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Sweet and Lovely (1931)

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Origin and Chart Information
“[Bing Crosby] recorded a stunning version of ‘Sweet and Lovely’ in September, 1931.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 142
Words and Music Gus Arnheim
Charles N. Daniels
Harry Tobias

Gus Arnheim’s orchestra was the most popular dance band on the West Coast in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, and they were the house band at the posh Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. With vocal honors by vocalist Donald Novis, Arnheim’s version of “Sweet and Lovely” scored a prime spot in the charts for 14 weeks in 1931. Other versions of the song also charted:

  • Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra (1931, Donald Novis, vocal, #1)
  • Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (1931, #2)
  • Bing Crosby (1931, vocal, #9)
  • Ben Bernie and His Orchestra (1931, #12)
  • Russ Columbo (1931, vocal, #19)
  • Bing Crosby (1944, #27)

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

Tunes with the ambiguous “words and music by” followed by a listing of several names beg the question: who wrote what? In the case of “Sweet and Lovely,” it’s an easy mystery to solve. First, Harry Tobias was the lyricist. Second, Gus Arnheim was a bandleader and shrewd businessman--not a songwriter. So the tune’s composer was Charles N. Daniels. But the original sheet music lists him under one of his pseudonyms, “Jules Lemare.” (His other pen name was “Neil Moret.”)


More on Gus Arnheim at JazzBiographies.com

More on Charles N. Daniels at JazzBiographies.com

More on Harry Tobias at JazzBiographies.com

Once Arnheim’s ensemble began performing the number, it became increasingly popular, eventually becoming the band’s theme song. Vocalist Donald Novis recorded the tune with Arnheim in the summer of 1931, but it’s likely that Arnheim’s previous vocalist, Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, also sang the tune with the band.

Crosby joined Arnheim’s band in 1930, which, coupled with live radio broadcasts and recordings, brought him more recognition, and by mid-1931 he was on his way with a solo career. He recorded a stunning version of “Sweet and Lovely” in September, 1931.

Russ Colombo began his vocal career under Arnheim’s aegis, too. Originally a saxophone player in the group, he began singing with the band after Crosby’s departure, eventually moving on to a solo career, which, for a short time, vied for popularity with Crosby. Sadly his life was cut short as the result of a gun accident in 1934.

“Sweet and Lovely” made a return appearance in 1944 in the film Two Girls and a Sailor, and Crosby did a remake of his 1931 hit, again making the charts.

The lyrics, written from a male perspective, extol the virtues of a woman “sweeter than the roses in May.” There is a marvelous rhythmic figure toward the end of the bridge that Crosby used to great effect on his 1931 recording, utilizing a crescendo when singing the words “taunting me, melody, haunting me” and then quickly dropping his volume back for a reprise of the tune’s title.

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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Bing Crosby
The Essentials
Big Eye Music
Original recording 1931

In one of the versions that helped popularize “Sweet and Lovely,” Bing Crosby croons the song appealingly over a gently swinging backdrop.

Erroll Garner
Polygram Records
Original recording 1954

Pianist Garner Latin-izes “Sweet and Lovely” with some aggressively playing piano playing and a trio augmented by the great Candido Camero on percussion.

Booker Little
Booker Little 4 and Max Roach
Blue Note Records

Only twenty years old at the time of this recording, Little shows off his mastery of the trumpet. The tempo is slow and sly, but Little’s wide-ranging playing is fleet, bluesy and adventurous. Pianist Tommy Flanagan gets a solo as well and plays beautifully.

Thelonious Monk Quartet
Monk's Dream

This quartet recording is slow yet playful, angular yet soulful. Monk takes melody duties and plays a wonderful solo before handing the reins to one of the most sympathetic collaborators of his career, saxophonist Charlie Rouse.

Thelonious Monk
Solo Monk
Original recording 1964

There are many classic Monk versions of “Sweet and Lovely” beginning in 1952. This haunting solo rendition is one of the best and one of the last, and hearing Monk perform it alone gives us more insight into his relationship with the song.

Lou Donaldson
Lush Life
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1967

Duke Pearson’s arrangement and an all-star band set the stage perfectly for Donaldson’s soulful alto saxophone work. Freddie Hubbard gets a solo on trumpet as well.


- Noah Baerman

Coleman Hawkins
Original recording 1966
Although in the twilight of his career, Hawkins still delivers a strong, straight-up reading. His full, robust tones and lingering notes promote the romantic ambience.
Phineas Newborn Jr
Harlem Blues
1991 Original Jazz Classics 662
Original recording 1969
Newborn treats the listener to a bewitching blues interpretation of the song, languishing over the piece and embellishing it with elaborate stride accents.
Cecil Taylor
Jazz Advance
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1956
Taylor’s debut on the recording scene is rich with musical treasure, his treatment of “Sweet and Lovely” being one of the most brilliant. Meditative, intricate and highly original, the pianist’s approach is unimpeded by convention.
Keely Smith
Spotlight on Keely Smith (Great Ladies of Song)
1995 Capitol 80327
Original recording 1958
This is a fine compilation drawn from three early LP’s. On this cut the vocalist is featured in a lyrical reading of the song with the great bandleader/arranger Billy May.

- Ben Maycock

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