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Tea For Two

    I got a request this week for the hardy standard Tea for Two, written in 1926 by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, for the Broadway Musical No No, Nanette.

     Most people think of Tea for Two as the archetypal soft shoe number but its harmonic structure made it a favorite of pianists as well.  The actual “tea for two” parts of the melody are formed around a chord pattern ( II,  V7,  I) which is the harmonic bedrock of jazz and American standards.  Given this, the sudden jump to a new key at “nobody near us” and then the sly return to the original key after “telephone dear”, and you've a song that's fun to sink your mitts in.

     Having said that, it’s a fairly daunting order since all of the greats have done it.  Art Tatum recorded it with his usual jaw-dropping wizardry.  Another wonderfully Tatumesque recording was done by Johnny Costa, a too-often overlooked pianist, best known as the accompanist on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Suitably humbled, I have kept things fairly simple here with a little messing around on the second pass.

     Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Shostakovich orchestrated the song (under the title Tahiti Trot) on a hundred ruble bet that he could not do so after hearing the song played on a record only once.  He won the bet.

     Finally, there is a nicely melodic verse that one often doesn’t hear.  And I’ve always liked the lyrics too.  Not only are they clever, but they are unusual in that they champion domesticity as the goal of romance.  Not unheard of in popular songs, but fairly rare these days!  Click on the title in red to hear it.  The lyrics are below.

Tea for Two


I'm discontented with homes that are rented so I have invented my own.
Darling this place is a lover's oasis where life's weary chase is unknown.
Far from the cry of the city, where flowers pretty caress the streams,
Cozy to hide in, to love side-by-side in. Don't let it abide in my dreams.
Picture you upon my knee, just tea for two and two for tea,
Just me for you and you for me, alone!
Nobody near us, to see us or hear us,
No friends or relations on weekend vacations,
We won't have it known, dear, that we have a telephone, dear.
Day will break and you'll awake and start to bake
A sugar cake for me to take for all the boys to see.
We will raise a family, a boy for you, a girl for me,
Oh, can't you see how happy life would be?

You are revealing a plan so appealing I can't help but falling for you,
Darling, I planned it; can't you understand it is yours to command it, so do.
All of your schemes I'm admiring, they're worth desiring but can't you see,
I'd like to wait there for some future date dear;
it won't be too late, dear, for me.

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