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The Nearness of You (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
“[Roy Hargrove’s] soft, gentle tones make this one of the most heartbreakingly emotional readings of the ballad.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 64
Music Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics Ned Washington

In 1940 Glenn Miller and His Orchestra introduced “The Nearness of You” with vocals by Ray Eberle. The Bluebird label recording was a moderate success, appearing on the pop charts at the end of June and remaining there for eleven weeks, peaking at number five. In 1953 the song became a charted hit again; this time Bob Manning, singing with Monty Kelly and His Orchestra, saw his recording climb the charts to number sixteen.


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

With regard to the song’s introduction, according to Richard Sudhalter’s Hoagy Carmichael biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael, “The Nearness of You” was a melody that Carmichael dashed off for

... a screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring fifteen-year-old Mickey Rooney as Puck. With [Ned] Washington’s lyric, it became “The Nearness of You,” scheduled for inclusion in the feature Romance in the Rough. The film was never produced and the song had to wait for republication in 1940 to win its place as a standard.

In Sudhalter’s notes, of which there are more than 50 pages, he comments that despite accounts to the contrary, “The Nearness of You” was never scheduled to be included in the 1938 Paramount film, Romance in the Dark, starring John Boles, Gladys Swarthout and John Barrymore.

Probably a result of the similar titles, Romance in the Rough versus Romance in the Dark,the introduction of “The Nearness of You” is mistakenly credited to Ms. Swarthout in Romance in the Dark in at least one reference book, numerous sheet music books, and as a result, the error appears on hundreds of websites.


More on Hoagy Carmichael at JazzBiographies.com

Out of all of Carmichael’s hits, “The Nearness of You” is his most straightforward love song, with both the music and lyrics conveying an unguarded sentimental tone. Alec Wilder in American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 calls it “simple and unclever,” “tender,” and “a forthright expression of the romantic world in which boys and girls once were wont to dream and dance and gaze and hold hands.” Wilder also comments that it is “the sort of song that an academic musical mind would sneer at.”

As if to refute Wilder’s latter comment, Allen Forte, Battell Professor of the Theory of Music at Yale University, devotes over five pages in his book Listening to Classic American Popular Songs to discussion of “The Nearness of You” terming certain aspects of the song “unusual,” “remarkable,” and “striking,” and even offering a “Congratulations, Hoagy!” for Carmichael’s slightly concealed replication of the refrain’s opening phrase in the verse.


More on Ned Washington at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(Forte’s book, which has a companion CD, includes seven pages on the song, including its history, analyses of the lyric and music, and the song’s lyrics.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Carmichael wrote “The Nearness of You” with a short verse, a 32-bar refrain with an  A1-A2-B-A1 form, and a 4-bar extension. Vocalists, including Dorothy Dandridge (Smooth Operator), Abbey Lincoln and Hank Jones (When There Is Love), and Sarah Vaughan (16 Most Requested Songs), often sing the introductory verse.

In each of the first two A sections, Ned Washington uses 8-bar phrases to say in the first four bars what is not exciting, and in the last four bars, “Oh, no, it’s just the nearness of you.” For the third A section, Washington stretches his final phrase from eight bars to thirteen, spilling over from the usual 32-bars into the 5-bar extension. The resulting delay increases the tension and immediacy and places his final recitation of the title and hook phrase “The Nearness of You” at the final notes of the song. -JW

Musical analysis of “The Nearness of You”

Original Key F major
Form A1 – A2 – B – A1 with four-measure extension
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Ascending by skips (thirds and fourths) and steps; descending primarily stepwise

Comments     (assumed background)

This is a flowing ballad with a well-constructed melody. Intervals are small, for the most part; only three leaps (sixths and seventh) occur in the entire song. Harmonic progression is an interesting variation of I– I7 – IV – iv with the I – VI7 – II – V7 turnaround used to end many tunes. Here it is the primary one used. A v7 (functioning as a ii7 of IV) is inserted before the I7, and the iv is turned into a diminished chord resolving to iii. From there it’s a simple matter of cycling through the fifths (using minor substitutions) in order to return to the tonic. Many contemporary performers use a chromatically descending progression here. For example, in the present key of F major, the traditional changes would be Am –D7 – Gm, whereas contemporary performers might use Am – Ab – Gm instead. Either is acceptable; however, the former reflects Carmichael’s original.
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).
Musicians' Comments

“The Nearness of You” was one of my earliest songs. It’s sincere, light, romantic and contains no threat of loss. It’s also questioning, and I like questioning songs.

Jay Clayton, jazz vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“The Nearness of You” was included in these films:
  • Romance in the Dark (1937)
  • Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962, Stella Stevens dubbed by Gilda Maiken, The Jordanaires)
  • Ash Wednesday (1973)
  • Flashdance (1983)
  • Indecent Proposal (1993, Sheena Easton)
  • Nobody’s Fool (1994)
  • The Impostors (1998, Steve Buscemi, Gary DeMichele & Band)
  • Joe Gould’s Secret (2000, Charlie Parker)
  • Two Weeks Notice (2002, Norah Jones)
  • Twisted (2004, Tierney Sutton)
And on television:
  • Startrek: The Next Generation (1988, Jonathan Frakes) Season 1, Episode 16, "11001001"
  • Startrek: The Next Generation (1992, Jonathan Frakes) Season 5, Episode 114, "Conundrum"
  • Frasier (1993) NBC sitcom, Season 1, Episode 6, "The Crucible"
Reading and Research
Additional information for "The Nearness of You" may be found in:

Allen Forte
Listening to Classic American Popular Songs
Yale University Press; Book & CD edition
Hardcover: 219 pages

(7 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis, music analysis and song lyrics. (Book includes CD).)

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Film Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 536 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary and performers.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Vocalist Sarah Vaughn had a special affinity for this number. Her first recording, in 1949 with Joe Lippman’s Orchestra, is a fabulous rendition of this Hoagy Carmichael tune, including the seldom-heard verse. A few years later Sassy was featured in a Snader “telescription” video performance of this tune.

A 1951 concert in St. Louis featured alto saxophone giant Charlie Parker with Woody Herman’s Orchestra, and the event was broadcast and recorded for posterity. There was a mutual admiration society between Parker and the Herman Herd, and the version of “The Nearness of You” is a wonderful exposition on this great song, with an arrangement by Ralph Burns.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Sarah Vaughan
Columbia Years, 1949-1953
Sony 44165

Charlie Parker and Woody Herman
Bird with the Herd
Drive Archive 42442

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “The Nearness of You.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Several tender versions of “The Nearness of You” stand out as particularly noteworthy. Sarah Vaughan recorded the tune on several occasions beginning with her classic 1949 performance (The Divine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years 1949-1953). Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong collaborated in 1956 on an utterly charming version of the tune (Ella and Louis). Among instrumental versions, Gerry Mulligan’s lyrical reading featuring the trumpet of Chet Baker (The Original Quartet With Chet Baker [2-CD SET]) is very significant both musically and historically.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Gerry Mulligan
The Original Quartet With Chet Baker [2-CD SET]
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1953
Mulligan, in his classic quartet with Chet Baker, displays his lyrical ballad playing style and his influential way of creating full-sounding performances without a chord-playing instrument.
Branford Marsalis
Trio Jeepy
1989 Columbia 44199
Original recording 1989
This Marsalis recording with a drummer-less trio introduced younger generations to the bass artistry of Milt Hinton, who displays some of his bowing prowess on this lengthy track.

- Noah Baerman

Abbey Lincoln/Hank Jones
When There Is Love
1994 Verve 314519697
Original recording 1994
Vocalist Lincoln and pianist Hank Jones join together for a breathtaking duet that manages to sound simultaneously world-weary and romantic.
Cannonball Adderley
Sophisticated Swing
1995, Polygram 528408
Original recording, 1958
Alto sax player Cannonball Adderley leads the group (including brother Nat on cornet) through a hard-bop reading of the song. Adderley's full sound is rich in rounded notes and very romantic
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Ella & Louis
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1956
The sound of Fitzgerald's gentle singing on this tune alongside Armstrong's brilliant trumpet and the sensitive accompaniment of Oscar Peterson and his group comes mighty close to perfection.
Bill Charlap
2002, Blue Note

Pianist Bill Charlap's delicate version of "The Nearness of You"' is both cerebral and emotional, a testament to his great talent at interpreting the music of Hoagy Carmichael.
Roy Hargrove
1995, Verve #527630

This beautifully realized version of "The Nearness of You"' highlights just how talented trumpeter Roy Hargrove is. His soft, gentle tones make this one of the most heartbreakingly emotional readings of the ballad.
King & Moore
Cliff Dance
1993, Justice 803

Vocalist Nancy King and bassist Glen Moore team up for their third recording, but this time they invite pianist Art Lande, drummer Gary Hobbs, and alto saxophonist Warren Rand to join them. King takes “The Nearness of You” very slowly in duo with Lande. The CD also contains original material with quirky lyrics by Samantha Moore.
Lynne Arriale
2002, TCB

This is a very introspective, reflective version of “The Nearness of You.” Pianist Arriale and trio also give a new rhythmic twist to “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” and Leonard Bernstein’s “America.”
Bennie Wallace
The Nearness of You
2004 Enja Justin Time

In the company of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Eddie Gomez tenor saxophonist Wallace languidly deconstructs and reconstitutes the standards.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington

Year Rank Title
1937 64 The Nearness of You

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