Saturday, July 4, 2009

Jazz on Saturday


jazzolog said...

Perhaps you know the story of Lush Life. Maybe your readers do not. We don't have the lyric in this version, but just the structure of the piece is enough of a marvel. Billy Strayhorn wrote it in 1939. He was in his 20s. Some months later the Duke Ellington orchestra came to Pittsburgh, and Billy took the opportunity to meet him. Duke was among the most accessible famous people in all of history---and, like Louis Armstrong---gave you all the time you needed. Billy gave him Lush Life to look over. Duke was aghast. He said if Billy ever came to New York to look him up...and told him how.

One does not linger over such an invitation, and so Billy showed up unfortunately just as the band was leaving for Europe or somewhere. Duke gave Billy over to his son, Mercer, and told him to let Strayhorn live there. Billy started writing immediately and by the time Duke got back, Take The A Train was waiting. All this on the basis of the one composition.

But here's the rub: Duke never recorded or played Lush Life. He said the song made him weep everytime he heard it, and he couldn't fall apart like that in front of an audience. Strayhorn played it once in the late '40s at an Ellington Carnegie Hall concert, but it was solo. Lush Life never was recorded until the same period, and then it was by Nat Cole with an unfortunate arrangement by Pete Rugolo.

Few singers attempt it. My favorite version is not by Nat Cole nor by Johnny Hartmann and Coltrane either. It's by Sarah Vaughan on Mercury in the mid-50s. It's what she does with the ending that brings me to my knees. Sarah recorded it again in the early 70s on Pablo, but mysteriously it's not as good. I saw her shortly thereafter in concert at Chautauqua, New York, and she did her '50s ending. I was sobbing.

"Romance is mush,
Stifling those who strive;
I'll lead a lush life
in some small dive.
And there I'll be
'Til I rot with the rest
Of those whose lives
Are lonely too."

Utah Savage said...

Jazzlog, Thank you for that reminder. You sould post this or another version and this history at The Wolfshead It's always been a favorite of mine. There was a 19923 movie made for TV about two session musicians in New York who are played by Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitteraker and Kathy Baker. I think it's a great film about male friendship and the life of good New York musicians. Most of the soundtrack is really great jazz with some fine female vocalist. Might even be Kathy Baker.

I have a similar fondness for the song Round Midnight. And I love to watch the fingers of jazz pianists and bassists.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Oscar Peterson - one of the best there ever will be.

jazzolog said...

It may seem the video just cuts off, but Oscar usually played Lush Life as part of a medley with Caravan. It sounds like that's what he's going in to as things end abruptly.