Tunes on Tuesday: Speak Low

Why this tune?

“Speak Low” is an another popular jazz standard that started as a song for a show, in this case the 1943 musical “One Touch of Venus,” As you might expect for a song by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Ogden Nash, it’s a musical and lyrical masterpiece. Nash’s lyrics are clever and moving, a sad story of a love that ends “too soon, too soon.”

This “beguiling beguine” has inspired hundreds of vocal interpretations over the years. A review in the Chicago Tribune noted: “Few standards ever composed in America have received so many varied and first-rate recordings by so many true vocal artists.”

“Speak Low” as been equally popular as a jazz instrumental, in part because it’s such a flexible song. It works as a beguine, or with another latin feel, and as a swing tune, and often as a mix of the two. It’s also a lovely ballad, especially in the hands of Roy Hargrove or Sarah Vaughan.

There are over 500 recorded versions of the song, which include performances by musicians from all parts of the music spectrum (like Boz Scaggs) and translations to Swedish, French, Finnish, and German.

Watch the story

Check it out!

Oren’s complete track

Sarah Vaughan

Sonny Clark (latin and swing mix)

Tony Bennett and Norah Jones

Kuiskaa Se Niin (“Speak Low” in Finnish) by Anu Hälvä

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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