Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “I’ll Remember April”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Background/Discussion
Who would guess that such a lovely and enduring ballad – musically and lyrically – was written for and featured in a raucous Abbott and Costello movie, the 1942 Ride ‘em Cowboy. For jazz fans the movie holds yet another attraction. It was one of a handful of films to feature Ella Fitzgerald, playing a maid but nonetheless singing “A Tisket A Tasket” and joining the Merry Macs in “Rockin’ ‘n Reelin’.” To add to the incongruity, the unusual and haunting “I’ll Remember April”was introduced in that movie by Dick Foran (who he?).

The music is by Gene De Paul and the lyrics by his usual collaborator Don Raye who based the words on a poem by Patricia Johnston. The song’s architecture is most unusual. Generally popular songs have an A-A-B-A structure, that is, three choruses (A) of the same or very similar music and a bridge/release (B) with a different melody. However, I’ll Remember April is a strange 48-bar A-B-C-D-A-B. Also of interest is De Paul’s wistful, stepwise melody that contrasts major and minor. Despite such unusual features the song is, nonetheless, memorable and commercially successful. In fact, it became an immediate hit, with Woody Herman’s recording the most popular.

I’ll Remember April was featured in another 1942 movie, Strictly in the Groove. It was also featured in the 1944 film noir, Phantom Lady. Additionally, this song also inspired a namesake film in 1945, I’ll Remember April, in which it was sung by Gloria Jean and Kirby Grant. In the 1949 film Criss Cross Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) plays a few bars on the piano while she’s talking to Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster). Lastly, the song was also used in the 1945 movie Eve Knew Her Apples, where it was sung by Ann Miller.

The poetic lyric by Raye-Johnston relates how two parted lovers will remember the past, a somewhat similar theme to the one employed by Dorothy Fields in 1936’s The Way You Look Tonight. Here are the closing lines –

THE FIRE WILL DWINDLE INTO GLOWING ASHES
FOR FLAMES AND LOVE LIVE SUCH A LITTLE WHILE.
I WONT FORGET
BUT I WON’T BE LONELY,
I’LL REMEMBER APIRL
AND I’LL SMILE.

A Few Sample Recordings
This entry in the canon of the Great American Songbook (GAS) has enjoyed a double life as an up-tempo jazz standard as well as a pop ballad. Due perhaps to the poetic text, vocalists generally slow the song down. But jazz instrumentalists more often play it with a medium-fast pulse or sometimes as a full-blown barn burner. Some jazz performers have composed pieces based on the “I’ll Remember April” chords. Examples include Tal Farlow’s “And She Remembers Me.” Saxophonists Ted Brown’s “Little Quail” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Rocker” also use the chord changes of “I’ll Remember April.”

INSTRUMENTAL VERSIONS
An example of a hard-swinging rendition is Cannonball Adderley from his 1957 Cannonball Enroute recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySrjb-rFvEQ
Lee Konitz obviously loved the piece and recorded six versions over six decades. Here is his 1961 version from the recording Motion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amtKCHZadPY
That’s the great Elvin Jones at the drumset.
Keith Jarrett loves the GAS. Here is his 1996 Standards Trio recording from the live Tokyo’96 CD. They stretch it out to over 10 minutes but are never boring. The trio is in a Latin groove. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Any7ZV-1umA
And here is the above mentioned early hit recording by Woody Herman and his band.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rV-QzYpsdw The vocal is also by Woody.
5) The classic 1950 Charlie Parker with Strings recording.

Other instrumental recordings include Ahmad Jamal, Hampton Hawes, Dexter Gordon, Erroll Garner, Joe Pass, Red Norvo, The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Stan Kenton and Clifford Brown

VOCAL VERSIONS
Frank Sinatra treats the song as a full-blown ballad on his somewhat overlooked 1961 Point of No Return recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pepYluyez4k
Carmen McRae takes the song at a slow-medium pace on her 1955 By Special Request album

Doris Day from her very fine 1957 Hooray for Hollywood recording

June Christy. Originally on a 1957 album titled This Is June Christy.
Now available on various compilations.

Other vocal recordings include Julie London, Steve Lawrence, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby,
The Four Freshman, Joanie Sommers and Perry Como

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