How Deep is the Ocean? (How High is the Sky?)


How Deep is the Ocean? (How High is the Sky?) – words and music by Irving Berlin

The song was introduced on radio, a medium which Berlin distrusted. He openly criticized radio for its tendency to dramatically reduce the arc of a song’s initial rise to and fall from popularity, complaining that radio overplay killed hit songs quickly. A recording by Paul Whiteman became the first of four hit recordings of the song in 1932, the year of its introduction.

Excerpt from’s “Song of the Week” feature:

When Irving Berlin wrote “How Deep is the Ocean?” he was in a creative depression that must have seemed to him as deep as the ocean. From 1927 to 1932 he composed few songs that met with public success. The loss of most of his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash added to his professional anxiety, but before that he had suffered a much worse personal blow. His only son, Irving Berlin, Jr., died of sudden infant death syndrome on Christmas Day in 1928. Philip Furia and William Lasser in America’s Songs relate how Berlin feared he had lost his songwriting talent: “I had gotten rusty as a songwriter. I developed an inferiority complex. No song I wrote seemed right. I struggled to pull off a hit.” He lost the ability to judge whether or not a song he was writing had hit potential. “There were times between 1930 and 1932,” he said, when he “…got so I called in anybody to listen to my songs – stock room boys, secretaries. One blink of the eye and I was stuck.”

During that low period of his life, Berlin composed two future jazz standards, “Say It Isn’t So” and “How Deep is the Ocean?” But, he discarded both songs because he thought they weren’t good enough. Max Winslow, one of his music publishing associates, took “Say It Isn’t So” to radio crooner Rudy Vallee and asked him to sing it. He said to Vallee, “Irving’s all washed up, or at least he feels like it. He thinks he’s written out as a songwriter. But there’s a song of his I’d like you to look at and please, sing it for him.” Vallee was personally moved by the song, agreed to sing it and it became a number one hit. It was one of the few Berlin songs introduced on the radio. In his biography Irving Berlin: A Life In Song, Philip Furia writes, “Radio was an ironic salvation for Berlin, who had been suspicious of the new medium that offered “free music” to the public since its inception in the early 1920s; by the 1930s, he was openly critical of the threat radio posed to his business – and his art:

We have become a world of listeners, rather than singers. Our songs don’t live anymore. They fail to become part of us. Radio has mechanized them all. In the old days Al Jolson sang the same song for years until it meant something – when records were played until they cracked. Today, Paul Whiteman plays a song hit once or twice or a Hollywood hero sings them once in the films and radio runs them ragged for a couple of weeks – then they’re dead. – Irving Berlin

Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, vocal: Jack Fulton — 1932


Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, vocal: Carmen Lombardo — recorded on 17 October 1932


Bing Crosby — 1933


Judy Garland – radio broadcast transcription from an episode of the ”The Danny Kaye Show,” aired 5 October, 1945 —  Judy and Frank Sinatra were standing in for Kaye, who was away.


The following recording is take one (D1156-A) of the two Dial session takes recorded on 17 Dec 1947 at WOR Studios, NYC.

Original Charlie Parker Quintet with J.J. Johnson — Miles Davis: tp, J.J. Johnson: tb, Charlie Parker: as, Duke Jordan: p, Tommy Potter: b,  Max Roach: ds


Judy Garland – (radio broadcast)  from Hollywood Party, Jan 1951 (?)


Billie Holiday – Session #70 New York, 14 April 1954 — Charlie Shavers (tp) Oscar Peterson (p) Herb Ellis (g) Ray Brown (b) Ed Shaughnessy (d) Billie Holiday – (v), released on Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra (Verve)


Harry Edison & his Orchestra — from the 1956 LP Sweets



Teddy Wilson Trio —  recorded in September 1956; released on the 1959 album These Tunes Remind Me of You, (US) Verve MGV-8299

Teddy Wilson – piano
Al Lucas – bass
Jo Jones – drums


Bill Evans Trio — from the 1961 album Explorations

Bill Evans – piano
Scott LaFaro – bass
Paul Motian – drums


Bill Evans Trio – recorded in London, 19 March 1965, for the BBC TV series Jazz 625, hosted by Humphrey Lyttelton

Bill Evans – piano
Chuck Israels – bass
Larry Bunker – drums


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. keithosaunders
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 14:20:35

    I love Bill Evans sublime version of this song. I also love Charlie Parker’s version. He hardly strays from the melody in his solo, but it is one of the most lyrical solos I have ever heard.

    I also have a version of this on my latest trio CD “Lost In Queens”

    Liked by 1 person


  2. doc
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 17:30:49

    Hi Keith,
    Yeah. I couldn’t find a Charlie Parker video for this song, so there’s only a link for now. There will be a lot more of both Parker and Evans to come on the site. – Doc



  3. Lee A. Delia
    May 07, 2016 @ 16:45:43

    How about Sinatra’s rendition of this great song?

    Liked by 1 person


    • doc
      May 10, 2016 @ 13:18:01

      (comment edited, 14 September 2020)

      Hi Lee,

      Good suggestion. It looks like this page, created in 2010, was thrown together rather hastily. I’ll try to expand the page soon.


      Frank Sinatra — 1946



  4. Trackback: High Flying | Implied Spaces
  5. S. Meyers
    Dec 20, 2016 @ 17:55:43

    One jazz artist who frequently sang this song and with whom it was identified is Chet Baker. The trumpeter and vocalist played it in the 50’s and later in life when he was “rediscovered” by younger jazz lovers. I will always remember Baker’s voice singing this tune.

    Liked by 1 person


  6. doc
    May 08, 2018 @ 14:55:09

    Chet Baker Trio — Hamburg, 1986



  7. Gin Cizman
    Apr 15, 2020 @ 13:33:40

    There is an incredible recording of Barbara Streisand singing this with her son, Jason Gould. Their creative harmonies are incredible with the jazz tensions that play out. This should be included. Don’t know how.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Why do my tag searches fail?

%d bloggers like this: