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Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
“After the premier recording by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1929, [the song] wasn’t recorded again until 1941 by tenor saxophonist ‘Chu’ Berry.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 150
Music Don Redman
Lyrics Andy Razaf

The talented saxophonist/arranger/bandleader/vocalist Don Redman introduced his composition on a 1929 Victor recording with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Fourteen years later, with a slight lyric rewrite by Andy Razaf, Nat “King” Cole brought the tune back into vogue. Cole’s version was his fourth recording to hit the charts:

Nat “King” Cole Trio (1944, vocal, #15)

 

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

Redman was responsible for integrating the rhythmic approach of Louis Armstrong into his arrangements for Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra during the mid-1920s. In 1927 he was wooed away from Henderson and joined McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, the house band at the Greystone Ballroom in Detroit. During his tenure with McKinney he wrote and recorded his three best known tunes: “Gee Baby...,” “Cherry,” and “Save it Pretty Mama.” He recorded the latter tune while guesting with Louis Armstrong’s band in Chicago in December, 1928.

 

More on Andy Razaf at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Don Redman at JazzBiographies.com
 

While with the Cotton Pickers, Redman began utilizing an unusual vocal style, more softly-spoken than sung, which proved more effective than his normal singing style. His vocal on “Gee Baby...” fits the haunting melody perfectly and brings out the best in Andy Razaf’s lyrics. The song explains why “there’s nothing too good for a gal that’s true,” and those good things include a “fur coat for Christmas, a diamond ring and big Packard coupe” (later updated to a “Cadillac car” when Packard went out of business).

Following Nat “King” Cole’s hit version in 1944, the tune started appearing in cover versions by numerous groups and eventually became more popular than when originally released in 1929.

More information on this tune...

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


(Hischak includes a history of the song and its performers in his encyclopedia.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You”

Original Key F major
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality Primarily major; periodic flatted “blue notes”
Movement Generally descending from the sixth scale degree with several upper and lower embellishing tones and eventually settling on the tonic.

Comments     (assumed background)

This piece has a flavor similar to the Razaf/Waller song, “Black and Blue,” although the harmonic construction is more suggestive of “Cry Me a River.” Starting on the V7/II, it delays this resolution by going back to the VI chord, embellished by a bVII passing chord. Returning to V7/II, it gets to the tonic chord through the circle of fifths. “B” begins with a IV - ct°7/I - I (second inversion) sequence. The second time, the ct°7 resolves to the iiø7 of A7, returning the song to the chord progression of “A.”

Although not a “blues” in the strict sense, this piece strongly suggests the blues and should be played in that fashion.

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 "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You" may be found in:

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


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

Alto saxophonist Don Redman’s tune was a popular vehicle for jazz musicians and vocalists. After the premier recording by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1929, it wasn’t recorded again until 1941 by tenor saxophonist “Chu” Berry. Berry’s version featured ex-Bennie Moten/Count Basie trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page whose bluesy singing and plunger mute work capped the session. (Lips recorded it again in 1944.) On his first session for Capitol Records in 1943, pianist/vocalist Nat “King” Cole recorded his treatment, which became a staple in his repertoire.

In 1944 Count Basie recorded the tune, featuring vocalist Jimmy Rushing, for the wartime Department of Defense V-Disc label. A 1946 live recording captured ex-Basie vocalist Billie Holiday performing the tune at Carnegie Hall, only the second time a female vocalist had recorded the number.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


McKinney's Cotton Pickers
1928-1930
Epm Musique 157432

Chu Berry
Blowin' Up a Breeze
Pearl 1024

Nat "King" Cole
The Best of Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classics, Vol. 1 (1942-1946)
Blue Note Records 33571
Original recording 1943
iTunes
Count Basie
1943-1945
Classics 801

Billie Holiday
Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Billie Holiday Story, Vol. 1
Polygram Records 21642

iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Nat Cole’s 1943 recording of “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?” (The Best of Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classics, Vol. 1) is probably the best-loved version of the song, featuring a definitive vocal interpretation of the song and great playing, including a classic guitar solo by Oscar Moore. Billie Holiday, meanwhile, offered up one of her classic late-career works with her 1957 recording of the song (Billie Holiday for Lovers). Art Blakey’s 1961 sextet version (The Jazz Messengers) is a standout among the many modern instrumental versions.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday for Lovers
Umvd Labels
Original recording 1957

Holiday balances a deep blues feeling with maturity and restraint on this classic studio recording. There are excellent solos as well from Jimmy Rowles on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Ben Webster on tenor saxophone and Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet.

iTunes
Joe Williams, Count Basie
Everyday I Have the Blues
Roulette Jazz/ EMI
Original recording 1957

After Count Basie recorded “Gee Baby” in 1944 with Jimmy Rushing, both he and vocalist Joe Williams recorded it numerous times over the years. This collaboration is a highlight for both of them, with a groove that is slow but energetic.

iTunes
Stanley Turrentine, Three Sounds
Complete Blue Hour Sessions
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1960

When it comes to mixing straight-ahead jazz and the blues, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and pianist Gene Harris were two of the greatest in jazz history. It is not surprising, then, that their version of “Gee Baby” is intensely soulful and swinging.

iTunes
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
The Jazz Messengers
Grp Records
Original recording 1961

This classic recording features a transitional line-up of Jazz Messengers. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter takes the lead on the melody over a slow, bluesy groove before he and trombonist Curtis Fuller solo over a double-time feel. The groove slows back down for solos by Lee Morgan on trumpet and Bobby Timmons on piano.

iTunes
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy for President
Douglas Records
Original recording 1963

On this live recording from Newport, Gillespie takes the melody in a ballad setting, before upping the rhythmic intensity, eventually reaching a fever pitch. The band features James Moody on saxophone and a twenty-year-old Kenny Barron on piano.

iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Cassandra Wilson
Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
Pianist Mulgrew Miller lays down a delicate foundation on which Wilson builds a slow bluesy burn. The singer’s debut recording and her treatment of the standards established her as one of the foremost virtuosos.
iTunes
Diana Krall
All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio
Grp Records

On this recording dedicated to the Nat King Cole Trio, singer/pianist Krall treats the listener to a sultry, soulful rendition of the song. Her musical symbiosis with guitarist Russell Malone is readily apparent, and the tune aches exquisitely.
iTunes
Kenny Burrell
Midnight Blue
Blue Note Records

This is jazz at its coolest from a guitarist just hitting his peak. Burrell swings elegantly through a wonderfully thoughtful and sympathetic reading of the song.
iTunes
Bill Mays, Ed Bickert
Concord Duo Series 7
Concord Records

When you pair a sterling pianist like Bill Mays with an equally talented guitarist like Ed Bickert, you get magic. “Gee Baby” is only one of the gems on this CD which illustrates the creativity of the players and the fullness of sound that can be achieved by just two instruments.

- Ben Maycock

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

Andy Razaf and Don Redman

Year Rank Title
1929 150 Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You

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