Lush Life


Billy Strayhorn biographies:

Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn)

From’s Song of the Week feature:

duke-ellington-and-billy-strayhorn-1-f20Billy Strayhorn, the composer of “Lush Life,” was in his mid-teens in the early 1930s when he began writing the song, and worked on it for the next few years. David Hadju in his excellent Strayhorn biography, Lush Life, quotes Strayhorn describing his writing process: “I had the idea for this, and I started it, and every now and then I’d go back to it, and add a little more to it – you know, a problem would come up, how it would end and how to work it out. You couldn’t solve it then, you had to go on to other things, and you keep coming back to it. So that’s how it was done.”

Strayhorn had preferred to keep his pet composition private. He performed it only at parties for a dozen years after it was completed, in 1936 according to his account, originally bearing the title Life is Lonely. WICN gives the copyright date of the composition as 1938. Quoting again from the WICN article:

However, in 1948 he decided to present “Lush Life” in concert, and the first documented public performance of the song was at the last of the [seven] Ellington Orchestra’s annual Carnegie Hall concerts in November of that year. It was the only item on the program that didn’t employ the orchestra – just Strayhorn on piano and vocalist Kay Davis. Friedwald says, “This performance, issued semi-privately in the 1990s, must be regarded as being as close as we can come to how Strayhorn heard the tune in his head in those years before the song was commercially recorded.”


1949 Lush Life-Nat King Cole and his Trio-Capitol 57 606 (50p)-d401951 Lush Life-Nat King Cole-Capitol F1672 (1a)

Nat King Cole and his Trio, with orchestra conducted by Pete Rugolo — recorded on 29 March 1949; issued in 1949 on the 78 rpm single Capitol 57 606, b/w “I’d Like to Make a Million (For My Lillian)”* I’d guess that the 1951 45 rpm single F1672, b/w “I Miss You So,” was made from the same master, though it’s matrix number is 45-3751, whereas that of the 1949 78 rpm side is given as 3751 on the label (above left).

According to’s profile of the song, Strayhorn was fuming after he first heard the Cole recording, very displeased that his pet project had been subjected to lush orchestration. Strayhorn felt the song should be performed on piano alone. suggests that Nat King Cole also misread the lyrics, which “irked the usually unflappable Strayhorn and resulted in an angry phone call.”


Chris Connor — recorded in NYC on 21 August 1954; released as the first track on her 10″ 1954 album Sings Lullabys for Lovers, Bethlehem Records ‎BCP 1002


Marian McPartland — from the 1955 album Marian McPartland at the Hickory House, Capitol Records T574

Marian McPartland – piano
Bill Crow – bass
Joe Morello – drums


Album title: Chet Baker Quartet featuring Russ Freeman* (Pacific Jazz PJ 1232) , recorded in Los Angeles, CA, 6  November 1956 — Chet Baker (tp) Russ Freeman (p) Leroy Vinnegar (b) Shelly Manne (d) *Also known as Russ Freeman and Chet Baker Quartet


Sarah Vaughan with Hal Mooney and his Orchestra, 1956

The track is available on various compilations including Sarah Vaughan’s Finest Hour (Verve, 2000), The Definitive Sarah Vaughan (Blue Note and Verve, 2002), and The Complete Sarah Vaughan on Mercury, Vol. 1.


John Coltrane

recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, on 10 January 1958, during the last of three sessions which contributed to the 1958 album Lush Life — Donald Byrd (tp) John Coltrane (ts) Red Garland (p) Paul Chambers (b) Louis Hayes (d)


John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman — recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, on 7 March 1963 — John Coltrane (ts) McCoy Tyner (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones (d) Johnny Hartman (vo); issued on the album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, released 1963


Billy Strayhorn — from the album Lush Life, released in 1992 by Red Baron Records. A review at AllMusic gives only a range of recording dates for the album: 14 Jan 1964 – 14 Aug 1965. However, a review at suggests that some of the tracks may have been recorded live in 1965 at the New School of Social Research in New York City during a concert consisting entirely of his work alone, performed by Strayhorn and his quintet.


Nancy Wilson – title song of one of Wilson’s several 1967 albums


Stan Getz – North Sea Jazz Festival, 1980


Oscar Peterson Trio – Bern, 1986

Video to be replaced


Natalie Cole – from Unforgettable…With Love, 1991


Glauco Lourenço with Bruno Migliari: bass, Renato Massa Calmon: drums, Humberto Mirabelli: guitar, recorded live 24 July 2008 at Armazém Digital, Rio de Janeiro


 * The B-side of Capitol 57 606 is frequently listed as “Lillian” in discographies.


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