This is the sixth in a series of posts about the tunes on "Retrophonic Gershwin," our soon-to-be-released album. Part 1 is "How I Got Rhythm," part 2 is ""Probably I'll Meet Him at a Soda Fountain,"" part 3 is "Which Pianist is Playing What?," part 4 is "Silver Linings," and part 5 is "Darling, Let's Take a Bow."
From the beginning, George Gershwin felt that a song he and Ira had just penned for the film Shall We Dance had, in his words, "distinct potentialities of going places." The song was "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and he was right: the film (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) wasn't even released until May 7, 1937, but between March and June of that year, everybody who was anybody was already recording it: Ozzie Nelson, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Carl Fenton, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie with their respective orchestras....and, of course, Fred Astaire with Johnny Green and his Orchestra.
The last was a particularly simpatico combination, as Johnny Green, Fred, and George all had worked together over many years. Fred knew George from when he was still a song plugger and they had gone on to do several shows on Broadway and in London's West End together before coming out to Hollywood. Johnny played for George at a family party when he was 12 years old, after which they became lifelong friends, and had worked with Fred on the Packard Hour radio program in the mid-'30s. Johnny recalled:
"When George wrote the songs for Shall We Dance, I made arrangements of them and accompanied Fred Astaire's recordings for Brunswick with my orchestra. I remember vividly when I brought the test pressings for George and Ira to hear...I put the recordings on and when George heard "They Can't Take That Away From Me," he broke down, reached his hand out to me, and came close to tears. He kept saying "Thank you" and I don't know why. That song must have meant something special to him."
It's very possible that the next time Fred sang it was at a memorial concert for George at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 1937, after George's death from a brain tumor at only 38.
For our recording, I interpolated part of Johnny's effortlessly elegant piano solo into the middle of an orchestral reduction taken from Judy Garland's rendition on a May 11, 1937 broadcast of Jack Oakie's College radio program. She sang it with the Georgie Stoll Orchestra, but according to the liner notes from "Judy Garland on Radio 1936-'44," her long-time vocal coach Roger Edens did the arrangement.
Here's our rendition, to be released on "Retrophonic Gershwin" in July. The pianists are Jason Aquila & Jodie Ricci.
A happy modern footnote to the story is that in the past year, Johnny Green's songwriter daughter, Babbie Green, has become The Best Friend I've Never Met through the marvels of email correspondence!