Nov 29

Lush Life

Lush Life
by Billy Strayhorn

Lush Life” is a jazz standard that was written by Billy Strayhorn, who was born on November 29, 1915 and wrote the song when he was just a teenager! Despite being written 90 years ago, this song is ageless and has fascinated (and challenged) many jazz legends over the years. Strayhorn also composed the Duke Ellington orchestra’s signature song, “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

For someone in their teens to write one of the most unique and sophisticated jazz melodies and chord changes, accompanied by such mature and world-weary lyrics, is almost unbelievable, comparable to other musical prodigies.

I’m playing it with very little improvisation and many of the chords in root position. The song and the harmonics are so unique that the wandering melody almost demands that you listen to every note and chord change as written.  (Also, I can’t improvise like John Coltrane!)  There is a great recording by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass in which Ella (one of the great jazz improvisers) also sings the melody almost note for note as Strayhorn intended.

I agree with Jon Batiste (writing about Thelonius Monk’s ‘Introspection”, a different song but one with a similar uniqueness): “Sometimes that’s all that needs to be played: the tune…The chord voicings are constructed for every note to have a deliberate intention. There’s no room for harmonic interpretation here — if you add or take away any of the notes from his chord voicings, the song risks completely losing its identity.”

Interesting fact: Despite having recorded more popular songs than anyone, Frank Sinatra attempted to record ‘Lush Life’ and gave up trying.

Highly Recommended Recordings – Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, John Coltrane.

Highly Recommended Reading – “Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn”, is an award-winning book that was selected by New York Times Magazine in 2011 as one of the top 100 non-fiction titles of all time.


Dr. Weiss

Dedicated to Todd B in memory of a night at the Five Oaks in the West Village.

Lush Life Complete Lyrics:

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 distingué traces
That used to be there
You could see where
They’d been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o’clock-tails

Then you came along
With your siren song
To tempt me to madness
I thought for a while
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 troughful of hearts could only be a bore

A week in Paris might 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