Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “My Foolish Heart”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Background/Discussion

Sometime in the 1950s there was a major change in the nature of popular songs. A youthful, defiant audience demanded a new sound, a break from the sophisticated music of the past. Down with romantic melodies, standard forms and lengths, impressionistic harmonies and poetic lyrics.. Up with static, insistent rhythms and especially snarling guitars and exaggerated showmanship. Increasingly the material became less and less important, overshadowed by the performer. Singers especially sold themselves (“look at me”) rather than the material. Audiences began listening with their eyes rather than their ears and the visual replaced the aural. In a 1949 Metronome jazz journal the well-known singer Patti Page said “Today the record-buying public is mostly composed of the younger people and their interests aren’t musical when they buy a record.” In a sense, it was the end of the great ballads, such as Victor Young’s 1949 “My Foolish Heart” (lyric by Ned Washington).

Young was best known as a talented orchestrator but he did compose a few superior songs. In addition to “My Foolish Heart,” he wrote “Ghost of a Chance,” “Stella by Starlight,” and “Beautiful Love,” each embraced by jazz artists. “My Foolish Heart” was composed for a Susan Hayward movie of the same title, which was based very loosely on a 1948 J.D. Salinger short story titled “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.” The film is forgettable but the song is not. It was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” In 1950 more than a half-dozen versions of “My Foolish Heart” found a place on the pop charts, including a vocal by Billy Eckstine and a sax version by Gene Ammons (links to both below). In addition to those two, others that charted include renditions by Mindy Carson, Margaret Whiting and Hugo Winterhalter with his orchestra. Over the next few years, many singers and jazz instrumentalists discovered this lovely song, including Carmen McRae and Andre Previn. Pianist Bill Evans recorded the song a few times; in fact he kept the song in his repertoire until the end of his life. His 1961 live performance along side Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian at the Village Vanguard is a master of rhythm and space and stands out as perhaps the most influential jazz version. But his 1975 accompaniment of Tony Bennett allowed him to find a fresh approach to the song.

A Few Sample Recordings

INSTRUMENTAL VERSIONS
Saxophonist Gene Ammons in a sextet (a 1950 Chess recording)

Bill Evans and his mesmerizing live rendition at the Vanguard in 1961

The movie version by Victor Young’s orchestra (with photos of the film stars)

VOCAL VERSIONS
Billy Eckstine and his original 1950 hit version (on many compilations)

Carmen McRae from her 1956 Blue Moon album with strings.

Kurt Elling (with pianist Laurence Hobgood) live in 1999 at Chicago’s Green Mill
(jazz singing at its most interesting)

Tony Bennett with Bill Evans in 1975. They include the fine verse

The glorious voice of Nancy Lamott from her 1993 album also titled “My Foolish Heart”

You may also wish to investigate worthy recordings by the following.

Vocal versions by Karrin Allyson, Rebecca Parris, Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, the Manhattan Transfer, Vic Damone
Instrumental versions by Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Warren Vache, Pat Metheny, Eddie Higgins,
Henry Mancini, Scott Hamilton,

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