The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"But Not for Me"

"But Not for Me"

#282 / Nov. 24 Podcast

No transcript...

As an anthem to angst, George and Ira Gershwin’s bittersweet counter-love song “But Not For Me” was well ahead of its time.

The brothers penned the song in 1930 for the stage musical “Girl Crazy,” in which it was premiered by Ginger Rogers, who was appearing in the role that led to her film career.

Since then, the tune has been recorded many times, though many leading vocalists like Tony Bennett don’t seem to have ever given it a try, even though it is, as musician Jed Scott notes, “It’s a gem of a song, and a welcome change from the AABA song form.”

Waiting for Jazz

The number initially failed to achieve significant pop success, charting only once. And that was a dozen years after its composition, when Harry James and His Orchestra brought it out with vocalist Helen Forrest.

However, a decade after that, the song had a rebirth in the jazz world, which appreciated its kinky chord changes. As Scott noted in an online post, instead of the usual AABA of most pop standards, this 32-bar Gershwin melody is ABAB.

Best of all, that second B section “has a brilliant compositional moment,” Scott observes. “In the first B, it leaps upwards to the tonic, but in the second it leaps a step higher, before climbing back down to the low tonic over the next four measures.”

The result, says Scott, is “unexpected, beautiful and typical of Gershwin’s clever compositional approach.”

The Cool Kids

The world of 1950s cool jazz loved those leaps. A particularly beautiful understated rendering was done in 1956 by a 26-year-old superstar of the day. Trumpeter Chet Baker made it a centerpiece on his Chet Baker Sings album, achieving a perfect balance between George’s upbeat melody and Ira’s darker lyric.

Other ‘50s jazz vocals of the tune included great ones by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. Meanwhile, instrumental versions were released in the same decade by Miles Davis, Buddy De Franco, the Modern Jazz Quarter, Kenny Burrell, Ahmad Jamal and Red Garland.

Since then the song has been recorded by various crooners, from Harry Connick Jr. and Barry Manilow to Linda Ronstadt and Diana Krall.

Movie Time

“But Not for Me” has made occasional cameo appearances in movies too, starting out as the title tune for a 1959 Clark Gable-Carroll Baker comedy.

After that, Woody Allen added it to his 1979 Manhattan, a Jackie Gleason arrangement made it into L.A. Confidential in the same year, and 15 years later, Elton John performed it in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Our Take on the Tune

Last week was The Flood’s first fling with the tune. See what you think.

We also expect to have the song in the repertoire for our big New Year’s Eve do at Huntington’s beloved Alchemy Theatre. Hope you’ve got us on your calendar. If you missed the earlier announcement, click this link:

But Wait, There’s More!

If swinging along on these great old standards is what you need today, be sure to check out the Great American Songbook playlist in our all-free Radio Floodango music streaming service. The link below tells you all you need to know.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: