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Goodbye (1935)

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Origin and Chart Information

“Trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker recorded a stunningly sparse version of ‘Goodbye’ in 1953.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 117
Words and Music Gordon Jenkins

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra introduced Gordon Jenkins’composition “Goodbye” on the NBC radio program “Let’s Dance,” which began December 1, 1934. Goodman’s September, 1935, recording for RCA Victor hit the charts the following year and rose to #20.


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

A young Gordon Jenkins, fresh from working gigs on banjo in St. Louis joints, was hired by the Isham Jones Orchestra in 1932 as staff arranger. Jones’ band, begun in 1920, had become a well-respected, sophisticated dance orchestra by the early 1930s. Saxophonist Joe Bishop had written a composition entitled “Blue Prelude,” and the Casa Loma Orchestra scooped Isham Jones and recorded it in early 1933. The Casa Loma record started getting attention, and Jones was not happy that another band had found success with a tune written by one of his sidemen, so he quickly recorded his own version. But before the music could be published it needed lyrics, and Jones wanted them ASAP. Jenkins volunteered, even though Bishop was dubious about his skill as a lyricist. Nevertheless, once the music was published it scored big, and Bing Crosby’s version hit the charts.


More on Gordon Jenkins at JazzBiographies.com

The music and lyrics to “Blue Prelude” are in some respects a prelude to “Goodbye”; in fact Jenkins uses the word at the end of his lyrics to “Blue Prelude.” Both songs relate to a personal tragedy in the life of composer Jenkins, and the incident is related in detail in Bruce Jenkins’ biography of his father, Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins.

Although Jenkins had written “Goodbye” in 1934, he hadn’t pursued publishing it or writing an arrangement. While working with the Jones band in New York he had become friendly with clarinetist Benny Goodman. When Goodman’s band was hired by NBC in 1934 to perform on the “Let’s Dance” radio program, Benny needed a closing theme. While with Jenkins one day, he mentioned this, asking if Gordon might have a composition he could use. Jenkins sat down at the piano and played a few bars of “Goodbye.” Goodman was ecstatic, remarking, “That’s it!” Jenkins scored an arrangement for Benny, and it was introduced on the first “Let’s Dance” program. Much to Jenkins’ surprise it made the hit parade in 1936, his first composition to do so.


More on Benny Goodman at JazzBiographies.com

A visitor to JazzStandards.com, disc jockey Sandy Singer, has contributed some additional background for “Goodbye”:

I was a long time friend of Gordon’s. He originally wrote “Goodbye” to his first wife who died on the operating table giving birth to his first child. The baby also died. It was published 4 years later when he gave it to Benny Goodman, one of his tennis partners. One day, after playing, Benny asked Gordy if he had anything he, Benny, could use as a theme--the rest, as they say, is musical history.

Regarding “Blue Prelude,” Gordy told me the story of this song -- Jack Bishop wrote the melody--Walter Winchell wrote a one-liner in his column--they were going to rush into the studio and record it without words. Gordy said he would write some lyrics, and was told he had overnight to do so, as they wanted to take advantage of Winchell’s publicity. Gordy came in the next day with his lyric. His very first music credit was as a lyricist not melody writer. The chord structure is almost identical to that of “Goodbye.”

Another visitor points out that according to the biography mentioned above (Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins), the woman who died was not his first wife but a woman with whom he had formed a relationship, presumably before his first marriage.

For the remainder of his career, Goodman would end every performance with the number, but always as an instrumental. The first vocal rendition was recorded by the band of Andy Kirk in 1938 with Pha Terrell taking the vocal honors. Goodman wouldn’t record a vocal version until 1955 with Rosemary Clooney.

A testimony to the sentimental punch carried by this tune is given by another visitor to JazzStandards.com, well-known disc jockey Dale Young:

As a DJ in Detroit in ‘59, I played a promo copy of Sinatra’s ”Only The Lonely” while waiting for my wife to get dressed to go out. By the time she hit the living room, “Goodbye” was finishing, and she found me absolutely blubbering.
Several years later on my own TV show in Cleveland I got to meet and interview Gordon Jenkins. When I asked him if he was truly as sentimental as some of his compositions would suggest, he replied, “Are you kidding? I cry at weather reports!

More information on this tune...

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(Author/composer Wilder analyzes the musical content of the song in his definitive book on American popular song.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Benny Goodman
The Centennial Collection
Original recording 1935

This moody, lyrical recording, one of many that Benny Goodman did of “Goodbye,” established his deep relationship with the song.

Erroll Garner
Complete Savoy Master Takes
Savoy Jazz
Original Recording 1949

Pianist Garner is heard here early in his career, but his unique and lush approach to ballad playing in a trio setting is already on full display.

Gene Ammons
Original recording 1974

In a surreal bit of irony, this 1974 cut of “Goodbye” by Ammons would be the last track he would ever record. Even without the historical significance, this performance is well worth a listen as Ammons gives a raw, husky-toned reading of the ballad.


- Noah Baerman

Cannonball Adderley
Know What I Mean?
2001 Riverside Records 9433
Original recording 1961
Adderley is joined by fellow jazz great pianist Bill Evans on this bittersweet rendition of the song. His saxophone’s mournful wail tugs at the heart strings.
McCoy Tyner
Reaching Fourth
1998 Impulse! 255
Original recording 1962
Tyner’s piano is front and center on this elegant reading of the song. Playing at a slow-to-mid tempo, the pianist ornaments the ballad with bright runs and genuine emotion.
Chris Connor
Lullabies for Lovers
2003 Toshiba EMI Import
Original recording 1954
Vocalist Connor’s intimate delivery of “Goodbye” put her stamp on this song half a century ago. The Vinnie Burke quartet provides the delicate setting and Ron Odrich’s sensitive flute is appropriately mournful. This remastered import is worth the price. The song is also part of a CD collection called Chris Connor Sings Lullabies of Birdland.
Shirley Horn
I Love You, Paris
1994 Polytram Records 23486

Pianist/vocalist Horn recorded this CD live in Paris in 1992 with her long-standing trio. She makes an atypically impassioned medley of “Goodbye” with Leon Russell’s beautiful “A Song for You.” The two songs blend miraculously both lyrically and musically.

- Ben Maycock

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