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How Long Has This Been Going On?

Written: 1927

Music by: George Gershwin

Words by: Ira Gershwin

Written for but cut from Funny Face (show, 1927) then
introduced on Broadway in Rosalie (show, 1928)

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Ray Charles and Orchestra


"How Long Has This Been Going On?"

(Live at Leverkusener Jazztage, Leverkusen, Germany, 1993)

View and listen to Ray Charles 1977 recording of
"How Long Has This Been Going On?"
in the Cafe Songbook Video Cabinet, this page below.

More Performances of "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet
(Video credit)


Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"How Long Has This Been Going On?"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Shows Funny Face and Rosalie / Origins of the Song

1927 was a banner year on Broadway. The landmark musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II opened on December 27. Before that came Irving Berlin's Ziegfeld Follies, Strike Up the Band (first version) by the Gershwins as well their Funny Face, Vincent Youmans' Hit the Deck and Rodgers' and Hart's A Connecticut Yankee, all of which included songs destined to become standards.



American Popular Song / The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings
Smithsonian Collection Of Recordings: Six Decades Of Songwriters And Singers/American Popular Song
by James R. Morris, J.R. Taylor, and Dwight Blocker Bowers
Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984
(book plus recordings)


book Cover: Ira Gershwin, "Lyrics on Several Occasions"
Ira Gershwin,
Lyrics on Several Occasions
New York: Limelight Editions, 1997
(originally published by Knoph, 1959)

Book cover: Alec Wilder, "America's Popular Song"
Alec Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.


book cover: Edward Jablonskie, "Gershwin A Biography"
Edward Jablonski
A Biography,

New York: Doubleday, 1987
(paper bound edition shown

Other songs written for Funny Face currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook:

1. He Loves and She Loves

2. My One and Only (What Am I Gonna do?)

3.'S Wonderful


Other songs written for Rosalie* currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook: none.


For a complete listing of songs used in the original Broadway production of Funny Face, see IBDB song list; for Rosalie, see IBDB song list.


*In 1937, Cole Porter wrote songs for a movie titled Rosalie that was based on the book by William Anthony McGuire and Guy Bolton originally written for the 1928 Broadway show with score by the Gershwins. The movie's songs, however, are all by Porter, all of the original Gershwin songs having been replaced.


Howard Pollack,
George Gershwin: His Life and Work
Berkeley: Univ. of California Press




George and Ira Gershwin originally wrote "How Long Has This Been Going On?" for a scene in the 1927 musical at first titled Smarty, later, before its Broadway opening, changed to Funny Face. The early history of that show was a kind of "whose on first?" routine. The show's initial out-of-town tryout was in Philadelphia where it was called Smarty. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" was introduced there on October 11, 1927, by Adele Astaire and Stanley Ridges. Ira recalls in his memoir Lyrics on Several Occasions, that he and George wrote it (the words according to James Morris, having been written to fit the music) for a "situation" -- specifically, "a first kiss." Apparently the song didn't go over very well with the Philadelphia audience and was cut, or more accurately replaced by "He Loves and She Loves." Even Ira agreed to the change even though he believed "How Long Has This Been Going On?" to be the better song. Apparently he didn't love all of his children the same. He certainly knew how important it was for a show (After all the show was the thing) that its songs "get over" and the evidence in Philadelphia was demonstrating that "How Long Has This Been Going On?" was not passing that test. The core problem appeared to be Adele Astaire, who despite her consummate ability to portray the essence of the flapper, did not have a voice suited to the depth of this song. By the time the show got to its next tryout venue, Atlantic City, the song was gone and so was Ridges, (replaced by Allan Kearns); and somewhere in there, perhaps during its third set of tryouts in Wilmington, Delaware, the show's title was also dropped in favor of Funny Face, after another of its songs. When Funny Face finally opened on Broadway on November 22, 1927, "How Long Has This Been Going On?" had been relegated to the Gershwintrunk. Ira recalls that the period of the tryouts was an unpleasant time of "recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, [and] recriminating -- [but] of rejoicing there was none" (Jablonski, p. 144). Adele's brother Fred Astaire, also one of the show's stars, called the time "agony."

"How Long Has This Been Going On," being a song that was not at all ready to be suffocated, broke out of the trunk relatively quickly, finally finding its way to Broadway less than two months later in another show altogether. A couple of accounts exist: Either Florenz Ziegfeld had heard the song somewhere, liked it, and more or less commandeered it for his show Rosalie,* or when Ziegfeld signed the Gershwins (along with Sigmund Romberg and P. G. Wodehouse) to work on the score for Rosalie, they saw an opportunity to save some of their trunk songs. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" being one of them was introduced in Rosalie as a solo for Bobbe Arnst on opening night January 10, 1928. All that had been needed was a slightly revised lyric to make the song work for her alone rather than as the originally intended duet. That the inclusion of their soulful song in a show one reviewer described as "romance in fine feathers and gold and ermine all over everything" may not have mattered much to the very busy brothers Gershwin at the moment; but such a setting, more associated with the waning form of European operetta than with the jazzier milieu of the American musical theater of the late Twenties, might have significantly delayed its being appreciated and thusly held it back, for a significant period of time, from establishing itself as a great standard.

A convoluted path to success as a standard was not that unusual for songs of the era. Another powerful Gershwin song that required an even more daunting gestation before it got its wings was "The Man I love." "How Long Has This Been Going On?" like "The Man I Love," was a survivor that managed to snake its way along a tortuous course toward its destiny. It went from its inauspicious introducion in a half-filled theater in Philadelphia in a show momentarily titled Smarty, to being cut from that show (later titled Funny Face that went on to become a big hit on Broadway without "How Long Has This Been Going On?"), to being stowed away in the Gershwin trunk, to being taken out of that trunk and inserted into the score of a Ziegfeld show where it was first heard by a New York audience on January, 10, 1928. Even then it remained on life support. During the late Twenties, both on stage and in a few lackluster recordings, the song was still being performed at a quick tempo with tinkly arrangements quite unsuited to what Ira Gershwin intended: The earthshaking emotional result of a first kiss. Perhaps those early performers did not regard a first kiss as much more than a trivial experience of youth, but that was certainly not Ira's idea. He had informed his lyric with the revelation of wonderment such a moment can provide.

The song's problem lay embedded in those early performances that were either trivialized by Twenties flapper jazz accompaniment or bogged down by an overly romanticized operetta style. Alec Wilder, in 1972, points out that "the song is marked 'moderato' [meaning a tempo a little quicker than slow] but every time I've heard it, it has been played or sung very, very slowly, and rightly so" (Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, p. 141, hardcover Ed.). The performances Wilder had heard were jazz (not operetta) inflected slow tempo recordings, such as those by Lee Wiley (1939) and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman (1941), who over a decade after the song's Broadway debut in Rosalie finally got what was required to reveal the full power and depth of "How Long Has This Been Goin On?"

Even then it lingered more or less unappreciated until it got the push it needed in the early 1950's -- a decade in search of songs in sync with a modern jazz sensibility. Ella Fitzgerald's "pensive" 1950 recording, on which she is accompanied by Ellis Larkins on piano (this being the first and likely best of her six recordings of the song), spoke to this sensibility. Perhaps Ella had heard Wiley's and Lee's versions. In any case, after that the song emerged in the repertoires of jazz vocalists and instrumentalists on a regular basis, a place from which it has never retreated.

Lee Wiley accompanied by the Max Kaminsky Orchestra with Fats Waller on piano sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?" November 15, 1939, in New York City. (See CD album in the Cafe Sonbook Record / Video Cabinet, this page)

"How Long Has This Been Going On? by the Benny Goodman Orchestra
with a Peggy Lee vocal was recorded November 12, 1941.
(See CD album in the Cafe Sonbook Record / Video Cabinet, this page)

Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by Ellis Larkins on piano, performs
"How Long Has This Been Going On?" September 11, 1950.
(See CD album in the Cafe Sonbook Record / Video Cabinet, this page)

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There have always been a multiplicity of paths a song can take to becoming astandard, but for those songs written for shows and movies, it virtually always involves the independent recordings that get made, either by singers making a record contemporaneous with the the original production, trying to piggyback on its popularity; or by singers and / or instrumentalists who in one way or another find the song, like it, and tap into the greatness somehow missed in its first go-round. Such was the case with "How Long Has This Been Going On." Apparently great songs never die, they just hide out in songwriter's trunks or music publishers sheet music cabinets. They are persistent cusses that know their own worth, refusing to disappear altogether, waiting to be given their due.


"How Long Has This Been Going On" did finally get performed in a production titled Funny Face but only after the jazz people had started getting their hands on it. It wasn't until Audrey Hepburn sang it in the 1957 movie Funny Face, after the song was already an established standard, that this happened. The film used four numbers written for the original show: the title song "Funny Face," "How Long Has This Been Going On?" "He Loves and She Loves," and "'S Wonderful."); but the plot of the film bears virtually no resemblance to what was on Broadway in 1927. The lyric Hepburn sings is mostly the same as the original although altered a bit to make it better fit the the story in the movie. A line added for Hepburn, "Can one kiss do all of this?" makes clear that her version has in mind the meaning of the "this" in the song's title that Ira Gershwin intended: the wonderment of love.

Audrey Hepburn sings and dances to "How Long Has This Been Going On?" in the 1957 movie Funny Face in which she co-starred with Fred Astaire, who also starred in the original 1927 Broadway show of the same title.
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The next embodiment of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" as part of a movie or stage production was in the 1983 Broadway musical My One and Only (See Cafe Songbook page for the song of that title.), the score for which consisted of Gershwin songs, several from the original production of Funny Face.

Twiggy, who co-starred with Tommy Tune in the 1983 Broadway production of My One and Only, sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?" on a 1984 Bob Hope birthday TV special. Twiggy sings Ira Gershwin's second verseand first refrain.

It's interesting to note that after "How Long Has this Been Going On?" was cut from Funny Face, the original stage production for which it was written, it was included in all of that show's reincarnations -- as if the song having been fully recognized by the jazz world would not be satisfied until the world of the American musical, whether on stage or screen, also embraced it.

Dexter Gordon and Lonette McKee perform "How Long Has This Been Going On?" in Round Midnight (1986), a film about the post WWII jazz life in New York and Paris.
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Critics Corner

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book cover: The Lives of the Great Songs Ed. by Tim De Lisle
Rhoda Koenig,
"How Long Has This Been Going On?
Lives of the Great Songs
Tim De Lisle (Ed.)
UK: Pavilion, 1994
(A collection of essays on
individual popular songs by
very capable critics)

What's the "this" in "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

The up-tempo, rather light-hearted stage performances of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" during the Philadelphia tryouts of Smarty/Funny Face fell short of conveying the core depth of the song, and probably contributed to it being cut from the score before the show reached New York. As noted above, Adele Astaire's flapperesque voice was unsuited to a song devoted to the expression of such deep feelings. Another reason for its early failure to evoke enthusiasm from the audience may have been the title itself, which continues to be a significant source of ambiguity often inclining listeners to jump to conclusions about the song's core meaning.

Most of us learned in grammar school that a pronoun must have a clear antecedent, but the title of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" leaves us to deduce the antecedent of the "This" from the lyric that follows the title. Before one realizes what Ira Gershwin was up to in his lyric, especially if one is hearing the song outside of its dramatic context, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the "this" is a romance (or even more likely an affair) that has been going on for a while; and the singer, having a powerful attachment to one of the parties, wants to know how long it's been going on, as if the wool has just been lifted from over her eyes. Rhoda Koenig in her excellent essay on the song thought this after hearing it for the first time on a recording of Judy Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall concert. She writes,

Garland's breathiness as she leaned into the "How," and the agony with which she gobbled up the final phrases over the pianist's staccato attack, further convinced me that this was a song about misery and betrayal (De Lisle / Koenig, p. 75).

Judy Garland performs "How Long Has This Been Going On?" accompanied by a small jazz ensemble, in her memorable Carnegie Hall concert, April 23, 1961
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It didn't, however, take Koenig too long to discover that it wasn't about that at all. Ira Gershwin's intended antecedent for the "this" was not an illicit affair someone was having with the singer's significant other but the much more innocent, but no less ecstatic, response the singer was having to a first kiss. Koenig realizes, as anyone who correctly interprets Gershwin's words should, that the singer has not discovered an elicit sexual encounter by her lover but is flabbergasted by "the wonder of love."

As noted above, one piece of evidence to be considered in determining what the "this" is, is not available to someone listening to a recording of the song; in fact, it doesn't come from the lyric itself but rather from the dramatic context in which the song was originally intended to be presented. "Situation: a first kiss" (Lyrics on Several Occasions, p. 277, paperback Ed.).

The remainder of the evidence for what the antecedent of the "This" is does come from the lyric. The kiss has inspired a question much less prosaic than how long has some romance or affair been going on. Apparently this is more than just a first kiss with this partner. This is the first kiss, as the versetells us -- other than those childhood kisses from "sisters, cousins and aunties" that evidently repulsed her and put her off any further kissing until the kiss in point. Given what she has just experienced, she wants to know for how long this has been going on -- where the "this" signifies being so profoundly and overwhelmingly moved by a kiss that she has suddenly realized what a "dunce" she has been not to have known about the this before: "Where have I been / All these years?" She is astonished to discover that she could have lived this long and not known about such an extraordinary element of life. And this element of life is more than "the chills / Up my spine," more even than "some thrills / I can't define." She has not only experienced a thrilling moment but has been catapulted into an existential revelation: "Into heaven I'm hurled. / I know how Columbus felt / Finding another world." Finally, angry as hell at whatever has made her so blind to that which has evidently been around forever, she exclaims, "For Heaven's sake! / How long has this been going on?" Alex Wilder, in his classic book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, notes how the title question has a "curious self-consciousness" about it, as if the singer is also asking, as stated by Koenig, "Is this what everyone feels? Why didn't anyone tell me?"

Another revelation we might be inclined to contemplate is how could the producers of Funny Face have been "dunce" enough to cut this song, and even after Florenz Ziegfeld was smart enough to recognize some quality in it and put it in a show of his the next year, how could independent singers, who are always on the prowl for a good song, have missed it for another decade until Lee Wiley and Peggy Lee found it in 1939 and 1941 respectively. And even after their remarkable performances, how could it have lingered virtually unnoticed for another decade until its status as a great American song, a standard, was canonized by recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and others beginning around 1950. How could so many music people have missed this song for all those years? Maybe they just didn't pick up on what that "This" is. In any case, they haven't missed it since. (For a short list of great singers (and instrumentalists) who have recorded it over the years see the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet, this page.)

JAC / Cafe Songbook

book cover: "The Jazz Standards" by Ted Gioia
Ted Gioia
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire
New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012

Ted Gioia singles out "How Long Has This Been Going On?" as a Twenties song that doesn't sound like a Twenties song, in other words doesn't have that period piece flavor so characteristic of the decade that would type it and make it resistant to jazz interpretations. Instead, he says, it is a song that is "malleable to a modern sensibility." He adds that the "chords have an appealingly open and uncluttered feeling rare for that era of harmonic maximalism."

Gioia gives two examples of modern interpretations to support these assertions: First he points out that the Ray Charles 1977 interpretation could make one think that the Gershwins had written the song with Charles in mind, and second, Brad Mehldau's live performance at the Village Vanguard from 2000 could persuade you that "this is an adventurous new millennium piano piece." As clinching evidence for his notion that "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is in synch with the modern sensibility, Gioia notes that a 2006 posthumous recording of an archival tape of Ray Charles singing the song backed by a track of the Count Basie "ghost band" was featured on Starbucks' counters (pp. 153-155). The track is included on the 2006 Concord album, Ray Sings, Basie Swings.

album cover: "Ray Sings Basie Swings

Amazon iTunes

Ray Charles sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?" with Count Basie (an archival tape of Charles singing is paired with a backing tape of the Basie "ghost band" -- posthumously assembled 2006.

Ray Charles sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?" on the album (vinyl LP) True to Life, recorded in Los Angeles, released October, 1977.
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book cover: Deena Rosenberg, "Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin"
Deena Rosenberg
Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin,
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991, 1997
(soft cover Ed.)

Most recordings of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" begin with the first refrain. One reason for this may be that the first seven lines cut to the chase, to the song's emotional center by means of their sensuosity expressed through Ira's masterful use of the colloquial:

I could cry
salty tears;
Where have I
been all these years?
Little wow,
Tell me now:
How long has this been going on?

The effect of the phrase "salty tears" is to make the listener feel with great immediacy the near overwhelming regret the singer has experienced. The verse reveals that the regret is for having "been blind" to and having "lost out" on the kind of feelings the kiss she just experienced could have opened up to her over "all these years." For Deena Rosenberg the "notable phrase," even more than "salty tears," is the oxymoronic "Little wow." The slangy "wow" has the noun meaning of an intensely exciting event; even though, in the phrase, it is "little" -- like a first kiss. For Rosenberg the phrase as a whole conveys "warmth and intimacy but is redeemed from sentimentality by its colloquiality and freshness." The effect of 'little' on 'wow' is to "domesticate and personalize it; it turns argot into lyrics. It is pure Ira." And Ira has made a song out of it by matching his lines to George's "series of lush, provocative harmonies and a slow but swinging rhythm" (p. 161, paperback Ed.).

Book cover: Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley"
Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Philip Furia demonstrates more generally than Deena Rosenberg (just above) how the colloquial quality of a title like "How Long Has This Been Going On?" becomes the stuff of numerous song titles from The Great American Songbook. Phrases that are found in everyday speech, nothing more than pieces of "vernacular junk" get "lifted into the romantic space of a lyric" because the vernacular has become part and parcel of the poetry of the age. He lists a score of such titles including "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," "I Can't Get Started," "What'll I Do?" "Just One of Those Things," "You're Driving Me Crazy," "Everything Happens to Me," etc. that fit this bill. These titles, as well as much of the content of the lyrics they head, are created out of what H. L. Mencken "dubbed 'The American Language'." The lyricists of The Songbook adapt "the techniques of modern poetry as well as those of society verse and wed[. . .] them to music. The lyricists of Tin Pan Alley took the American vernacular and made it sing" (Furia, pp. 13-14, paperback Ed.).

bood cover: Allen Forte, "Listening to Classic American Popular Songs"
Allen Forte
Listening to Classic
American Popular Songs
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001

book cover: "The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1925-1950" by Allen Forte
Allen Forte,
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950

Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 1995.

Allen Forte discusses George Gershwin's musical structure for "How Long Has This Been Going On?" in two of his books: Listening to Classic American Popular Songs and The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950), In the former, he continues the discussion of Ira Gershwin's fondness for the use of the colloquial in his lyrics by pointing out how he appears to enjoy juxtaposing low-brow expressions with highbrow references:

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Ira's two "learned" references in the verse of "How Long Has This Been Going On?": the first to Dante's Divine Comedy, the second to Poe's The Raven.

[Referring to the unwanted kisses of his childhood, the singer's words are, "Sad to tell, / It was hell -- / An Inferno worse than Dante's. / So, my dear, I swore / "Never, nevermore!]
(p. 54).

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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "How Long Has This Been Going On?" as sung by Ella Fitzgerald on the 1959 album The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, as well as on other Ella albums that include the same track.

Oh Lady Be Good: Best of the Gershwin Songbook contains her 1959 studio version with Nelson Riddle arrangement. She recorded the song six times. For a selection, see the Amazon digital discography.

Amazon iTunes

Ella Fitzgerald sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
with Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, recorded January, 1959, in Los Angeles. She begins with the first ten lines of the second versefollowing it with the first refrainand ending by creating a variation on the last seven lines of that refrain. (For the original full version of the lyric,
see The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin.
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Robert Kimball, Ed. The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin, New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 1993; reprinted as paperback by Da Capo Press, 1998.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"How Long Has This Been Going On?"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)
Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

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Lee Wiley
album: Lee Wiley Sings the Songs of George & Ira Gershwin & Cole Porter
(The 1939-1940 Liberty Music Ship Recordings)

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Lee Wiley's series of albums devoted to the songs of individual songwriters beginning with the Gershwin and Porter albums, combined on the CD shown above, were in fact the first of what has come to be known as songbook albums, now most famously associated with the Songbook albums of Ella Fitzgerald. Lee, however, preceded Ella in this endeavor by some two decades. In the album's liner notes, Larry Carr writes of Wiley, who came to New York from her home state of Oklahoma, "Her singing was intimate and intelligent, warm and wistful, sweet and sensual . . . her diction an intriguing amalgam of Oklahoma, Park Avenue and 52nd Street, while her sense of time and phrasing were mesmerizing." He also notes that George Gershwin himself had a high regard for her. Her recording of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" on her album devoted to George and Ira Gershwin was made on November 15, 1939 in New York City with Max Kaminsky's Orchestra, Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor sax; Fats Waller, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar, Artie Shapiro, bass; George Wettling, drums; Brad Gowans, arranger. (Wiley sings the first refrain, then comes an instrumental break, followed by Lee singing the second half of the second refrain. She omits both verses and the reprise because of their specificity with regard to the character in the show for which the song was written. For Rhoda Koenig, this is the "supreme" recording of the song because Wiley captures both of its major themes. In her hands, "the song trembles with the sound of innocence meeting experience."
Music-Video: Listen and View in center column at left; Video uses same track as on album above
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Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman The Complete Recordings

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Notes: "How Long Has This Been Going On?" by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with a Peggy Lee vocal was recorded November 12, 1941. What Lee did, according to Rhoda Koenig, was "to fix the change in style from the 1920s" during which the standard was either sopranos from the world of operetta or flappers from the world of the Charleston. Lee changed the tempo to "very, very slow" presenting the song in an intimate, even sensual confessional style that was previously, except for Wiley, unheard.
The track begins and ends with the first refrain sung at a slow, deliberate tempo filled with a reserved emotion. Lee's vocal is preceded by a piano Intro. by Mel Powell. (In the photo montage on the music-video at left, the pianist pictured is Teddy Wilson, who often played with Goodman -- but not here. In the photo below, from 1943, it looks to be Powell.) After Lee sings there is an instrumental conclusion by the Goodman Orchestra in the same spirit -- with two brief Goodman clarinet breaks. It's interesting to note that the OKeh 78 RPM label states that the song is from the Gershwin show Smarty. This suggests that the OKeh got the show title from the sheet music published in 1927 even before the show went into tryouts and before the show title Smarty had been replaced by Funny Face. It was not unusual for sheet music publishers to distribute these early versions of the music to promote early recordings, which was beneficial to everybody. Goodman, of course, did not record "How Long Has This Been Going On?" that early, but he and Lee had one of the earliest records (1941) even if it came some fourteen years after the song was written. Ironically "How Long Has This Been Going On?" was cut from Funny Face before the show opened on Broadway in '27 not being heard on Broadway until it was used in the 1928 Ziegfeld show Rosalie. It wasn't, however, until Lee's recording, as well as Lee Wiley's two years earlier, that "How Long Has This Been Going On?" made its way into the public's consciousness, where it remained ever since.
Music-Video: same track as on album above.

Benny Goodman Orchestra with Peggy Lee in 1943 movie "Stage Door Canteen"

Photo: Benny Goodman Orchestra with Peggy Lee in the 1943 movie Stage Door Canteen in which they played and sang "Why Don't You Do Right?" This was Lee's first big hit, arranged by pianist Mel Powell who introduced her to Goodman when the band leader needed a new singer to replace Helen Forrest. We are not certain if that is Powell at the piano in the photo. We are sure it's not Teddy Wilson.

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1950, 1959, 1962
Ella Fitzgerald
album: Pure Ella: The Original Decca Recordings (recording date 1950)

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Three Ella versions of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (among the six all tolled that she recorded) are represented here:

(1) Ella accompanied by the solo piano of Ellis Larkins on September 11, 1950, for Decca in New York). These tracks were created in 1950 and 1954, remastered from the Fitzgerald vinyl albums Ella Sings Gershwin (Decca 5300) and Songs in a Mellow Mood (Decca 8068) plus eight other standards added. Of the accompaniment by pianist Ellis Larkins, Ron Wynn writes (at CD Universe) that he was "long a favorite of vocalists everywhere for his ability to support without intruding," which left her "sublime voice, to interpret and dissect sentiments, themes, and moods with the touch of a master. . . ."

(2) Ella accompanied by a full orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle in 1959 at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles) for her album, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook. For this recording, visit the Cafe Songbook Lyrics Lounge, this page.

(3) Ella performing with a small jazz group at the Crescendo, a night-club on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, May, 1962). These recordings constitute the 2009 CD set Twelve Nights in Hollywood.

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Notes on Twelve Nights in Hollywood: From 1961-2 through c. 2009 the 76 tracks on this box set languished without being collected onto an album. The live recordings were originally made under the supervision of Norman Granz, founder of jazz labels Verve and later Pablo during two gigs Ella had at the club during 1961 and 1962. Some of the tracks had never been heard since the original performances until the advent of this set. "How Long Has This Been Going On," was performed at the Crescendo on either June 29 or June 30, 1962, with Paul Smith, piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Stan Levey, Drums.
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Louis Armstrong and
Oscar Peterson

Album: Louis Armstrong Meets
Oscar Peterson

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Notes: Armstrong is relatively faithful to Ira Gershwin's lyric, singing Verse 1, Refrain 1 and then skipping Verse 2 finishing with Refrain 2.

Critic and Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout writes about Armstrong's version of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" from the album above in both his October, 2002 Commentary Magazine article "The Great American Songbook, A Critical Guide" and in Pops, his 2009 biography of Armstrong. In the article he notes, "As his trumpet embouchure deteriorated and his gravelly voice deepened in middle age, he began to devote more time to singing standard ballads, and this lovely performance [of "How Long Has This Been Going On?"] from 1957, accompanied by the Oscar Peterson [trio], is a delightful reminder of the deftness with which he could negotiate a tricky lyric (p. 58). In the biography, Teachout explains that "How Long Has This Been Going On?" differs from most of Louis's other vocal recordings of the period by being a show tune / standard song (as opposed to a pop song) on which Armstrong is accompanied only by a rhythm section (as opposed to an orchestra). He had recorded many such songs in his OKeh Record days, but on the Verve recording, "the combination of his home-style singing with the urbane backing of Peterson's trio gave them a special quality all their own. Never before had Armstrong sung anything like [this] slower-than-slow version of 'How Long Has This Been Going On?'. . . tiptoeing through the fey internal rhymes of Ira Gershwin's verse in his gumbo-ya-ya New Orleans accent: As a tot, when I trotted in little velvet panties, / I was kissed by my sisters, my cousins and my ahn-ties (pp. 318-319). Peterson's trio consisted of himself (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), and Louie Bellson (drums).
Amazon reviewer Relaxin' writes of the album, "On that great Verve . . . cover, two giants of twentieth century jazz, [are] sitting on plain old barstools, shirtsleeved, about as casual as casual can be -- a fitting Intro. to this recording. Satchmo is not encumbered by that saccharine pop stuff of his later years, nor is he too Bourbon Street to bear. Instead, he swings gracefully, wittily, almost effortlessly from track to track . . . ."
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Tommy Flanagan
album: The Cats

same track of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" as on album The Cats.

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Notes: For iTunes reviewer Michael G. Nastos, 1957 was the greatest year for modern jazz recording, Detroit was the "hotspot" and "It was here that Trane connected with pianist Tommy Flanagan, subsequently headed for the East Coast, and recorded this seminal hard bop album. In tow were fellow Detroiters — drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Doug Watkins, and guitarist Kenny Burrell, with the fine trumpeter from modern big bands Idrees Sulieman as the sixth wheel." The track for "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is the only trio session on the album featuring Flanagan on piano, Sulieman on trumpet and Kenny Burrell on Guitar. This performance of the song is regarded as "quintessential Flanagan, and quite indicative of the Midwestern Motor City flavor Flanagan and his many peers brought into the mainstream jazz of the day and beyond."
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Carmen McRae
album: Book of Ballads

same track as on the album Book of Ballads

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Notes: "The Book of Ballads in question is the Great American Songbook, and Carmen McRae breathes new life into some of its most dog-eared pages on this wonderful session that heralded the close of her Kapp Records tenure. McRae tackles material like "When I Fall in Love," "Isn't It Romantic?" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" with uncommon care and intelligence, summoning rich new meaning from the familiar lyrics. In her hands, the songs pulse with energy and life. Arranger Frank Hunter and a supporting trio led by pianist Don Abney also merit commendation for nuanced, evocative backings that afford McRae the necessary space to do her thing." (Jason Ankeny at CD Universe)

The album Book of Ballads was first released in 1960. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" was recorded December 2, 1958 with session personnel: Carmen McRae (vocals), Frank Hunter (conductor), Frank Hunter Orchestra (acc), Joe Benjamin (bass), Don Abney (piano), Charles Smith (drums). The featured player on "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is Don Abney.
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Chet Baker
album: It Could Happen to You

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Notes: The CD includes the complete 1958 album Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen to You (Baker's second vocal album), plus two tunes from those sessions which didn't appear on the original LP. Also added are two sessions, the one for "Let's Get Lost," the song Baker sang for a James Dean documentary, and a complete 1956 session from Baker's first 12-inch LP dedicated to his singing.
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Judy Garland
album: Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall:
Fortieth Anniversary Edition

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Notes: Garland introduces "How Long Has This Been Going On" into her repertoire at this historical Carnegie Hall concert performing it with a small jazz ensemble, unlike most of the numbers in the concert where she is accompanied by full orchestra.
Originally a two LP album, The CD album was first released on one CD in 1987 with more than half of the original vinyl content edited out. This 2001 Capitol 2 CD set restores the full content along with some on-stage dialogue that was not included on the original album. Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York, New York on April 23, 1961, called by some at the time the greatest concert in the history of show business. (based on CD Universe Product Description) More about this performance in center column.

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Ben Webster
album: Ben and Sweets

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Notes: Ben Webster, a master alto sax player, especially on ballads, from the Ellington orchestra and Harry 'Sweets' Edison a first class trumpeter from the Basie band joined together to record this album in June, 1962, in New York. They play together on three tracks and are featured on their own on the others, all of which are gems. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is a Webster featured track on which his "luscious" solo is backed by Hank Jones on piano, George Duvivier on bass and Clarence Johnston on drums.
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Ray Charles
album: True to Life


Notes: This 1977 studio album marks Charles' return to Atlantic Records. True to Life received a Grammy nomination for best vocal album. Ted Gioia writes of the Charles version "How Long Has This Been Going On?" on this album, if your "introduction to this standard was Ray Charles's 1977 recording, you might have thought it was composed with him in mind" (p. 154). "
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Sarah Vaughan
album: How Long Has This Been Going On? -- between Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Louis Belson, Ray Brown

same track as on album referenced above

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Notes: The extended title of the album as printed on the album cover riffs on the song title as a question of extended collaboration between singer and instrumentalists Oscar Peterson, piano; Joe Pass, Guitar; Louis Belson, drums and Ray Brown Bass. Sarah chooses to sing the second verse followed by the second refrain, with a repeat of the second half of the refrain and many variations on the title line at the conclusion. Both singer and players stretch themselves out on the title track. The album was recorded at Group IV Recording Studios, Hollywood, April 25, 1978. The Pablo CD contains the original liner notes by producer Norman Granz.
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Diane Schuur
album: Timeless

same track as on album referenced above

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Notes: This track also on Diane Schuur's CD Collection.
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Maureen McGovern
Album: Naughty Baby
Maureen McGovern Sings Gershwin

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Notes: McGovern sings the often omitted first verse and the first refrain of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" Her sidemen on this live performance (by invitation only in Studio A at Clinton Recording Studios in New York City, November 2, 1988) include Grady Tate, drums; Lou Marini, reeds; Jay Leonhart, bass; Jeff Harris, piano/leader; Mark Sherman, percussion/vibes.
Music-Video: same track as on album shown above

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1996, 1999
Van Morrison
album: How Long
Has This Been Going On

same track as on album referenced above

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Notes: The album was recorded live at Ronnie Scott's, a club in London, May 3, 1995 with Georgie Fame (vocals), Van Morrison (vocals), Leo Green (vocals, saxophone), Pee Wee Ellis, Alan Skidmore (saxophone), Guy Barker (trumpet), Robin Aspland (piano), and Ralph Salmins (drums). Labeled as Morrison's first "jazz" release, this album "is not radically different from his other '90s fare" Here he presents jazz, blues and R&B standards "sounding unusually loose and downright happy whether belting out versions of classic genre pieces or revamping his own work" (from CD Universe Product Description).
Morrison sings the first refrain.

Music-Video: The live performance below in San Sebastian, Spain, 1999, is not the one on the album which dates from three years earlier in London.
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Boz Scaggs
album: But Beautiful
Jazz Standards, Vol. 1

same track as on album referenced above

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Notes: The jazz here is laid-back California. with lots of soft sax and quiet piano support. Scaggs' gravelly voice fits this perfectly as he is faithful to the lyric with the exception of adding a few "likes" ("like wow" and "like tell me now") to make Ira Gershwin's colloquial expressions more early 21st century than early twentieth. He eliminates the verses staying within Ira's first refrainfor the entire track. This may remove some of the meaning but also provides overall unity and works fine. "Mellow," in the good sense, is the word that comes to mind.
On the album as a whole, "Scaggs takes up with pianist/arranger Paul Nagle and company for time well spent with some of the greatest composers of standards. When he's not offering a lightly phrased delivery of Duke Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady,' the dashing vocalist is taking a delicate trip through the Gershwins' 'How Long Has This Been Going On?' Somewhere, Frank Sinatra is smiling as this Ohio native also takes a winning crack at numbers closely associated with the Chairman's oeuvre, including 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,' the title cut, and 'I Should Care'." (from CD Universe product description). Album personnel: Boz Scaggs, vocals; Eric Crystal sax; Paul Nagel piano; Jason Lewis, drums.
Music-Video: same track as on album above

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Bill Charlap
album: Bill Charlap
Plays George Gershwin
The American Soul

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Notes: "Acclaimed pianist Bill Charlap stays in songbook mode for PLAYS GEORGE GERSHWIN: THE AMERICAN SOUL, an album that follows up his Grammy-nominated SOMEWHERE: THE SONGS OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN. Charlap clearly has a deep love for the American pop/jazz canon, and moving from the work of Bernstein to Gershwin proves to be completely natural for the tradition-minded performer. Charlap's longtime rhythm section--bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (who are unrelated)--are on hand here, and the trio's utterly telepathic interplay makes every track sound effortless, whether they're gliding through the upbeat 'Who Cares?' or the delicate, heartbreaking 'I Was So Young (You Were So Beautiful).' A quartet of horns, including jazz legends Phil Woods (alto saxophone) and Slide Hampton (trombone), joins the ensemble on a handful of tracks, with the two elder statesmen almost--but not quite--stealing the show on a few occasions." (From CD Universe product description)
Music-Video: currently unavailable
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