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Tracks Unwrapped

Lover Man
(Oh, Where Can You Be?)


I don't know why but I'm feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissin'
Oh, what I've been missin'
Lover man, oh, where can you be?


Juliet, standing on the balcony in the moonlight; Romeo hiding below in the bushes; Juliet tearing her heart out, cries: ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ Everybody expects the audience to shout: ‘He’s down there, hiding in the bushes!’

Juliet's BalconyFor years, the scene has been misinterpreted so often that now it is taken for read that Juliet is looking for her lover man. The language of the time meant something different. ‘Wherefore?’ was ‘Why?’ We need to know the rest of the speech to understand what is going on. It goes like this:

JULIET: ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.’

ROMEO: (aside) ‘Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?’

JULIET: ‘’Tis but thy name that is my enemy: thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot, nor arm nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O be some other name!’

The Montague and the Capulet families are sworn enemies. ‘Why do you have to be a Montague?’ Juliet cries.

Juliet could still justifiably have come out with the Lover Man song, it would have fitted quite well as a segue, although in fair Verona, the night would probably not have been cold.

Singer Verona Chard recorded the album Fever – In Love With Shakespeare in 2011 inspired by the 1964 John Dankworth / Cleo Laine recording of Shakespeare And All That Jazz. Her band included Alan Barnes, Charlotte Glasson, Dave Green and Alex Stanford. On the album Verona interprets several Shakespearean scenes and lyrics including this one from Romeo and Juliet . Juliet’s words in the song in a way echo the desperation and hope of Lover Man, but in Lover Man, the singer has yet to find someone to love them, after all, ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost than never loved at all’ (Tennyson, not Shakespeare).




The night is cold and I'm so alone
I'd give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be?


Lover Man was written by Jimmy Davis, Roger ‘Ram’ Ramirez and James Sherman in 1941 and is particularly associated with Billie Holiday. HerBillie Holiday version was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1989.

In her 1956 autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, Billie Holiday tells how: “Jimmy (Davis) was in the Army when he wrote ’Lover Man’ and brought it straight to me.” Sadly, it seems that Davis was transferred back to Europe before Billie could record the song, and she regrets that it is Ram Ramirez who gets all of the credit for ‘Lover Man’.

When Lover Man was published in 1942, there was a dispute going on between the musicians' union and the recording companies, and so the Billie Holiday recording was not actually made until 1944. ‘In August of 1942, the president of the American Federation of Musicians called for a recording ban, demanding the studios pay royalties instead of flat fees for nearly all recording by AFM member musicians and orchestras. Holiday’s primary label at the time, Columbia, was a hold-out and, subsequently, one of the last to sign the AFM agreement late in 1944.’

Billie contacted Milt Gabler with whom she had recorded Strange Fruit, and who was now working for Decca. Decca had signed the AFM agreement in 1943. Billie says that she went to him with Lover Man and: ‘I went on my knees to him, I loved it so. I didn’t want to do it with the ordinary six pieces. I begged Milt and told him I had to have strings behind me.’

Eventually Milt Gabler came through and Billie Holiday recorded the song in October 1944 with Toots Camerata and His Orchestra. Camarata recalls: ‘When she walked in and saw the string ensemble she was so overwhelmed she turned right around and walked out.’




There is a note where someone reminds us that Jack Kerouac writes about Lover Man in his book On The Road:

‘I huddled in the cold, rainy wind and watched everything across the sad vineyards of October in the valley. My mind was filled with that great song “Lover Man” as Billie Holiday sings it; I had my own concert in the bushes. “Someday we’ll meet, and you’ll dry all my tears, and whisper sweet, little things in my ear, hugging and a-kissing, oh what we’ve been missing, Lover Man, oh where can you be …” It’s not the words so much as their great harmonic tune and the way Billie sings it, like a woman stroking her man’s hair in soft lamplight.’

The Jazz Standards website quotes Thomas S. Hischak, who suggests that Lover Man “ musically very simple and has a narrow range but manages to seem complex and textured because of the rich harmony.” Others agree. Alec Wilder in  American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 says: “It’s a song of narrow range and needs the harmony to bring out its character.” Jazz Standards goes on to say: "Lover Man has been called the bluest of ballads. With its low-down, slangy lyrics the song suited Billie Holiday’s voice, which at that point in her career projected sadness and dejection. There is scarcely an optimistic line in the song until the semi-hopeful bridge, which ends with: “I go to bed with a prayer, That you’ll make love to me, Strange as it seems”.'

That desperation is reflected in Sidney J. Furie's1972 film, Lady Sings The Blues, loosely based on Billie Holiday's autobiography. The film starred Diana Ross as Bille Holiday and was nominated for five Academy Awards including for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Diana Ross), Best Music and  Original Song Score. Diana Ross's acting ability is illustrated in this clip where Billie is imprisoned and the effects of her drug addiction are powerfully shown. Lover Man sung by Diana Ross provides the background score. Motown released a very successful soundtrack double-album of Ross' recordings of Billie Holiday songs from the film, also titled Lady Sings the Blues and the album went to number one on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Charts for two weeks in April 1973.




I've heard it said
That the thrill of romance
Can be like a heavenly dream
I go to bed with a prayer
That you'll make love to me
Strange as it seems

I first came across the tune on a 78 rpm record by Sarah Vaughan. To me, she also captures the heartache, but on this 1945 recording on the Guild label she has a stellar backing band that included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.  Al Haig was on piano, Curly Russell on double bass and Sid Catlett on drums. Sarah recorded the tune again in 1954 for her album Swingin’ Easy.




The poignancy of Lover Man cannot get much more real than the Charlie Parker Dial recording of 1946, considered by many to be one of his most passionate recordings.

Charlie had moved to California and was finding it difficult to get his supply of heroin. As a substitute he was drinking more and his Charlie Parkerbehaviour was becoming unpredictable and unreliable. At the time of this recording in July 1946, he had drunk a quart of whisky before the session. 

The liner notes for the album Charlie Parker on Dial Volume 1 say that he missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, Max Making Wax. When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, away from his microphone.

On Lover Man, Ross Russell physically supported him. On Bebop (the final track Parker recorded that evening) he begins a solo with a solid first eight bars; on his second eight bars, however, he begins to struggle, and trumpeter  Howard McGhee shouts, "Blow!" at him.

Apparently, Charles Mingus considered this version of Lover Man to be among Parker's greatest recordings, despite its flaws, but Charlie hated the recording and apparently never forgave Ross Russell for releasing it. He re-recorded the tune in 1951.


Click below to listen to the Charlie Parker 1946 recording.




Someday we'll meet
And you'll dry all my tears
Then whisper sweet
Little things in my ear
Hugging and a-kissing
Oh, what I've been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be?


As you can imagine, this beautiful tune has been recorded many times and we could fill your next few days with versions. Instead we shall pick just one or two.

Here is a video of Lover Man featuring saxophonist Sonny Stitt. The band is Sonny Stitt (alto sax), Walter Bishop (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums).



I am not entirely sure where this next video originated. Someone says: ‘Sometime during the '80s I purchased  a VHS which contained a segment called "afterhours" and this (version of Lover Man) was included (Later in the segment, Roy Eldridge comes in to do some superb blowing). It was one of the better efforts from the early '50s to make a sort of recreation of an afterhours jam on 52nd Street, at least that is my take on it.’.

The film begins with a group of musicians jamming until Coleman Hawkins arrives, takes out his saxophone and suggests they play Lover Man. Johnny Guaneri is the pianist; Milt Hinton, bass; Barry Galbrath, guitar and Cozy Cole, drums. The Lover Man tune is featured at the beginning of this 25 minute video which goes on to the Roy Eldridge section and a vocal by Carol Stevens.




There are those who immediately think that Roland Kirk is’ too far out’ for them, but you should listen to him playing Lover Man on the flute in this next 1959 video.

The notes with the video say this was filmed in a little restaurant in Amersfoort, Holland where Roland Kirk was recorded with the Swiss pianist George Gruntz and his trio by the KRO broadcasting company. The notes go on to say: ‘Preferring to lead his own groups, Roland Kirk rarely performed as a sideman, though he did record with arranger Quincy Jones, Roy Haynes and had especially notable stints with Charles Mingus. His playing was generally rooted in soul jazz or hard bop, but Kirk's knowledge of jazz history allowed him to draw on many elements of the music's history, from ragtime to swing and free jazz. Kirk also regularly explored classical and pop music.’




‘Kirk played and collected a number of musical instruments, mainly various saxophones, clarinets and flutes. His main instruments were a tenor saxophone and two obscure saxophones: the manzello (similar to a soprano sax) and the stritch (a straight alto sax lacking the instrument's characteristic upturned bell). Kirk modified these instruments himself to accommodate his simultaneous playing technique. He typically appeared on stage with all three horns hanging around his neck, as well as a variety of other instruments, including flutes and whistles, and often kept a gong within reach.’

I suggest we end with this lovely version of Lover Man by trumpeter Joe Newman from the album Joe Newman - Blues On the Champs - Jazz at Midnight - Cootie Williams recorded at the Comedie des Champs-Elysees in Paris in 1956. The personnel are: Joe Newman (trumpet), Henry Cocker (trombone), Frank Wess (tenor saxophone), Bill Graham (baritone saxophone), Maurice Vander (piano), Eddie Jones (double bass), Sonny Payne (drums).




Joe Newman was born in New Orleans and joined Lionel Hampton in 1941 before going on to play with Count Basie for thirteen years. During that time he also played with Illionis Jacquet and J.C. Heard and he also played on Benny Goodman's tour of the Soviet Union. In 1961 he helped to found Jazz Interactions, a charitable organisation which provided an information service, brought jazz master classes into schools and colleges, and later maintained its own orchestra. He continued to tour and record during the 1970s and 1980s until he and died in 1992.


Benvolio: What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?
Romeo: Not having that, which, having, makes them short.

I don't know why but I'm feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissin'
Oh, what I've been missin'



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© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015