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Speak Low (1943)

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Origin and Chart Information

Stan Kenton’s...1959 Latin-tinged version of “Speak Low,” arranged by Johnny Richards, is strikingly different....”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 120
Music Kurt Weill
Lyrics Ogden Nash

The musical comedy One Touch of Venus, scored by Kurt Weill, opened on Broadway in October, 1943, and ran for 567 performances. S. J. Perelman and Ogden Nash (who also served as lyricist), based their book on the 1885 farcical romance novella, The Tinted Venus, by F. Anstey. In the production Mary Martin played a statue of Venus who came to life when a barber, Rodney Hatch (played by Kenny Baker) slipped the engagement ring which he had bought for his girlfriend on the statue’s finger. The goddess of love tempts Hatch and tries to win him over with the seductive “Speak Low,” the outstanding song from the show sung by Martin. Much to his consternation, she follows him all over the city of New York before resolving not only his romance but the complicated love affairs of others before finally returning to her art gallery pedestal.


More on Ogden Nash at JazzBiographies.com

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Speak Low” went to number 5 on the charts in 1944, recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians with vocalist Billy Leach.


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

In 1948 the musical was adapted for the screen starring Ava Gardner as Venus and Robert Walker as Hatch. Few of the sixteen original songs created for the stage production were included in the film. But “Speak Low,” dubbed for Gardner by Eileen Wilson and sung also by popular vocalist Dick Haymes playing Hatch’s best friend, was a highlight. Another delight was the sarcastic and witty Eve Arden talking/singing “That’s Him” from the original show.

Speak Low” appeared in the 1972 Off-Broadway revue Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill and is featured in LoveMusik, the 2007 “bio musical” that tells the love story of Weill and his actress/wife Lotte Lenya based on their letters.

A variety of instrumentalists have explored the beauty of the melody: harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens from Germany, organist Richard “Groove” Holmes, Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri, percussionist Tito Puente, free jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and Danish bassist Palle Mikkelborg.

Speak Low” was recorded by Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife; Carmen McRae cut a sensual version of it in 1952; both the Hi-Lo’s and Nat “King” Cole recorded it; Andy Bey included it on his 2004 CD American Song: and even opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has performed it. Of the four Weill compositions rated within the top 300 jazz standards, only “September Song,” written in 1938 with lyricist Maxwell Anderson, has been recorded more often.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Educator Forte offers five pages of musical analysis and history on “Speak Low.”)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Sandra Burlingame

Recommendations for This Tune
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Billie Holiday
All Or Nothing at All
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956

Holiday takes “Speak Low” at a relaxed but swinging tempo, singing the tune with a lot of heart and maturity. Pianist Jimmy Rowles and guitarist Barney Kessel solo, while tenor saxophonist Ben Webster engages in dialogue with Holiday as she sings.

Hamilton, Chico
The Chico Hamilton Quintet With Strings Attached
Original recording 1958

This quirky, appealing performance features a somewhat edgy string section and the brilliant bass clarinet of Eric Dolphy. Hamilton would record “Speak Low” again four years later at a much faster tempo as a feature for saxophonist Charles Lloyd.

Anita O'Day
Umvd Labels
Original recording 1960

Having already recorded “Speak Low” with a small group in 1952, O’Day gives it another go here, aided the creative arranging and fiery playing of the Bill Holman band. Her singing is cool and authoritative.

Mccoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Art Davis
Grp Records

Pianist Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones were already established members of John Coltrane’s quartet at the time of this recording with bassist Art Davis, Tyner’s first full-length recording as a bandleader. In a trio setting, they interpret “Speak Low” in an exceptionally locked-in and rhythmically flowing manner.

Grant Green
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1965

Here is Elvin Jones again, this time in a rhythm section with organist Larry Young. This is quintessential progressive hard bop, featuring solos by guitarist Green and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, who recorded the song under his own name a few years before this.

Woody Shaw
Savoy Jazz
Original recording 1986

Influential trumpet player Shaw had something of a late-career resurgence in the 1980s and his affection for standards shows on tracks like his version of “Speak Low.” This track also features a 25-year-old Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone.


- Noah Baerman

Laurindo Almeida/Bud Shank
Brazilliance, Vol. 1
Blue Note Records 96339
Original recording 1953
The delicate guitar of Almeida and the breathy sax from Shank add up to a “romantic bottle of champagne by the fireside” version of the song. Weill with a bossa nova beat.
Booker Ervin
The Trance
1997 Original Jazz Classics 943
Original recording 1965
Ervin’s muscular saxophone pushes forward with more power than finesse; however, he gets the job done, presenting an uncharacteristically gritty, up-tempo interpretation of the song.
Hank Mobley
Peckin' Time
1988 Blue Note 81574
Original recording 1958
In a captivating reading of the song, pianist Wynton Kelly sets up a bouncing rumba over which saxophonist Mobley and trumpeter Lee Morgan lay down some smooth hard bop solos.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
This Is New
2002 Universal

Vocalist Bridgewater devotes this CD to the music of Kurt Weill, and happily it contains some of his seldom recorded work along with the supremely popular “Speak Low.” Bridegwater gives the song a sensual reading against a backdrop of strings in a beautiful arrangement by Cecil Bridgewater.
Blue Wisp Big Band
Butterfly and the Smooth One
1995 Sea Breeze Records 2066
Original recording 1982
Rich with horns, this upbeat arrangement leaves sentimentality out of the picture as the band swings the Weill tune with abandon. This Cincinnati group has been an institution for almost a quarter of a century.

- Ben Maycock

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