays”’ allows guitarist Frisell and pianist Hersch to showcase their innate sense of camaraderie and obvious reverence for the music.

- Ben Maycock

Copyright 2005-2015 - JazzStandards.com - All Rights Reserved      Permission & contact information

Home | Overview | Songs | Biographies | History | Theory | Search | Bookstore | About