You Don’t Know What Love Is


page originally published on 8 November 2010; latest edit: 10 January 2021


You Don’t Know What Love Is (m. Gene de Paul, w. Don Raye) – Everyone who writes about this melancholy song seems to be troubled or at least bemused by the fact that it was written for an Abbott and Costello comedy film. The review of the song at’s (now defunct) Song of the Week feature, for example, said:

The song could hardly be a worse fit for a slapstick comedy, being much better suited to film-noir, and in 1999 it did serve as the leitmotif for the tense, psychological thriller, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Its film career didn’t help “You Don’t Know What Love Is” to reach the pop charts and it was never a major hit. It was recorded sporadically in the 1940s, mainly by big bands with male vocalists.

The song was dropped from the 1941 film Keep ‘Em Flying prior to release and used in the following year in the film Behind the Eight Ball (1942).


Jan Savitt and his Top Hatters — recorded on 11 November 1941; issued 19 December 1941 on the 10-inch 78 rpm single Victor 27724, b/w “Now and Forever”


Ella Fitzgerald — issued in November 1941 on the single Decca 4082, b/w “Somebody Nobody Loves”


Chet Baker — Rome, 1956 – the provider suggests the following line-up: Chet Baker – tr, Jean-Louis Chautemps – ts, Francy Boland – p, Eddie de Haas – b, Charles Saudrais – dr



Sonny Rollins – from the album Saxophone Colossus 1956


Julie Wilson – from her album My Old Flame, 1957

From the Wikipedia profile:

Born in Omaha, Nebraska and first finding a musical outlet with local musical group Hank’s Hepcats, Wilson headed to New York City during World War II and found work in two of Manhattan’s leading nightclubs, the Latin Quarter (nightclub) and the Copacabana. She made her Broadway debut in the 1946 revue Three to Make Ready. In 1951, she moved to London to star in the West End production of Kiss Me, Kate and remained there for four years, appearing in shows such as South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She returned to New York to replace Joan Diener in Kismet. Additional Broadway credits include The Pajama Game (1954), Jimmy (1969), Park (1970), and Legs Diamond (1988), for which she received a Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also toured in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music.

For an example of Wilson’s ability to borrow from Billie Holiday check out her phrasing on the line “and how lips that taste of tears…” at around 1:10 in the video below. According to Wikipedia, from the early 1980s Julie has been known primarily as a cabaret performer specializing in torch songs and show tunes). In 2009 she was performing a cabaret show called Julie Wilson Sings Billie Holiday.


Dinah Washington – from her 1955 album For Those in Love


Fran Warren – from Hey There! Here’s Fran Warren, 1957, arranged and conducted by Marty Paich


Billie Holiday — Session #84, New York 18 February 1958Ray Ellis and his Orchestra (Columbia) — Mel Davis, Billie Butterfield, Bernie Glow (tp) Urbie Green (tb) Gene Quill (as) Hank Jones (p) Barry Galbraith (g) Milt Hinton (b) Osie Johnson (d) Billie Holiday (v) + strings and choir — the recording first appeared as track #3 of Lady in Satin, 1958


Billy Eckstine – from Billy’s Best!, 1958


John Coltrane Quartet: Coltrane (sax); McCoy Tyner (p); Jimmy Garrison (b); Elvin Jones (d) – 13 November 1962 — note: sounds like an audio defect or two at about 55 secs


Lennie Tristano – piano solo – Copenhagen, 31 October 1965


Larry Coryell – from Lady Coryell, 1968. The album was his first as a leader. On this track Coryell plays two guitar parts.


Dexter Gordon & Slide Hampton – from the 1969 album A Day In Copenhagen

Dexter Gordon – tenor sax
Slide Hampton – trombone
Dizzy Reece – trumpet
Kenny Drew – piano
Art Taylor – drums
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen – bass


Chet Baker — Chet Baker – Live at Ronnie Scott’s, vocal by Elvis Costello, 1986

An editorial review of the DVD at by Eugene Holley, Jr. reads, in part:

In the early 1950s, trumpeter-vocalist Chet Baker was the “James Dean of jazz.” Blessed with good looks and a lyrical and lean trumpet style, Baker arrived on the scene in California at the age of 22, when the great alto saxophonist Charlie Parker invited him to work in his band. Decades later, Baker got involved in drugs, had run-ins with the law, and became a poster boy for the image of the doped-out jazz fiend. This 1986 film, shot two years before Baker fell to his death from a hotel in Amsterdam, captures the painful pathos and poetry of his art in an intimate set at Ronnie Scott’s famed jazz club in London. With a breathy, walking-on-eggshells trumpet tone similar to the sound of Miles Davis, and an achy, whisper-toned vocal style, the weathered and weary Baker delivers piercing takes on a number of standards and jazz classics, including “Just Friends,” “My Ideal,” and “Shifting Down.” Punk rock icon Elvis Costello joins Baker on blue-embered renditions of “The Very Thought of You” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”


Cassandra Wilson – from her 1993 album Blue Light ’til Dawn


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