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Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

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Origin and Chart Information
“[The] title is derived from a 19th century poem by Ernest Dowson.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 135
Music Henry N. Mancini
Lyrics Johnny Mercer

Both composer and lyricist have claimed that their Oscar-winning song came very easily to them. The title of the film determined the melody, and as Mancini said in his autobiography, Did They Mention the Music? “It just came, it rolled out.” Mercer, too, says that he “could not get the words down fast enough.”


More on Johnny Mercer at JazzBiographies.com

More on Henry N. Mancini at JazzBiographies.com

Andy Williams sang “The Days of Wine and Roses” on the film’s soundtrack and won a gold record for Columbia Records. His rendition charted for 12 weeks, peaking at #26, ahead of Mancini’s instrumental version which rose to #33. The song also received a Grammy for Song of the Year, and Mancini received Grammies for Record of the Year and Best Background Arrangement. The Best Song Oscar was the second for composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer, who had won the 1961 Oscar for “Moon River” from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


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

The 1962 film The Days of Wine and Roses, based on J.P Miller’s “Playhouse 90” drama, received four other Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Lee Remick), Best Black-and-White Art Direction, Best Black-and-White Costumes. It deals effectively and realistically with the problems of alcoholism and the difficulties faced in recovery. Its title is derived from a 19th century poem by Ernest Dowson:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for awhile, then closes
Within a dream

Mercer’s lyrics, set to Mancini’s poignant melody, portend the tragedy awaiting Lemmon and Remick:

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
Through the meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked “nevermore” that wasn’t there before

The song seems to appeal to guitarists since several have recorded it, among them Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney, John Abercrombie, Howard Roberts, and Bill Frisell. Vocalists Ernestine Anderson, Blossom Dearie, and Tony Bennett have recorded it, as well as pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, bassist Ray Brown, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Days of Wine and Roses is the title of the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s CD recorded live at the Jazz Standard and reissued in 2005.

More information on this tune...

Susan Sackett
Hollywood Sings!: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Academy Award-Nominated Songs
Pub Overstock Unlimited Inc
Paperback: 332 pages

(Sackett provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Oscar-winning song, its history and the songwriters.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Sandra Burlingame

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Days of Wine and Roses”

Original Key F major
Form  A - B1 - A - B2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement Initial upward leap followed by stepwise motion that arcs before a series of downward leaps (fifths and sixths) leading into the next section. “B” begins with a downward leap that climbs stepwise before its descent to the pickup of the second “A.” The second “B” section climbs to the highest note of the song pentatonically, then descends the same way, eventually arriving back at the tonic note.

Comments     (assumed background)

The harmonic progression of “A” is remarkably similar to that of “East of the Sun.” The difference lies in Mancini’s use of the passing Eb9 (+11) and the exotic alteration of the D7 chord in the third measure (which includes a flatted ninth and fifth). In “B” a series of “V7 - I” is used, sometimes with the insertion or substitution of a iiø7/ V to add some spice.
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).
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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Days of Wine and Roses" may be found in:

David Ewen
Great Men of American Popular Song
Prentice-Hall; Rev. and enl. ed edition
Unknown Binding: 404 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

Susan Sackett
Hollywood Sings!: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Academy Award-Nominated Songs
Pub Overstock Unlimited Inc
Paperback: 332 pages

(6 paragraphs including the following types of information: anecdotal, history and song writer discussion.)
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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

Henry Mancini’s movie theme was quickly covered by a number of jazz groups, mostly for the “easy listening” music format which was popular in the early ‘60s. The song found great favor with guitarists, and versions were recorded by Barney Kessel, Laurindo Almeida and Wes Montgomery. Montgomery claimed his favorite guitarist was Joe Pass. Pass’ session from 1963 was his first as a leader, and it clearly shows he was already in command of the prodigious technique that would gain him great notoriety in the 1970s.

In 1960 vocalist/actor Frank Sinatra formed his own record label, Reprise, and signed the Duke Ellington Orchestra to an exclusive contract. Ellington, ever hoping to have a hit record in a market trending more and more towards rock ‘n roll and younger audiences, tackled a lot of pop material, to the chagrin of hardcore fans. Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, whose fierce 27 choruses on Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959 revitalized Ellington’s career, turns in a memorable ballad performance on “The Days of Wine and Roses” from 1965.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Duke Ellington
Ellington '66
Collectables 6729

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

“Days of Wine and Roses” has been interpreted from numerous rhythmic perspectives. Guitarist Wes Montgomery’s 1963 recording (Pretty Blue) is a classic example of the song in a relaxed Latin or bossa nova setting. The same year, Nancy Wilson recorded a wonderful ballad version (Hollywood: My Way). Nowadays, the song is most often heard in a medium swing setting, and Oscar Peterson’s 1964 trio version (We Get Requests) is a highlight of the many recordings in that vein.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Nancy Wilson
Hollywood: My Way
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1963

Accompanied elegantly by pianist Jimmy Jones and his orchestra, Wilson gives us a subtle, faithful and extremely pretty ballad performance.

Art Farmer Quartet
Interaction/Sing Me Softly of the Blues
Original recording 1964

Farmer’s flugelhorn and the guitar of Jim Hall were particularly well-matched and this swinging performance is a terrific example of that. They weave between old-time swing and more interactive and unpredictable playing, with excellent solos by both men (separately and together) as well as bassist Steve Swallow.

The Oscar Peterson Trio
We Get Requests
Polygram Records
Original recording 1964

Peterson offers up a strong medium swing groove on “Days of Wine and Roses,” supported by drummer Ed Thigpen and a particularly inspired Ray Brown on bass. Peterson’s own solo on the track is one of his most tasteful.

Joe Henderson, Wynton Kelly
Straight No Chaser
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1968

This live recording with Wynton Kelly and his trio takes “Days of Wine and Roses” at a grooving medium swing tempo, but with the somewhat edgy risk-taking typical of Henderson at the time.

Bill Evans, Tony Bennett
The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album
Original recording 1975

Vocalist Bennett and pianist Evans give a straightforward ballad reading of the song, with Evans’ lush chords setting the stage for a slow and somewhat melancholy interpretation of the melody.

Bill Evans
Marian Mcpartland's Piano Jazz
Jazz Alliance
Original recording 1978

This radio version of “Days of Wine and Roses” is notable not only for the fluid and lush playing of pianists Evans and McPartland but also for the illuminating bits of verbal commentary that Evans offers up as they play.


- Noah Baerman

Sonny Criss
This is Criss
1991 Original Jazz Classics 430
Original recording 1966
Alto saxophonist Criss tackles the ballad with a thoughtful ferocity that incorporates eloquence and intensity on this fast-paced reading. The rhythm section provides a bluesy shuffle for him to skate over.
Wes Montgomery
Boss Guitar

Guitarist Montgomery creates a bewitching version of the song. While drummer Jimmy Cobb’s brushwork keeps a drowsy pace, Montgomery melodically propels the song forward and comes up with a dynamite solo.
Bill Frisell
Is That You
1990 Nonesuch 60956
Original recording 1989
Building layer upon abstract layer Frisell fashions an ethereal soundscape on solo electric guitar, allowing the listener to catch snippets of the source material.
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen Trio
Friends Forever: In Memory of Kenny Drew

Bassist Pedersen recorded this CD with pianist Renee Rosnes and drummer Jonas Johansen in memory of pianist Kenny Drew with whom the Danish bassist played for three decades. The trio’s unsentimental take on “Days of Wine and Roses” reveals the song’s improvisational underpinnings.

- Ben Maycock

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

Henry N. Mancini and Johnny Mercer

Year Rank Title
1962 135 Days of Wine and Roses
1961 684 Moon River

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