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Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away) (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Liza” shows why [Chick Webb] was so admired by drummers like Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, and Sid Catlett.

- Chris Tyle

AKAAll the Clouds'll Roll Away
Rank 189
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin
Gus Kahn

“Liza” was introduced in Florenz Ziegfeld’s production Show Girl, which opened July 2, 1929, with Ruby Keeler and Dixie Dugan singing the number. But it was Keeler’s husband, vocalist Al Jolson, who succeeded in putting the song in the charts where it rose to number nine.


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

One of George Gershwin’s favorite numbers was “Liza.” According to David Ewen’s biography George Gershwin: His Journey to Greatness, Gershwin “continually played it for friends, frequently with improvised variations.” Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon’s book, The Gershwins, directly quotes George regarding the writing of the music for Show Girl. “...It was the greatest rush job I’ve ever had on a score. I was working on another show for Mr. Ziegfeld when he suddenly decided to drop that one and produce Show Girl immediately.” Ziegfeld wanted the score done in two weeks, much to Gershwin’s chagrin. According to George, Ziegfeld smiled and told the composer “just dig down in the trunk and pull out a couple of hits.” A savvy producer, Ziegfeld knew that Gershwin, like most songwriters, had little snippets and unpublished tunes filed away in the “trunk” and could undoubtedly put something together.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

Ziegfeld wanted a minstrel number in the second act of the show to feature dancer Ruby Keeler. (In four years Keeler would find fame in Hollywood with a string of Busby Berkeley, Warner Brothers film musicals). “Liza” was the number Gershwin wrote for her. When the show opened in Boston, Keeler was surprised by the appearance of her new husband, Al Jolson, who had flown in from Hollywood just to see the show. George Gershwin describes what happened following Keeler’s performance of “Liza”: “Imagine the audience’s surprise, and mine, when without warning Al Jolson, who was sitting in the third row on the aisle, jumped up and sang a chorus of ‘Liza’ to his bride. It caused a sensation, and it gave the song a great start!” Historians now wonder whether the whole episode was a set-up by Ziegfeld. The incident was reprised in the 1946 biopic The Jolson Story.

Jolson’s participation ended after a few performances, and eventually Keeler left the show to be with him in Hollywood. Reviews had generally been lackluster, the only praise given to Keeler, and with her departure attendance began to drop and the show closed after 111 performances on October 5, 1929.

Duke Ellington’s orchestra performed two numbers in the show, an unusual touch for a 1929 production and evidence of how much Gershwin enjoyed Ellington and his band.


More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Gus Kahn at JazzBiographies.com

Ira Gershwin teamed up with Gus Kahn on the lyrics to “Liza.” In Ira’s book Lyrics on Several Occasions he tells the story: “For the new show Ziegfeld asked if I would mind collaborating with lyricist Gus Kahn, as he owed Gus a commitment. I welcomed the opportunity because Show Girl had to be done quickly to make a much-too-soon Boston opening date.” The pair created a lyric that is almost a throw back to pop songs of the ‘teens. The verse is a plea from a man to his girl to go out in the night and enjoy the moon and the breeze in the trees, because he has something special to impart to her. The chorus tells us what he has in mind, “a date with Parson Brown,” because with Liza’s company all “the clouds’ll roll away.”

More information on this tune...

Joan Peyser
The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin
Watson-Guptill Publications; Reprint edition
Paperback: 319 pages

(Author Peyser relates a short history of the song in her biography of the composer.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)”

Original Key Eb major, going to relative minor during “B”; following this is a false key change to Ab before returning to the tonic key.
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality Primarily major, except for the first half of “B” which is in relative minor
Movement “A” is an ascending pentatonic scale in half notes, followed by arpeggiated descent outlining the harmonic structures; “B” is constructed from a repetitive descending scale pattern followed by a downward skip of a fourth and an upward skip of a third

Comments     (assumed background)

Interestingly, the first four pitches of this song are identical to “I Got Rhythm” (aside from the difference in key). Harmonically there is nothing particularly unusual about “A” except measure for the first half of measure three. Here, where Gershwin might logically have used an Ab major chord (IV), he instead uses Ab minor. In linear terms, however, it is consistent with the thinking of a classically trained composer (this had always been Gershwin’s aspiration). In order to make an orchestration more vibrant, it is important to keep the inner voices in motion as much as possible. By using a minor “iv” chord at this point, Gershwin keeps a consistent 10th between the ascending bass line and this second voice, maintaining the upward parallel motion.
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 "Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)" 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: anecdotal.)

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

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

Joan Peyser
The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin
Watson-Guptill Publications; Reprint edition
Paperback: 319 pages

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

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Theatre Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 568 pages

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

Drummer Chick Webb is mainly mentioned today as being responsible for discovering vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Yet Webb’s was the house band at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and bested many well-known ensembles in “Battle of the Bands” there. Webb’s version of “Liza” is one the tunes he held in reserve to “cut” another group. Although Webb was an adept soloist, his solo spots on record are few. “Liza” shows why he was so admired by drummers like Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, and Sid Catlett. (A broadcast recording with trumpeter Roy Eldridge is even more exciting than the issued recording, and sadly out-of-print.)

In 1934 both Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson waxed piano solo versions of the tune. Tatum’s illustrates his love of stride pianists James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, while Wilson’s version is more evocative of the influence of Earl Hines.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Chick Webb
Stompin' at the Savoy
Asv Living Era
Original recording 1934
Art Tatum
Classic Early Solos (1934-1937)
Original recording 1937
Teddy Wilson
Classics 508

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away).” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Fletcher Henderson’s 1934 recording of “Liza” (Wrappin’ It Up) is a swing era classic and a definitive version of the song, thanks in part to Benny Carter’s great saxophone solo. In a small group setting, Benny Goodman’s 1937 recording (The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings) is similarly definitive. Chris Connor’s 1957 vocal recording (Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song) is a good starting point for hearing the song somewhat modernized and for learning the lyrics.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Fletcher Henderson
Wrappin' It Up
Original Recording 1934

Bandleader Henderson also offers an ingenious arrangement here over an up-tempo and very swinging groove. A highlight is the great alto saxophone solo by Benny Carter.

Benny Goodman
The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings
Original Recording 1937

Clarinetist Goodman is at the helm for this hard-swinging quartet performance, featuring solos by vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and pianist Teddy Wilson, who recorded this song often in various configurations. , solos by all except krupa; teddy recorded this one a lot

Django Reinhardt
Django in Rome 1949-1950
Jsp Records
Original Recording 1949

Recorded live in Rome with the great violinist Stephane Grappelli, guitarist Reinhardt takes “Liza” at an extremely fast tempo. Though he isn’t the only soloist, Reinhardt’s solo steals the show, with stunning fluency and ingenuity.

Chris Connor
Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song
Original Recording 1957

Connor’s interpretation of “Liza” is authentic but modern. Pianist Ralph Sharon also contributes the relaxed, swinging arrangement, which features Eddie Costa on vibraphone and Joe Newman on trumpet.

Jo Jones
Jo Jones Trio / Vamp Til Ready 2 on 1
Essential Media
Original Recording 1960

Drummer “Papa” Jo Jones plays authoritatively here, featured prominently alongside Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet. Trombonist Bennie Green, saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Tommy Potter all solo as well, and the arrangement is swinging and clever.


- Noah Baerman

Thelonious Monk
2002 Legacy recordings 86564
Original recording 1964
Monk once again makes a song his own. Assisted on tenor sax by Charlie Rouse, the pianist delivers a bop-flecked rendition high on invention yet steeped in reverence for the source material.
Mel Torme/Rob McConnell Boss Brass
Velvet and Brass
2003 Concord Jazz 1011
Original recording 1995
Even at 70 years of age Torme is as fresh and up for a challenge as he ever has been. The joy he feels singing in front of one of his favorite bands is palpable, and as a result the song is an infectious romp.
Sonny Stitt
Original Jazz Classics 060-2
Original recording 1952
Saxophonist Stitt is on fire as he sears through a reading of the Gershwin song. Lyrical and engaging, he plays with abandon, pushing himself and his band mates to the outer edges.

- Ben Maycock

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

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn

Year Rank Title
1929 189 Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

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