Teddy Wilson Orchestra (with Billie Holiday): He Ain't Got Rhythm


He Ain't Got Rhythm


Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra (with Billie Holiday)


This is Jazz 26: Lester Young (Columbia-Legacy CK 65042)

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Teddy Wilson (piano), Billie Holiday (vocal), Lester Young (tenor sax), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Buck Clayton (trumpet),

Freddie Green (guitar), Walter Page (bass), Jo Jones (drums)


Composed by Irving Berlin


Recorded: New York, January 25, 1937


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Besides great jazz musicians playing superbly, this track is a sheer delight because of the lyrics, and Billie Holiday’s marvelously nuanced, whimsical and playful singing of those lyrics (the melody and words are by that classic American tunesmith, Irving Berlin). The verses are like Sinclair Lewis with a tragi-comic twist transmuted into jazz, as they tell the mock horror tale of this poor quintessentially drab, uncool middle class man who bends over his account books, and “he attracted some attention at the fall convention, but he ain’t got rhythm, so no one’s with him, the loneliest man in town.” With her intonation and phrasing, verbal emphases and her own perfect rhythm, Billie makes this musical short story come to life and makes it hugely enjoyable.

Meanwhile, Lester Young plays his virtuoso tenor sax in perfect complement to Holiday’s singing. This track is one of the ultimate demonstrations of how Young and Holiday had developed some kind of mystical, musical soul connection so that they were two parts making a completed whole. Benny Goodman adds another dimension here with outstanding clarinet work, starting in the intro with his just right, delicate, elegant yet sardonic statement and variations on the wonderfully catchy musical theme, the melody perfectly suiting the lyrics. Teddy Wilson lays down a lush but appropriately sprightly piano groundwork for Benny in the intro, and then comps excellently for the rest of the track.

But there was also Buck Clayton, who was a third exquisitely attuned voice with Holiday and Young on the series of recordings they made together, including the equally masterful track done in the same session as this one, “I Must Have That Man.” After Lester’s superb solo (one of his very best), Buck soars on his trumpet, characteristically playing powerful but smoothly lyrical lines that brilliantly complement and add to Billie’s singing and Lester’s sax work, with punched out accents adding to the expression and the excitement. And of course, with Freddie Green, Walter Page and Jo Jones from Basie’s “All American rhythm section” providing the foundation, you have the epitome of what that poor accountant lacks. This is must-have jazz, with delightful fun as a bonus.

Reviewer: Dean Alger

If you liked this track, also check out

Billie Holiday: Good Morning Heartache
Billie Holiday & Lester Young: All of Me
Madeleine Peyroux: Once In a While

Related Links

Billie Holiday: Rare and Live by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Billie Holiday Performances by Stuart Nicholson
Billie Holiday by Stuart Nicholson (from The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians)

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