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 Forrest – 1940


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



Jazz Club Mystery Hot Band – recorded on 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


Benny Goodman Septet – 1947


Ella Fitzgerald

Wikipedia says:

The song was sung in various recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, becoming (with the Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good!”) Ella’s signature tune. She first performed the song at Carnegie Hall on September 29, 1947.[1] Her first recording, backed by the Daydreamers, was recorded December 20, 1947, and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24387, with the flip side “You Turned the Tables on Me“.[9] Her most celebrated recording of “How High the Moon” is on her 1960 album Ella in Berlin, and her version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have “qualitative or historical significance.”[10]

Decca 24387?


Anita O’Day with the Ralph Burns Orchestra — recorded in Los Angeles in 1947; issued on 24 April 1948 on the single Signature 15185, b/w “Key Largo”


Ella Fitzgerald with the Ray Brown Trio — a brief clip from live footage, recorded in New York in May 1949


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.


Charlie Parker Quintet — live at Birdland, NYC, 1 November 1952

Charlie Parker – alto sax
Milt Jackson – vibes
John Lewis – piano
Percy Heath – bass
Kenny Clarke – drums


Sarah VaughanAt Mister Kelly’s — 1957

Early in the performance Vaughan says 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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