I Got Rhythm
|"I Got Rhythm"|
"I Got Rhythm" is a piece composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and published in 1930, which became a jazz standard. Its chord progression, known as the "rhythm changes", is the foundation for many other popular jazz tunes such as Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's bebop standard "Anthropology (Thrivin' on a Riff)".
The song came from the musical Girl Crazy which also includes two other hit songs, "Embraceable You" and "But Not for Me", and has been sung by many jazz singers since. It was originally written as a slow song for Treasure Girl (1928) and found another, faster setting in Girl Crazy. Ethel Merman sang the song in the original Broadway production and Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin, after seeing her opening reviews, warned her never to take a singing lesson.
The piece was originally penned in the key of D♭ major. The song melody uses four notes of the five-note pentatonic scale, first rising, then falling. A rhythmic interest in the song is that the tune keeps behind the main pulse, with the three "I got..." phrases syncopated, appearing one beat behind in the first bar, while the fourth phase "Who could..." rushes in to the song. The song's chorus is in a 34-bar AABA form. Its chord progression (although often reduced to a standard 32-bar structure, for the sake of improvised solos), is known as the "rhythm changes", and is the foundation for many other popular jazz tunes. The song was used as the theme in Gershwin's last concert piece for piano and orchestra, the Variations on "I Got Rhythm", written in 1934. The song has become symbolic of the Gershwins, of swing, and of the 1920s.
As usual, George Gershwin wrote the melody first and gave it to Ira to set, but Ira found it an unusually hard melody for which to create lyrics. He experimented for two weeks with the rhyme scheme he felt the music called for, sets of triple rhymes, but found that the heavy rhyming "seemed at best to give a pleasant and jingly Mother Goose quality to a tune which should throw its weight around more." Finally he began to experiment with leaving most of the lines unrhymed. "This approach felt stronger," he wrote, "and I finally arrived at the present refrain, with only 'more-door' and 'mind him-find him' the rhymes." He added that this approach "was a bit daring for me who usually depended on rhyme insurance."
Ira also wrote that although the phrase "who could ask for anything more?" is repeated four times in the song, he decided not to make it the title because "somehow the first line of the refrain sounded more arresting and provocative."
The song is featured in the 1951 musical film An American in Paris. Gene Kelly sang the song and tap-danced, while French-speaking children whom he had just taught a few words of English shouted the words "I got" each time they appeared in the lyrics. This version finished at #32 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
It is also featured in the film Mr. Holland's Opus, during a scene in which students are trying out for a Gershwin revue.
Also featured in the movie "My Girl", during a dinner scene when the grandmother sang it, oblivious of the others.
A complete list of notable singers who have recorded this song would take up several pages. The most popular versions are those of The Happenings (#3 on the US charts in 1967), Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, and more recently, Jodi Benson.
It is a very popular jazz standard. Many songs use its chord progression, such as Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail". Charlie Parker alone based many songs on its chord progression, e.g. "Moose the Mooche". Gary Larson referenced the song in the Far Side.
Another version of the song was arranged for solo guitar by Ton Van Bergeyk. It appears on the album Black and Tan Fantasy. Mike Oldfield and Wendy Roberts performed a version on Oldfield's Platinum album.
The song was satirized in an episode of The Muppet Show where Rowlf and Fozzie attempt to perform it but Fozzie is unable to keep in tempo. To compensate Rowlf has him change the lyrics to "I don't got Rhythm".
The song has appeared in several film versions of Girl Crazy:
- Girl Crazy (1932), performed by Kitty Kelly
- Girl Crazy (1943), performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney with Six Hits and a Miss, The Music Maids and Tommy Dorsey with his Orchestra
- When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965), performed by Harve Presnell and Connie Francis
- Louis Armstrong – 1931
- Casa Loma Orchestra – 1933
- Duke Ellington
- Esquire All Stars (Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Art Tatum) – 1944
- George Gershwin – 1931
- Stephane Grappelli and McCoy Tyner – One on One (1990)
- Benny Goodman – 1938
- The Happenings – Psycle (1967)
- Jazz at the Philharmonic (Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young) – 1946
- Ethel Merman – including a disco version for The Ethel Merman Disco Album (1979)
- Metronome All Stars (Count Basie, Benny Carter, Benny Goodman) – 1942
- Thelonious Monk
- Red Nichols
- Charlie Parker
- The Puppini Sisters – Hollywood (2011)
- Willie "The Lion" Smith – 1949
- Ethel Waters
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- Hollywood Victory Caravan and Bond Rallies, in Hollywood Goes to War: Collector's Edition, 2004 pressing, Diamond Entertainment, Disk 1.
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- The Ethel Merman Disco Album, Track 7. 1979 recording reissued on CD in 2002 by Universal Music Enterprises, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
- Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 167–169. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.
- "The Happenings Official Website - Discography". Thehappenings.com. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Front Row Center: The Broadway Gold Box, 1935 – 1988 (Media notes). Ethel Merman. Broadway Gold/MCA Classics. 1996. 11353.
- "Hollywood". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
- Greenberg, Rodney (1998). George Gershwin. Phaidon Press. ISBN 0-7148-3504-8.
- Gershwin, George (1996). The Complete Gershwin Keyboard Works. Warner Brothers Publications. ISBN 978-1-57623-743-4.