Gordon Jenkins (pictured) wrote the music and Joe Bishop the words to “Blue Prelude” in 1933. Shortly after, the Isham Jones band introduced the song on record. In the reed section was a young saxophonist and clarinetist named Woody Herman, who ultimately became leader of a cooperative band that some of Jones’ members formed after Jones retired in 1936. That group, in turn, became the first of Herman’s own bands, known as The Band That Plays the Blues. Herman was so attached to “Blue Prelude” that he made it his theme song. The recording with his vocal was a minor hit in 1939 and ‘40.
Over the years, performers in a variety of genres have recorded the piece. Among them are Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Helen Humes with Bill Doggett, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss, Charlie Ventura, The Moody Blues, Linda Ronstadt and Nina Simone. Simone’s version is in a three-way tie with Garland’s and Humes’ as the most wrenching. Gretta Matassa’s approach to the song is right in there with Peggy Lee’s as the hardest swinging. Here’s Matassa singing “Blue Prelude” last year in a Beverly Hills, California, appearance. The trio is Mike Garson, piano; Bob Leatherbarrow, drums; and Matassa’s bassist of longstanding, Clipper Anderson. This is one of those rare web videos that you can watch full screen without losing significant picture quality.