We have all been victims, or beneficiaries, of cranio-melodia-repeatis syndrome. The tune I haven’t been able to get out of my head for several days is “Jeepers Creepers,” the 1938 Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer hit premiered by Louis Armstrong in the film Going Places.
The movie had been out for about a minute-and-a-half when Ethel Waters went into the studio for the first big cover recording. Through the 1940s and ‘50s singers including the Mills Brothers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Paula Kelly, Toni Tennille, the Al Belletto Sextet and probably a dozen others followed suit. In recent years, videos of the song by Wesla Whitfield and Nikki Yanofsky have been memorable for different reasons.
There have been at least dozens of instrumental versions, among them this 1954 interpretation by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in their first big Columbia album. Gratuitous information: the Brubecks chose to play it in B-flat rather than the original A-flat.
“Jeepers Creepers” or—more accurately—its chords and structure, stuck in the minds of jazz composers. Jimmy Guiffre used them as the basis for the Woody Herman classic “Four Brothers,” Charlie Parker for “My Little Suede Shoes” and Dizzy Gillespie for “Tour de Force.” In the summer of 1987 Gillespie gathered several of his trumpet protégés for a performance of his brainchild at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia. We borrowed the Great Performances video from Wynton Marsalis’s website. Dizzy introduces the trumpeters. The rhythm section is Walter Davis, Jr., piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; and Ignacio Berroa, drums.