Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lush Life (Ah, jazz)

"Lush Life" is a jazz standard with lyrics and music written by Billy Strayhorn from 1933 to 1938. However, the song was only performed privately by Strayhorn until he and vocalist Kay Davis performed it on November 13, 1948 with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. It is usually performed in the key of D-flat major. The song's lyrics describe the author's weariness of the night life after a failed romance, wasting time with "jazz and cocktails" at "come-what-may places" and in the company of girls with "sad and sullen gray faces/with distingué traces". Strayhorn was only 16 when he wrote the majority of the song, which was to become his signature composition (along with "Take the "A" Train"). One of the most notable recordings of "Lush Life" was by Nat King Cole. John Coltrane also recorded it at least twice, once in 1958 as the title track of an album for Prestige Records, and again in 1963 with his "classic quartet" and Johnny Hartman singing. The Johnny Hartman version is considered definitive. The earlier version was 14 minutes long. But the author once said that the best version was of Billy Eckstine on his 1960 album No Cover, No Minimum.

Sarah's accompanied by Hal Mooney & His Studio Orchestra. Recorded in New York, April 1, 1956. (Mercury Records)

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails

The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distant gay traces, that used to be there
You could see where they'd been washed away
By too many through the day, twelve o'clock tales

Then you came along with your
Siren song to tempt me to madness
I thought for awhile that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me
Ah yes, I was wrong, again, I was wrong

Life is lonely again and only last year
Everything seemed so sure, now life is awful again
A trough full of hearts could only be a bore
A week in Paris will ease the bite of it
All I care is to smile in spite of it

I'll forget you, I will, while yet you are still
Burning inside my brain
Romance is mush, stifling those who strive
I'll live a lush life in some small dive
And there I'll be, while I rot with the rest
Of those whose lives are lonely too


I remember once, years ago in L.A., requesting this song in a nightclub from a young black jazz singer whose last name was Jackson. (I forget her first name). She drew her sizable form upright in furious outrage and said, "Lush Life? Lush Life? I ain't singing no Lush Life. I'll sing "Jesus Lves You" --how about that?" Ha. I've never forgotten it.

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