Why this tune?
“Just Squeeze Me” started as “Subtle Slough,” an instrumental Duke Ellington wrote for the 1941 revue “Jump For Joy.” Lee Gaines later added the playful, romantic lyrics that gave the song the name we know today.
“Jump for Joy” was an all-Black musical revue that Ellington called “the hippest thing we ever did.” The Indiana Public Media article about the show includes this account:
Jump for Joy opened at the Mayan Theater on July 10, 1941 and ran for 122 performances, with the Ellington orchestra playing in the pit every night as African-American performers spoke, sang, danced, and joked in rebellion against traditional representations of blacks in movies and musical theater. In a bold break with convention, Ellington expressly forbade the 60-member cast to “blacken up,” or artificially darken their skin hues. “The show was done on a highly intellectual level,” he recalled in his 1973 memoir Music Is My Mistress. “No crying, no moaning, but entertaining, and with social demands as a potent spice. The Negroes always left proudly with their chests sticking out.”
The score included several Ellington classics: “I Got It Bad (and That Ain`t Good),” ”Rocks in My Bed,” ”Jump for Joy,” and ”C-Jam Blues”, plus songs with a stronger social and political message, including “I’ve Got a Passport From Georgia” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Is a Drive-In Now.”
The show was ahead of its time, and closed after a 12-week run in Los Angeles. Jazz Standards quotes James Lincoln Collier, who explained, “…The mass of Americans were simply not ready for a show of ‘social significance,’ as the phrase went, promoting the idea that blacks were as good as anybody else.”
Cannonball Adderley included “Just Squeeze Me” in his 1958 re-interpretation of “Jump For Joy.” Another superb recording is from Ella Fitzgerald, swinging it with Duke’s band at a slow tempo. For my piano version, I borrowed Ella’s introduction, which built on Duke’s original version.
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Full piano track
Duke Ellington, “Subtle Slough”
Ella Fitzgerald with Duke