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Once in a While (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
Gary Giddins credits Rahsaan Roland Kirk with reviving interest among jazz musicians in “Once in a While” with his mid-sixties recording.

- Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Rank 262
Music Michael Edwards
Lyrics Bud Green

Composer Michael Edwards was also a classical violinist, an organist, and an arranger for publishing firms. His 1937 composition, “Once in a While” was given a lyric by Bud Green, who was also a composer and harmonica player. Green collaborated on such hits as “Alabamy Bound,” “Sentimental Journey,” and “Flat Foot Floogie.” “Once in a While” charted several times:

  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1937, with vocal quartet, 7 weeks at #1 for a total of 14 weeks)
  • Horace Heidt and His Orchestra (1937, #2 for one week of 7, featured the electric guitar of Alvino Rey)
  • Louis Armstrong (1938, two weeks peaking at #15)
  • Patti Page (1952, 11 weeks, peaking at #9, one of the early multi-track vocals)
  • The Chimes (1961 #11, doo-wop version, as “Once In Awhile”)

Note: Louis Armstrong recorded another tune named “Once in a While” (by William H. Butler) in 1927.


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

In Visions of Jazz: The First Century, Gary Giddins credits Rahsaan Roland Kirk with reviving interest among jazz musicians in “Once in a While” with his mid-sixties recording. Giddins notes that Kirk’s idol, saxophonist Don Byas, released a memorable recording of this “great, neglected ballad” in 1945.

The singer directs his plea to a lover from whom he has “drifted apart.” He’s hoping that he’s thought of “once in a while” even though someone else may be “nearer your heart.” The bridge peaks melodically and emotionally with these lines:

In love’s smoldering ember,

One spark can remain;

If love still can remember,

That spark may burn again.

“Once in a While” was sung by Lee Sullivan in a 1941 “soundie,” and it was featured in the 1950 movie I’ll Get By. It’s lent itself to a variety of interpretations: Nat “King” Cole with the big band of Billy May, saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Sonny Clark, guitarist George Van Eps, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and the vocal duo of Jackie & Roy. In 2007 it was recorded by vocalist/pianist Freddy Cole and by the group Pearl Django. One of the most unique arrangements of the song, not yet available on CD, is from arranger/conductor Pete Rugolo’s 1956 LP, Music for Hi-Fi Bugs. With no rhythm accompaniment, the horns open the first eight measures in octave unison in a slow, fugue-like manner.

- Sandra Burlingame

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Jazz History Notes
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Keynote Records founder Harry Lim produced an outstanding oeuvre of recordings from 1941 until 1947. One of his most eclectic sessions was Benny Morton’s Trombone Choir -four trombones with rhythm section. Their beautiful version of “Once in a While” features a fine, uncredited arrangement and some splendid work by trombonist Bill Harris.

Pianist Johnny Guarnieri, part of the Benny Morten rhythm section mentioned above, appeared with outstanding tenor saxophonist Don Byas on his lovely rendition of the Michael Edwards-Bud Green composition. Guarnieri solos on celeste, the bell-like keyboard instrument rarely heard in jazz but nevertheless strikingly effective.

A 1954 live recording from New York’s Birdland club features the newly-formed Jazz Messengers led by drummer Art Blakey. For a ballad feature the brilliant trumpeter Clifford Brown chose to play “Once in a While,” the only time he recorded the tune. For more than five minutes, Brownie wends his way on a delightful path of improvisation.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Benny Morton
Classics 906

Don Byas
Complete American Small-Group Recordings
Definitive Classics 11213

Art Blakey
A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1
Blue Note Records

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

Michael Edwards and Bud Green

Year Rank Title
1937 262 Once in a While

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