“Willow Weep for Me”

(Mostly about music)

The song came by in the middle of the night: an elegant jazz-piano version. Unfortunately, I missed the information about the performer, but I then found out a good bit about the song.

From Wikipedia:

“Willow Weep for Me” is a popular song composed in 1932 by Ann Ronell, who also wrote the lyrics. The song form is AABA and it is written in 4/4 time, although it is occasionally adapted for 3/4 waltz time, as on recordings by Phil Woods (Musique du Bois, 1974) and Dr. Lonnie Smith (Jungle Soul, 2006.) It is mostly known as a jazz standard, having been recorded first by Ted Fio Rito (with vocal by Muzzy Marcellino) in October 1932 and by Paul Whiteman (with vocal by Irene Taylor) the following month. Both were hits in December 1932. It was a Top 40 hit for the British duo Chad & Jeremy in 1964 …

One account of the inspiration for the song is that, during her time at Radcliffe College, Ronell “had been struck by the loveliness of the willow trees on campus, and this simple observation became the subject of an intricate song”. The song was not initially accepted by publishers, for several reasons. First, the song is dedicated to George Gershwin; a dedication to another writer was disapproved of at the time, so the first person presented with the song for publication, Saul Bornstein, passed it to Irving Berlin, who chose to accept it. Other reasons stated for its slow acceptance are that it was written by a woman and that its construction was unusually complex for a composition that was targeted at a commercial audience (i.e. radio broadcast, record sales and sheet music sales). An implied tempo change in the fifth bar, a result of a switch from the two quavers and a quaver triplet opening in each of the first four bars to just four quavers opening the fifth, then back to two quavers and a quaver triplet opening the sixth bar, which then has a more offset longer note than any of the previous bars, was one cause of Bornstein’s concern. Notable recordings continued from the early 1950s, following the success of Stan Kenton’s 1950 release (with vocal by June Christy) of the song.

The complexity of the song is a result of Ronell’s capturing something of the rhythms of ordinary speech, rather than sticking closely to a metrical pattern. Even in the instrumental versions (of which there are a great many), even if you don’t know the words, the music sounds like someone is talking to you.

Three versions:

The Modern Jazz Quartet (1956)

Chad & Jeremy (1964)

Billie Holiday (1956) … wow

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