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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 panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “You Don’t Know What Love Is”

Original Key G minor
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality Primarily minor
Movement Leaps (6th – 7th) and skips (3rd), followed by scale runs up and down in both directions

Comments     (assumed background)

This is the perfect title music for a film-noir, similar in character to “Harlem Nocturne.” The chord progression starts out i – Ger+6 – V7 (Gm – Eb7 – D7, in which the second chord is really decorative rather than functional). Melody notes falling on color tones or chord extensions such as the 9th, b9, #5, b5, 13, etc. are common. These notes create harmonic tension and give the song a tortured ambiance as befits the lyrics. (NOTE on “Ger+6” or “German augmented sixth” chord: this is the theorist’s label for a bVI7 chord that normally resolves toV7, i.e. C – Ab7 – G7. In popular music of the 1920-1950’s era, the chord is used more decoratively and rarely resolves to the V7.)
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 never tire of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” It has wonderful harmonic movement and intervals and a really great bridge. You can solo on it, double-time it, and it still keeps its ballad character. It’s a favorite of vocalists and instrumentalists.

Jay Clayton, jazz vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“You Don't Know What Love Is” was included in these films:
  • Keep ‘Em Flying (1941, Carol Bruce, dropped before release)
  • Behind the Eight Ball aka Off the Beaten Track (1942, Carol Bruce with Sonny Durham and His Orchestra)
  • Love at Large (1990)
  • This World, Then the Fireworks (1997, Chet Baker)
  • Anywhere But Here (1999)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, 1-Jude Law dubbed by Alan Barnes, 2-John Martyn, The Guy Barker International Quintet)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "You Don't Know What Love Is" may be found in:

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Film Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 536 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary 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, music analysis and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

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

Recordings from 1941 of this tune are all from big bands with male vocalists: Dick Haymes with Harry James, Art Lund with Benny Goodman, and Billy Eckstine with Earl Hines.

Ten years would pass until guitarist Jimmy Raney would record a classic, non-vocal version. Then the tune would become the property of several great trumpet players. Two versions are from 1952: Miles Davis recorded an instrumental rendition while Chet Baker (who has been referred to as a Davis sound-alike on the trumpet) would do a soulful, vocal version

Trumpeter Thad Jones, a member of Count Basie’s band in 1954, would get a chance to lead his own quartet with an instrumental version of the tune, while in 1956 his brother, pianist Hank Jones, would record it on his own session.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Harry James
Harry James 1941-1942
Classics 1132

Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman 1941-1942
Classics 1303

Earl Hines
Earl Hines 1941
Classics 621

Jimmy Raney
Jimmy Raney
Original Jazz Classics 1706

Chet Baker
The Best of Chet Baker Sings
Blue Note Records 92932

Miles Davis
Miles Davis Plays for Lovers
Prestige 6019

Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Original Jazz Classics 625

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “You Don't Know What Love Is.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Sonny Rollins has long been admired for his ballad playing, and his performance of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” from the Saxophone Colossus album (Saxophone Colossus) is perhaps his crowning moment in this style, not to mention the definitive instrumental performance of the tune. As for vocal renditions, there are two particularly noteworthy performances that use very different means to arrive at similar moods. Chet Baker’s 1955 version (The Best of Chet Baker Sings) is sparse in accompaniment and subtle in vocal delivery, while Billie Holiday, in her 1958 performance (Lady in Satin), cuts through the thick layers of orchestration with the heartbreaking vulnerability of her singing.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
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

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

Gene De Paul and Don Raye

Year Rank Title
1941 53 You Don't Know What Love Is
1943 87 Star Eyes

Gene De Paul, Patricia Johnston and Don Raye

Year Rank Title
1941 29 I'll Remember April

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