I Can't Get Started
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"I Can't Get Started" (also known as "I Can't Get Started with You" or "I Can't Get Started (with You)") is a popular song, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Vernon Duke (1936), that was first heard in the theatrical production Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 where it was sung by Bob Hope. Hal Kemp and his Orchestra recorded it at that time and it had a bit of popularity, rising briefly to 14th place on the recording charts. Probably the three most popular vintage recorded versions are those of Bunny Berigan, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra.
Music and lyrics
"I Can't Get Started" is the plaintive song of a man who has achieved and won everything he could hope for, except the attention of the woman he desires. The rarely heard verse explains the situation ("I'm a glum one, it's explainable, I met someone unattainable, life's a bore, the world is my oyster no more...all the papers where I led the news, with my capers, soon will spread the news, Superman turns out to be flash in the pan.") It is most exceptional in that Gershwin’s lyrics ("I've flown around the world in a plane ... Settled revolutions in Spain ... Been consulted by Franklin D ... Greta Garbo has asked me to tea") are so topical and totally dated to the headlines of the 1930s that they break the mold for ballads. Yet they have such a clever, endearing charm that only a brave singer will dare to replace them (Sinatra dared with "...designed the latest IBM brain..."). The melody, true to the theme of the lyrics, starts out at a low pitch and rarely goes very far up. A moving melody line carries the descriptive lines of text, however, until it comes to the bridge, where the text turns more emotional. There the song borders on despondency.
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After its initial splash and disappearance, "I Can't Get Started" took on a new life when Bunny Berigan, the star trumpeter with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, started a band of his own in 1937 and chose it as his theme song. Berigan’s recording on trumpet is a virtuoso work that defines the range of the instrument, starting in the basement and climbing finally to the stratosphere. In addition to his range, Berigan displays here a mastery of expression, of emotional nuance, beyond what most trumpet players can only dream of: he takes the song all the way from despondence to victory.[verification needed]
The recording was an immediate hit and reached 10th place on the lists. His band, unfortunately, was short-lived, and he himself died in 1942 at age 33. In 1975, thirty three years after his death, Berigan's 1937 recording of "I Can't Get Started" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The recording was also used in the films Save the Tiger, Chinatown, and The Big Shave.
Berigan's recording and the song itself, however, have continued to be prized by lovers of jazz. Billie Holiday recorded it quickly, so did Nat Cole, and before long Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a host of other vocalists did likewise. It is also a favourite of trumpet players who are willing to risk comparison with Berigan. A few, like Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson have done notably well, and jazz recordings on tenor sax by Lester Young and Stan Getz are admired.
Other notable recordings
- Billie Holiday
- Dinah Washington - (10inch Single / 1946)
- Charlie Parker - (10inch Single / part of the series Norman Granz Presents Jazz At The Philharmonic / 1946)
- Dizzy Gillespie - Dizzy Digs Paris (1953)
- Paul Bley Trio - (Paul Bley / Charles Mingus / Art Blakey) - Introducing Paul Bley (1953)
- Lester Young – with Nat King Cole, Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio (1954)
- Anthony Ortega - Östen Hedenbratt - Knut Ljungh - Egil Johansen (1954 / 78rpm record Musica RA-9006)
- Anita O'Day - This Is Anita (1955)
- Keely Smith — Politely! (1958)
- Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney - Fancy Meeting You Here (1958)
- Frank Sinatra – No One Cares (1959)
- Charles Mingus – Jazz Portraits: Mingus in Wonderland (1959)
- Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Swings Gently with Nelson (1962)
- Al Hirt - Honey in the Horn (1963)
- Maynard Ferguson - Chameleon (1974)
- Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings Again (1985)
- Barry Manilow - Singin' With The Big Bands (1994)
- Michel Petrucciani & Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen (1994)
- Rod Stewart – Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Volume III (2004)
- Les Deux Love Orchestra – King Kong (2008)
- Steve Tyrell
- Roy Eldridge
- Jack Jones
- Jamie Cullum
- Arturo Sandoval - Trumpet Evolution
- Doc Severinsen & Tony Bennett
- Buddy DeFranco
In popular culture
In the screenplay for Groundhog Day the song is heard as Phil mounts (initially unsuccessfully) his campaign to win Rita's heart.
Also in the film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, an instrumental version of the song can be heard during the party scene.
The original Bunny Berigan recording of the song can be heard in the queue and other common areas both inside and outside the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
This was used in the Season 2 episode "I Can't Get Started" of Gilmore Girls.
- "I Can't Get Started (with You)" at JazzStandards.com
- Ira Gershwin's manuscript for "I Can't Get Started" at The Library of Congress