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Softly As in a Morning Sunrise (1928)

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Origin and Chart Information
“More than any other leader of the big band era, clarinetist Artie Shaw was responsible for introducing Broadway show compositions into the jazz repertoire.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 132
Music Sigmund Romberg
Lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II

Sigmund Romberg wrote the music and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the words for this composition for the musical New Moon, which premiered in New York at the Imperial Theater on September 19, 1928. Actor Robert Halliday introduced the song in the show. Another song from the musical, “Lover, Come Back to Me,” was recorded by a number of artists and had three recordings in the charts for 1929. “Softly...” didn’t fare as well, with only this one recording:

Nat Shilkret and His Orchestra (as The Troubadors) (1929, Franklin Baur, vocal, #5)


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

The presentation of “Softly...” in New Moon was more in the nature of an operatic performance, which seems to have hindered its adaptation by dance orchestras. Oddly enough, neither of the two big hits (“Softly...” and “Lover, Come Back...”) were in the original production that premiered in Cleveland. The show flopped and in the intervening five months the two composers came up with what would be the two big hits.


More on Oscar Hammerstein II at JazzBiographies.com

More on Sigmund Romberg at JazzBiographies.com

The ultimate success of New Moon led to an MGM film version in 1931 starring Grace Moore and Lawrence Tibbett, although the setting was changed from late-18th century New Orleans to Russia. MGM redid the film in 1940, changing the locale back to the original. The 1940 version featured the singing team of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

New Moon was the last operetta that Sigmund Romberg composed. After the productions closed, he, like many other composers, saw the handwriting on the wall that Hollywood was the place to be. But New Moon had incredible staying power and has successfully been revived a number of times on Broadway, the last time in 2004.

More information on this tune...

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(Pianist/educator Halberstadt includes the sheet music with his musical analysis of “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.”)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Hammerstein’s lyrics were written during a time of personal upheaval in his life. It is not unusual that circumstances in lyricists’ lives are reflected in the material they are working on. Such is the case with “Softly...” The song likens the beginning of a love affair to a sunrise, but at the end of each phrase there is a line that implies that the affair will someday end. “The vow that will betray,” “the passions that kill love,” and “the light that gave you glory, will take it all away.”

- Chris Tyle

Musical analysis of “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise”

Original Key D minor, shifting to the relative major of F in the “B” section
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality “A” sections are minor; “B” is major
Movement Downward leaps on half notes are followed by an eighth rest and a motif consisting of three eighths and two quarters. Scale-wise movement between sections ascends into “B” and descends into the final “A.” Overall, “A” sections move generally downward while “B” moves upward.

Comments     (assumed background)

The sinuous, strongly rhythmic melodic line resembles an Argentine tango. This, in fact, was Romberg’s original intention; his arrangement was marked as such and written in 2/4. Use of repeated rhythmic motif and relative lack of rhythmic variety may be considered dull by the standards of modern jazz players, but this made the tune quite danceable in its time. (The tango underwent a period of popularity in the late 20’s, and the dance which defined the Jazz Era-the Charleston-is actually derived from the tango, played four times as fast).

Harmonically “A” is simply the minor variation on I -VI- ii -V7. “B” starts out with this progression (in the relative major), but a descending bass line leads to a deceptive cadence as the viiø7of F major becomes the iiø7 of D minor.

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 "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" may be found in:

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

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

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(3 pages including the following types of information: music analysis and sheet music.)
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

More than any other leader of the big band era, clarinetist Artie Shaw was responsible for introducing Broadway show compositions into the jazz repertoire. Ten years after this tune was written, Shaw had Jerry Gray arrange the tune. (Within a few years Gray would be arranger for Glenn Miller). Shaw’s version was one of his best selling records.

A rare broadcast recording from 1939 captured Benny Goodman (Shaw’s supposed rival) doing a nice rendition with a trio including ace pianist Teddy Wilson.

Vibraharpist Milt Jackson’s Quartet (which would become known as the Modern Jazz Quartet) recorded the tune in 1952. By 1955 drummer Kenny Clarke was replaced by Connie Kay, whose first recording session with the group included “Softly....” The two versions make an interesting comparison, the 1955 version being double the length of the 1952 one.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Artie Shaw
His First Three Bands 1936-1940
Jazz Legends

Benny Goodman
Small Groups Class of ‘39
Collector's Choice 392

Milt Jackson
Birth of the Modern Jazz Quartet
Avid Records UK 769

Modern Jazz Quartet
Prestige 7005

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Artie Shaw’s 1938 recording of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” (King of the Clarinet 1938-39) is the first noteworthy jazz version of the song and is perhaps the classic pre-bop example of this tune. Abbey Lincoln’s haunting 1958 vocal recording (Abbey Is Blue), meanwhile, is an excellent place to begin when learning the song in a more straightforward manner and a great example of how the song is approached in a small group. In the modern era the song is often approached in a more harmonically adventurous, modal, manner, and that approach can be best traced to John Coltrane’s quartet at the Village Vanguard in 1961 (Live at the Village Vanguard) in a recording that addressed the tune quite differently than Bobby Timmons or Sonny Rollins, who recorded “Softly” at the same club.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Sonny Rollins
Night at the Village Vanguard
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1957

Saxophonist Sonny Rollins and a young Elvin Jones are the big names on this wonderful trio recording. Wilbur Ware virtually steals the show, however, with perhaps his most influential work on the bass.

Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Is Blue

Vocalist Lincoln offers a subtle rendition of the tune accompanied primarily by Sam Jones and “Philly” Joe Jones. Kenny Dorham also spends some time in the spotlight

Art Pepper
Essential Standards
Original Recording 1960

Saxophonist Pepper cooks here on a very swinging performance with Miles Davis’ rhythm section at the time, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers (who takes a wonderful bowed solo) and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Bobby Timmons Trio
The Bobby Timmons Trio in Person: Recorded Live at the Village Vanguard
Original Recording 1961

This live recording is a stellar example of pianist Timmons’ tight, swinging trio approach. The focal point of this track is the fleet-fingered and creative bass work of Ron Carter, the featured soloist.

John Coltrane
Live at the Village Vanguard
Original Recording 1961

John Coltrane’s influential 1960s quartet makes “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” their own, recasting it as a modern, modal piece. Pianist McCoy Tyner and Coltrane himself on soprano saxophone take noteworthy solos.

Larry Young
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1965

Larry Young was primarily responsible for translating the modern harmonies of McCoy Tyner to the organ. Nowhere is this more compellingly demonstrated than on this influential session with fellow modernists Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones.

Jim Hall With the Ron Carter Duo
Alone Together
Original Recording 1972

Bassist Ron Carter had recorded this tune several times already, including his trio feature with Bobby Timmons and an important session under his own name featuring Eric Dolphy. This wonderfully interactive duet with guitarist Jim Hall is nonetheless an all-time highlight both for Carter and the song itself.


- Noah Baerman

George Benson
2004 GRP Records 59902
Original recording 2004
In this smooth-as-butter version, guitarist Benson gives the song his trademark mellow treatment. Ethereal at times, the reading is sensual and romantic without becoming maudlin.
Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark Trio
2002 Blue Note 33774
Original recording 1957
Pianist Clark is joined by the ultimate rhythm section--bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones--in this quintessential jazz reading. The trio swings through the tune with an air of understated sophistication.
June Christy
Something Cool
2001 Capitol/EMI Records 34069
Original recording 1955
Vocalist Christy whispers and belts in this torch song version arranged by Pete Rugolo. She’s backed by an orchestra of the finest jazz musicians of the day.
Jay Clayton and Don Lanphere
The Jazz Alley Tapes
2004 Hep Records 2046
Original Recording 1988
Vocalist Clayton first sings the song much as the writers intended, but then she takes it to the stratosphere with her improvisation. The sextet is with her all the way in this stunning renovation of a much loved song.

- Ben Maycock

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

Oscar Hammerstein II and Sigmund Romberg

Year Rank Title
1928 69 Lover Come Back to Me
1928 132 Softly As in a Morning Sunrise

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