13 August 2016


You may not know what to expect when the leader announces that the band is going to play Oh Baby. This is because two tunes with that title appeared in the 1920s and they are both good numbers, well worth their place in the repertoire.

The first Oh Baby was composed in 1924 by Walter Donaldson, with Buddy G. Da Sylva providing the lyrics.
The second Oh Baby was written for the 1928 Broadway Musical 'Rain or Shine'. The principal composer of both the words and the music seems to have been Owen Murphy, though Jack Yellen and Milton Ager were also often credited (they were responsible for the music of the entire show and also seem to have run the company that published it).
Donaldson's Oh Baby has to be played briskly. It has a sprightly Verse of 16 bars which should not be omitted: it rattles along and lends itself to some good rhythmic effects. The Chorus that follows comprises 32 bars in an AABA structure. This Chorus has two distinctive features. First, all four of the eights begin with a chord sequence of I : VII7. I can think of no other tune in which all four eights do this. The second distinguishing feature is the use of bars in which the first melody 'note' is a silent crotchet; and this is followed by three sounded crotchets. This first-note-rest happens in no fewer than 14 of the 32 bars, giving syncopated and staccato effects. All this makes it an interesting instrumental number, very good to play. The vocal (with the words matching those rest-crotchet-crotchet-crotchet patterns) begins: Oh Baby! Oh Baby! Don't say 'No'. Say 'Maybe'.That's just as good as 'yes' to me...

The other Oh Baby (Owen Murphy's) catches the attention as it has a good bright melody and also lyrics that are worth singing: It's a funny little thing but I never knew I could ever feel the way I do.. . Although this tune is merry enough, I think it is best played slightly more slowly than Donaldson's Oh Baby, to give time for its lilting melody to be appreciated and also for the vocalist to fit in comfortably the many words of the lyrics. This Owen Murphy 32-bar tune, like Donaldson's, is structured AABA; and the Middle Eight (the B part) is harmonically fairly distinctive. The A sections use the I : II7 : V7 : I chord sequence, which is reassuringly familiar. This tune is usually played without the Verse. But my expert friend John Whitehorn informed me that it had one - and quite pleasant it is. John has kindly supplied me with photo-copies of the sheet music for the Verse, in case you wish to know how it goes:
You can hear a recording of Murphy's  Oh Baby in a fine Ted Lewis version by clicking here, and Donaldson's Oh Baby, played by Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverines, by clicking here.

I have made aide-mémoires (see below) of both songs for my mini-Filofax collection. Donaldson's tune is probably best in Eb and Owen Murphy's in F but I have written them out in the keys suited to my Bb trumpet. These are useful enough for me but I can't guarantee their accuracy.

By the way, making matters even more confusing, there have been yet more tunes composed since the 1920s with the title Oh Baby!