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Blue Skies (1927)

Origin and Chart Information
“Henderson’s superb work with “Blue Skies” was featured during Goodman’s appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and is an electrifying performance.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 129
Words and Music Irving Berlin

This perennial favorite was introduced by Belle Baker in the 1926 musical Betsy. The following year the tune went big with the public, especially the version by Ben Selvin and His Orchestra recording under the pseudonym, The Knickerbockers.

  • Ben Selvin and His Orchestra (1927, Charles Kaley, vocal, #1)
  • George Olsen and His Music (1927, #2)
  • Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra (1927, Frank Munn, vocal, #9)
  • Johnny Marvin and Ed Smalle (1927, #9)
  • Harry Richman (1927, #13)
  • Vaughn Deleath (1927, vocal, #15)
  • Johnny Long and His Orchestra (1941, Bob Houston, vocal, #22)
  • Count Basie and His Orchestra (1946, #8)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1946, #9)

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

More on Belle Baker at JazzBiographies.com

The songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart had written the music for the Ziegfield show Betsy. Actress/vocalist Belle Baker, unhappy with the piece the two had written for her solo (“This Funny World”), contacted old friend Irving Berlin in hopes he might have something that would suit her needs. Berlin had, in fact, just put the finishing touches on a number dedicated as a Christmas gift to his newborn daughter, Mary Ellin. Baker liked the song, and it was inserted into the musical, much to the chagrin of Rodgers and Hart, who were not consulted and wouldn’t have allowed the change. The tune was the hit of the show, and Baker received 24 encores on opening night, December 28, 1926. Despite this, the show itself was a disaster and closed a month later.


More on Irving Berlin at JazzBiographies.com

The introduction of “Blue Skies” in Betsy brought the number a great deal of attention and resulted in its first recordings. But a technological landmark across the continent brought it to the attention of millions. The first feature-length motion picture with sound, The Jazz Singer starring vocalist Al Jolson, premiered on October 6, 1927, and “Blue Skies” was one of the nine tunes performed by Jolson. Not only was the film a huge success, but it spelled the end of silent films. Soon Broadway musicals would be filmed for the silver screen, and songwriters Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and others would relocate to Hollywood or have bi-coastal careers.

“Blue Skies” continued to be a hit in films. After The Jazz Singer it returned in Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a 1938 biopic loosely based on composer Berlin’s life; a 1946 film named after the tune and sung by Bing Crosby; and a 1954 reprise by Crosby (along with Danny Kaye) in the film White Christmas.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Berlin’s lyrics are, like many of his tunes, a reflection of what was going on in his life, and by late 1926 he was in a personal upswing: “Blue Skies’ smilin’ at me,” and “blue days, all of them gone.”

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Musical analysis of “Blue Skies”

Original Key D minor/F major
Form  A - A - B - A
Tonality Starting in minor, shifting to relative major
Movement “A” begins with an upward leap of a fifth, followed by a short descending stepwise figure (major third), embellishing the dominant before jumping down a major sixth and stepping up to the tonic. “B” rises up the scale from the tonic to the dominant, then descends with a series of “turns,” returning to the original pitch.

Comments     (assumed background)

The descending harmonic and bass movement of “A” moves in contrary motion to the generally upward direction of the melodic line, creating interesting counterpoint. Although the written chord progression here is Dm - A7 - F - G7 - Bbm, the inversions should be kept so as to retain the descending chromatic bass line.

While “A” is harmonically complex, the melody is slow-moving and relaxed. “B,” on the other hand, is simpler (scale patterns over a I - iv progression) yet rhythmically more active (many eighth-note passages) than “A.” While there are few improvements that could be made on Berlin’s original “A,” the “B” theme may yield different rhythmic and harmonic possibilities for the adventurous jazz performer (for example, the substitution of an Eb9 for the Bbm).

K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments

Jazz History Notes
Also by the Same Writers...
Reading & Research

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on a CD for more details at Amazon.com
Cassandra Wilson

Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
Though the upbeat band swings in support of her, vocalist Wilson is able to create a sense of tentative optimism in the lyrics with her deadpan delivery and melancholy scat.

Bill Charlap

Written in the Stars
2000 Blue Note 27291
Original recording 2000
As the tight rhythm section sets down a toe-tapping swing Charlap eloquently mines the song with a mainstream approach enriched with historical musical asides.

Teri Thornton

Devil May Care
1999 Original Jazz Classics 1017
Original recording 1960
Thornton is cooking on this slow-burning, bluesy swinger that features some engaging call and response between the singer and trumpeter Clark Terry.

Junko Onishi

Live at the Village Vanguard
1995 Blue Note Records 31886
Berlin could never have imagined that his tune would have such interest for modernists such as pianist Onishi, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Herlin Riley. No matter how far out these explorers go, they carry a life line to the early 20th century composers. Their interpretation is affirmation of the endless improvisational significance of standards such as “Blue Skies.”
Jazz History

Bandleader/arranger/pianist Fletcher Henderson had, by 1937, given up his band but was quickly employed by clarinetist Benny Goodman as chief arranger. Henderson’s superb work with “Blue Skies” was featured during Goodman’s appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and is an electrifying performance.

Bassist John Kirby, an ex-Fletcher Henderson musician, fronted a small group of great musicians including trumpeter Charlie Shavers, clarinetist Buster Bailey, and pianist Billy Kyle. Shaver’s clever arrangement of “Blue Skies” is typical of the band’s output, alternating tightly arranged passages with exceptional solos.

Tommy Dorsey’s 1941 version of Irving Berlin’s tune epitomizes big band era jazz: beautiful saxophone section playing that alternates with brass riffs over a mellow statement of the melody (by Dorsey on trombone), followed by a swinging vocal (young Frank Sinatra with vocal responses from the band), then a rousing “shout” chorus out. Ex-Jimmy Lunceford sideman Sy Oliver, a fine trumpeter and vocalist, was responsible for this stellar arrangement.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Benny Goodman

The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert
Sony 65143

John Kirby

Biggest Little Band in the Land
ASV Living Era 5304

Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra

All Time Greatest Hits, Volume 1
RCA 8324
Written by the Same Composer or Team...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team. Click on a name to see all of a writer's jazz standards.

Irving Berlin

Year Rank Title
1932 49 How Deep Is the Ocean? (How High Is the Sky?)
1927 129 Blue Skies
1935 187 Cheek to Cheek
1925 302 Always
1946 345 They Say It’s Wonderful
1925 362 Remember
1940 404 White Christmas
1927 469 Russian Lullaby
1911 578 Alexander’s Ragtime Band
1927 598 The Song Is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)
1935 616 Let’s Face the Music and Dance
1932 639 Say It Isn’t So
1933 662 Easter Parade
1924 751 What’ll I Do
1950 789 The Best Thing for You
1928 838 Marie
1936 884 I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket
1937 904 I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
1937 912 This Year’s Kisses
1924 918 All Alone
1937 926 Change Partners
1933 959 Heat Wave
1938 970 Now It Can Be Told
1921 986 All By Myself
Reading and Research
Additional information on “Blue Skies” may be found in:

1 page including the following types of information: lyric analysis.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: anecdotal.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.

5 pages including the following types of information: history and music analysis.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.

1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.

2 pages including the following types of information: anecdotal. (Pages 279-280).

Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.

2 paragraphs including the following types of information: lyric analysis and music analysis.

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