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Red Sails in the Sunset

     To commemorate last weekend, in which I had the happy fortune to crew on a friend’s gorgeous 43 foot sailboat on Chesapeake Bay, I have chosen Red Sails in the Sunset for the weekly tune.  (Our sails were not red and by sunset, we were not sailing, but snug in a very pretty cabin around a bottle of grog, but never mind.)

Red Sails in the Sunset was written in 1935 by Hugh Williams (ne Wilhelm Grosz), with  lyric by Jimmy Kennedy.  A classically trained Austrian émigré, Williams was apparently very active in the Hollywood studios.  Among his other better-known songs with Kennedy, are Harbor Lights and Isle of Capri, so maybe he had a taste for the sea.

     Red Sails in the Sunset was written as a pop tune and recorded in 1935 by Guy Lombardo.  It was later revived by Nat Cole in 1951 and has remained a sort of second-tier standard.  I first heard it on an album by the Mitchell-Ruff Duo whose approach wonderfully fused jazz and classical elements.  (Dwight Mitchell, who studied here at the Philadelphia Music Academy, played piano and Willie Ruff played bass and occasionally French horn, the latter an oddity in jazz performance.)  As I recall, their version of Red Sails was very impressionistic and though I haven’t heard the album in years, I am borrowing their approach at a very great remove.  It’s a simple melody, but it lends itself to some pretty harmonic possibilities.  Click on the red title to hear it.  The lyrics are below.

Red Sails in the Sunset 

 Red sails in the sunset

Way out on the sea

Oh! Carry my loved one

Home safely to me.

He sailed at the dawning

All day I’ve been blue

Red sails in the sunset

I’m trusting in you.

Swift wings you must borrow

Make straight for the shore

We marry tomorrow

And he goes sailing no more

Red sails in the sunset

Way out in the sea

Oh! Carry my loved on

Home safely to me.


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