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You Don't Know What Love Is (1941)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Few compositions are as genuinely melancholy as ‘You Don’t What Love Is.’”

- JW

Rank 53
Words and Music Gene De Paul
Don Raye

Remarkably, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “I’ll Remember April,” two of the top jazz standards, were both written for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello films by Gene De Paul and Don Raye and published in 1941. Actress Carol Bruce sang “You Don’t Know What Love Is” for the 1941 Universal film, Keep ‘Em Flying, which also starred Dick Foran and Martha Raye. “I’ll Remember April” was introduced by Dick Foran in Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942).

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” was dropped from Keep ‘Em Flying before it was released but performed by Bruce a short time later in the 1942 film Behind the Eight Ball.


More on Carol Bruce at JazzBiographies.com

After success on radio and Broadway, Abbott and Costello took their brand of slapstick comedy to film, beginning with One Night in the Tropics (1940) and ending over thirty films later with Dance with Me Henry (1956). Don Raye teamed with Hugh Prince for the score of the comedy duo’s second film, Buck Privates (1941), in which the Andrews Sisters introduced the upcoming hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The film was a box office success, grossing over ten million dollars.

Anxious to repeat the formula, top-name vocalists were worked into successive plots; the Andrews Sisters returned for Abbott and Costello’s third and fourth films, In the Navy (1941) and Hold that Ghost (1941), and Ella Fitzgerald was given a bit part as a maid, singing “A Tisket, A Tasket” in their sixth film, Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942).

Universal would also repeat their success with lyricist Raye, pairing him with composer Gene De Paul for In the Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying in 1941 and Ride ‘Em Cowboy in 1942.


More on Don Raye at JazzBiographies.com

More on Gene De Paul at JazzBiographies.com

A broad farce, Keep ‘Em Flying casts the boys as carnival workers who follow a stunt pilot into the Army Air Corps. Carol Bruce portrays a USO singer and Martha Raye plays identical twins. Songs in the score include, “Let’s Keep ‘Em Flying,” “Pig Foot Pete,” and “The Boy With the Wistful Eyes.”

Few compositions are as genuinely melancholy as “You Don’t What Love Is.” As such, it is difficult to find the title mentioned without an accompanying characterization including, “strange,” “intense,” “gloomy,” “smoky,” “late night,” “sad,” “passionate,” and, of course, “haunting.” Don Raye’s piercing lyrics accentuate the heartbreaking feeling staged by De Paul. You don’t know what love is, he claims, until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues. As one critic puts it, “the lyrics draw out the exquisite pain!”

The song was never a major hit, but was recorded occasionally in the ‘40s, and then brought into the jazz canon in the 1950’s when it was recorded by Miles Davis and others.

More information on this tune...

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

(The author analyzes the music and lyric, discusses the song’s history, names performers of the song and films in which it appears.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Billie Holiday
Lady in Satin
Original recording 1958
In spite of the syrupy Ray Ellis string arrangement, Billie Holiday gives a landmark late-career performance here. With her voice nearly gone, she movingly brings out all of the sadness and irony in the song.

- Noah Baerman

Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 291
Original recording, 1956
Saxophonist Rollins does the slow burn on this fantastic instrumental version of the song. His rich horn fills all the corners with its forlorn sound.
Lennie Tristano
Lennie Tristano/The New Lennie Tristano
1994, Rhino 71595
Original recording, 1955, Atlantic
Tristano has served as guru to many musicians. This CD combines two accessible LP's featuring him solo and in two trio settings, with altoist Lee Konitz occasionally making it four. "You Don't Know What Love Is"' is a thought provoking piano solo.
Charlie Haden/Kenny Barron
Night and the City
1996 Verve 314539961
Original recording 1998
Bassist Haden and pianist Barron explore "You Don't Know What Love Is"' with remarkable soul and tenderness in this performance recorded live in New York.
Jay Clayton/Fred Hersch
Beautiful Love
1995 Sunnyside 1066

Vocalist Clayton moves in both jazz and new music circles, and here she colors her first CD of all standards with the distinctive palette she has developed over years of creating her own music. The duo setting with pianist Hersch highlights the talents of both.
Jesus ‘Chucho' Valdes
New Conceptions
2003 Blue Note

Pianist Valdes swings the song with plenty of flourishes and a Latin rhythm. While the mood is lightened considerably, the piano playing is deadly serious.
Leon Parker
Above and Below
1994, Sony 66144

Drummer Parker uses one cymbal and one drum, lending primitive overtones to the song in this haunting, meditative rendition. Ugonna Okegwo anchors on bass while David Sanchez’s soprano sax floats gently on top.

- Ben Maycock

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