How High the Moon


How High the Moon (m. Morgan Lewis, w. Nancy Hamilton)

From the WICN Song of the Week feature:

“How High the Moon” was an established standard by the time that Paul and Ford recorded it. Alfred Drake and Frances Compton had introduced it eleven years earlier in the Broadway musical revue, Two for the Show, the second revue in a popular series that included One for the Money and Three to Get Ready. The songwriting team of composer Morgan Lewis and lyricist Nancy Hamilton wrote the songs for the revues. Philip Furia and William Lasser in their book America’s Songs describe Lewis and Hamilton as specializing in “…witty patter songs for sophisticated Broadway revues. When their songs were criticized for lacking “social significance,” Hamilton quipped, “I seen my ditty and I done it.” When the revue Two for the Show needed a romantic ballad, however, Lewis created an unusual and enchanting tune. Hamilton put aside her witty patter and wrote a straightforward, soaring lyric that shifts its long vowels as intricately as Lewis’ music changes chords…”

The 1951 Les Paul and Mary Ford record was the best known version of “How High the Moon,” but the song already had appeared on the pop charts three times in the 1940s. Just weeks after the Broadway revue opened, Benny Goodman and His Orchestra made the first hit recording to enter the pop charts, where it peaked at sixth place. The song reached the charts a second time in 1940 with a recording by Mitchell Ayres and His Fashions in Music featuring Mary Ann Mercer on vocals (#18) and again in 1948 with an instrumental by Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (#20).

Although popular with swing musicians and balladeers, but [sic] it wasn’t until the bebop musicians laid claim to “How High the Moon” that it became one of the most recorded jazz standards. Alec Wilder in his book American Popular Song said, “…it became virtually the “bop” hymn. For years it was the most played tune in jazz, its chord progressions supplying the harmonic basis for a number of “new” bop tunes. Upon examination of the song’s harmonic sequences, one can see why. They were highly unusual, and they changed just often enough to please an improvising player…the sequence is quite logical: G major, G minor, C-dominant seventh, E-flat major, C minor, D-dominant seventh, G minor, C-minor sixth, and, at long last, G major. It’s quite a routine and meat to an improviser.” Most notably, the song’s chord changes served as the basis for Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” John Coltrane’s “Satellite,” and Miles Davis’ “Solar.”

Benny Goodman-3-0t-40fbenny-goodman-orchestra-swing-master

Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, vocal: Helen Forrest1940


Freddie Rich and his Orchestra with vocalist Rosemary Calvin, recorded 14 February 1940



Jazz Club Mystery Hot Band – recorded 25 January 1945 in Paris — Bernie Previn (tpt), Peanuts Hucko (cl,ts), Mel Powell (p), Django Reinhardt (g), Josz Schulman (b), Ray McKinley (d). Date and credits from


Charlie Parker Quintet – radio broadcast from the jazz club Royal Roost, 1580 Broadway NYC, 18 December 1948

Symphony Sid Torin – Announcer
Charlie Parker – Alto Sax
Miles Davis – Trumpet
Al Haig – Piano
Tommy Potter – Bass
Max Roach – Drums


Benny Goodman Septet – 1947


Wardell Gray’s International All Stars – recorded live in LA, says the provider, “probably December 1947.”

Wardell Gray – Tenor Sax
Ake “Stan” Hasselgard – Clarinet
Dodo Marmarosa – Piano
Al Hendrickson – Guitar
Clyde Lombardi – Bass
Frank Bode – Drums


Ella Fitzgerald — The song was associated with Ella through her career following release of a 20 December 1947 recording, in which she scats all but the first chorus. I don’t know if this is it.


Ella Fitzgerald and the Ray Brown Trio, New York, May 1949 — The Youtube provider seems to indicate the location in the tag “Downbeat Club,” and the cameraman as Herman Leonard.


June Christy (voice) with Nat King Cole (piano), and Mel Tormé (drums), with an unknown bass player — date unknown


Les Paul and Mary Ford — 1951

The Youtube provider describes the footage (spelling corrected and punctuation normalized):

Les Paul & Mary Ford appear on Alistair Cooke’s “Omnibus” (10/23/1953) to dispel rumors that their recordings are all electrical gadgetry. They perform two demonstrations of their recording techniques (one fake, making fun of rumors, and one real with his multitrack recorders). He is using his now famous Ampex model 200 machine (1-inch tape) given to him by friend Bing Crosby. He added an extra recording playhead to each to create the 1st multitrack system. Note: this is NOT the Ampex 8-track Les Paul commissioned in 1954 and finished [sic] in 1957.


Sarah VaughanAt Mister Kelly’s — 1957

Vaughan claims early in the song that she doesn’t know the words to the song but aims to sing it like Ella, who sings it “real, real, real crazy.”


Ella Fitzgerald – live 1983.


Stéphane Grappelli and McCoy Tyner at the Operetta House Warsaw for Warsaw Jazz Festival in October 1991



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