I Got Rhythm

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"I Got Rhythm"
Composer(s) George Gershwin
Lyricist(s) Ira Gershwin

"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. [1] 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, 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 compose 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". [2]

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". [2]

Disputed authorship

The four-note opening riff bears a striking resemblance to the opening melody of the third movement of William Grant Still's Symphony No. 1, "Afro-American." In the 1920s, Still played in the pit orchestra for Shuffle Along, and speculated that Gershwin may have borrowed the melody from his improvisations in the pit, which were later used in his own symphony. [3] [4]

In 1987 Still's daughter, Judith Anne Still, wrote in a letter that Gershwin stole the song from her father.


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An instrumental arrangement for piano and orchestra appears in the 1945 Hollywood Victory Caravan . [6]

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.

The song appears in the fifth episode of the third season of Amazon Prime’s streaming series The Boys . While watching the 1943 version of Girl Crazy, The Female (Karen Fukuhara) daydreams about performing “I Got Rhythm” as a Broadway-style song-and-dance number with Frenchie (Tomer Capone). Fukuhara performed her own vocals for the scene. [7]

It is also featured in the film Mr. Holland's Opus , during a scene in which students are trying out for a Gershwin revue, and in the movie My Girl, during a dinner scene in which the grandmother sings it, oblivious of the other characters.

An extensive list of notable singers have recorded this song. The most popular versions are those of The Happenings (#3 on the US charts in 1967 [8] ), Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald and, more recently, Jodi Benson.

The song immediately became a jazz standard with recordings occurring already the year of publication. One of the first in jazz style (or maybe the very first one) is by Loring “Red” Nichols and his Orchestra on Brunswick (4957) recorded 23 October 1930. Many songs use its chord progression, such as Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail". Charlie Parker alone based many songs on its chord progression, such as "Moose the Mooche". Gary Larson referenced the song in the Far Side.

In 1939, I Got Rhythm was arranged and orchestrated by Bruce Chase for a premiere performance by the Kansas Philharmonic, now the Kansas City Symphony. [9]

A version of the song set to a disco beat was recorded by Ethel Merman for her Ethel Merman Disco Album in 1979. [10]

In 1992, the show Crazy for You featured the song sung by Jodi Benson. [11]

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". [12]

The song has appeared in several film versions of Girl Crazy:

Other recordings

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Gershwin</span> American composer and pianist (1898–1937)

George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist whose compositions spanned popular, jazz and classical genres. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs "Swanee" (1919) and "Fascinating Rhythm" (1924), the jazz standards "Embraceable You" (1928) and "I Got Rhythm" (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935), which included the hit "Summertime".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethel Merman</span> American actress, singer (1908–1984)

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rhythm changes</span> Common 32-bar chord progression in jazz

Rhythm changes is a common 32-bar jazz chord progression derived from George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm". The progression is in AABA form, with each A section based on repetitions of the ubiquitous I–vi–ii–V sequence (or variants such as iii–vi–ii–V), and the B section using a circle of fifths sequence based on III7–VI7–II7–V7, a progression which is sometimes given passing chords.

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