Song Lyric Sunday: “The Jitterbug Waltz”

Jim tells us that today’s theme was chosen by Amy Braun, better known as Ai Sasami, and it is "bugs or insects." So, of course, I chose a song that has not one, but two sets of lyrics, neither of which usually gets used because it’s usually played as an instrumental.

"Jitterbug Waltz" was written by Fats Waller in 1942, when he was at the height of his popularity (at least, so says JazzStandards goes on to say

“Jitterbug Waltz” was inspired by some piano exercises that Waller’s son Maurice had been practicing on the piano. Fats and his band were appearing at the Panther Room in Chicago in early 1942, a gig they had done the previous year which had led to Waller’s composition “Pantin’ at the Panther.” According to Fats’ manager Ed Kirkeby in his biography Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Story of Fats Waller, it was during the six-week stint at the Panther that Waller penned the number and Kirkeby came up with the title. Two months later Waller recorded it in New York.

Fats is best known as a pianist, but was also an excellent organist who had learned to play in church. By the late 1930’s many recording studios had a Hammond organ available, and when he recorded "Jitterbug Waltz" he did so on that.

The first set of lyrics was written by Charles R. Grean and Maxine Manners some time between 1943 (when Fats recorded it) and 1957, when Dinah Washington recorded it.

Since I couldn’t find these lyrics at any official lyrics website, I transcribed them myself…

You find a combination
Of a lovely waltz
That’s played in syncopation
And you have the jitterbug waltz

The melody is sweet
And yet the rhythm has a boogie beat
That makes you want to do the jitterbug waltz

And when you’re waltzing in three-quarter time
You swing and sway
You find you’re doing something new
The old-fashioned way

The rhythm of the dance
Is sure to bring romance
So why not take a chance and learn
The jitterbug waltz today?

The play Ain’t Misbehavin’, a Broadway musical based on Waller’s life, was written in 1978. The director of the play, Richard Maltby Jr., wrote new lyrics for the song, and these are the ones more commonly heard (not to mention easier to find online). Here are those lyrics as sung by Cècile McLorin Salvant.

The lyrics, from

The night is getting on
The band is getting slow
The crowd is almost gone
But here we are still dancing

Nothing to do, but waltz

Our feet can barely move
My legs are yelling “Whoa”
But we’re in such a groove
And love is still advancing

Nothing to do, but waltz

You can’t suggest that we could go on jitterbugging
No bugging

We’ve nothing left for moves more strenuous than hugging
Just hugging

But we don’t need much room to gently cut-a-rug in, we two

We’re dead on our feet
And the sauce is repeatin’
But what can you do?

I tried another juice
And get from head to toe
My body’s feeling loose
And warm and kind of supple

Nothing to do, but waltz

My man would slip away
My arms just won’t let go
I think I’d like to stay,
Till we’re the only couple

Nothing to do, but waltz

You never know how far this sort of thing can get you
One never knows, one never, never knows

We’re not as tired as we would like to think, I bet you
You stay up half the night with me, if I would let you

So come, let the waltz play again

As I said, this is more commonly played as an instrumental, and this Thursday, July 15, my Battle of the Bands will be a contest between two instrumental versions of the song. Be sure and come by and cast your vote!

That’s Song Lyric Sunday (and Song of the Day) for July 11, 2021.

21 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday: “The Jitterbug Waltz”

  1. only knew about the instrumentation, never knew it had lyrics to it. I learned something today!


  2. Hi John – thanks for the information and for promoting the various versions … and yes I’ll be by later today I think to vote on your selection … Wonderful composition and song – cheers Hilary


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