eden ahbez and Nature Boy
eden ahbez: selected biographies, tribute sites, and articles
- Eden’s Island, a blog about eden ahbez — by Brian Chidester
- A Strange Enchanted Boy — biographical sketch of eden ahbez by Brian Chidester, published in the blog Eden’s Island
- Space Age Pop Music
- Joe Romersa’s eden ahbez tribute page
- Songbook’s eden ahbez gallery
Nature Boy (eden ahbez)
The song was first recorded by Nat King Cole on 22 August 1947 with a studio orchestra. It was released on 29 March 1948 and became a big hit beginning in mid-May, topping the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores singles chart for seven weeks.
The songwriter, eden ahbez (no capitals by his preference), had handed a “tattered piece of sheet music” to Cole’s manager backstage during a gig at Downtown L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre in June 1947. Cole began playing the song during live performances sometime between receiving it in June and recording it in August.
From the eden ahbez bio at Space Age Pop Music:
Cole and Capitol didn’t know what to make of the song, so they sat on the record for months. Meanwhile, word-of-mouth about the tune began to grow from Cole’s live performances, and eventually Cole realized the record should be released. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to secure the rights to the song, and [Cole’s manager Mort] Ruby went off on a hunt to locate Ahbez. Legend has it that he found Ahbez and his wife camped out below the first “L” in the “HOLLYWOOD” sign. It turned out that Ahbez had given a half dozen people different shares of the publishing rights, and he ended up with virtually nothing. (After Cole died, his wife eventually gave the rights in toto back to Ahbez.)
From the Wikipedia song profile:
The song tells a fantasy of a “strange enchanted boy… who wandered very far” only to learn that “the greatest thing… was just to love and be loved in return”. Nat Cole’s 1948 recording of the song was a major hit, and “Nature Boy” has since become a pop and jazz standard, with dozens of major artists interpreting the song.
The first two measures of the song’s melody parallel the melody of the second movement in Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81 (1887). It is unknown if Ahbez was familiar with Dvořák’s piece, or if he arrived at the same melodic idea independently.
Yiddish theater star/producer Herman Yablokoff, in Memoirs of the Yiddish Stage, claimed that the melody to “Nature Boy” was plagiarized from his song “Shvayg, Mayn Harts” (“Hush, My Heart”), which he wrote for his play Papirosn (1935). Ahbez protested his innocence, claiming to have “heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains,” but later agreed to pay Yablokoff $25,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
The Herman Yablokoff biography at Milken Archive of Jewish Music asserts that:
The tune of his [Yablokoff’s] song “Shvayg mayn harts” (Be Still, My Heart) became popular in English as “Nature Boy” when it was allegedly appropriated by a Hindu mystic in California who dabbled in songwriting.
Regarding “Shvayg, Mayn Harts,” also spelled “Schweig Mein Hertz”:
You may read details regarding the Yablokoff claim in a biographical sketch of eden ahbez by Brian Chidester, titled A Strange Enchanted Boy, published in the Chidester blog Eden’s Island. While the most recent version of the bio is dated 2 March 2012, I originally found a version of it, dated 2006, on a page of “Cafe L.A.’s Blog,” a now evidently defunct (or perhaps renamed) Chidester outlet, at Myspace.com.
In the ahbez bio, Chidester treats Yablokoff’s claim with careful consideration and mentions a perennial growth of theories as to the song’s origins, “most agreeing that its basis in Eastern European folk music is mercurially concrete.” Glaringly absent from the case in favor of Yablokoff’s claim are recordings. There may not be any. I’ve been unable to find a recording of Yablokoff’s song, though I did come across one site which claims to possess “a copy”, perhaps meaning sheet music (which I’ve also failed to find a trace of), without producing any evidence of the same. Chidester noted in the 2006 version of his ahbez bio, “To this day, the song “Sveig Mein Hartz” has never been recorded by any professional singer or act, including Yablokoff himself.”
Nat King Cole
1. Capitol Records single 15054, b/w “Lost April,” recorded on 22 August 1947 by the King Cole Trio with a studio orchestra, arranged and conducted by Frank De Vol. Released on 29 March 1948, it spent seven weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Best Sellers in Stores chart from 15 May to 26 June that year.
session personnel (from jazzdisco.org): Nat King Cole (piano, vocals) Buddy Cole (celeste) Oscar Moore (guitar) Johnny Miller (bass) unidentified reeds and strings, Frank DeVol (arranger, conductor)
2. perhaps from The Nat King Cole Show – 56-57. IMDb lists some of the episodes and songs performed in them, but I don’t find this one.
3. From The Nat King Cole Story, 1961
Frank Sinatra – recorded 10 April 1948, with The Jeff Alexander Choir (no orchestra), arrangement by Jeff Alexander
Miles Davis Quintet– recorded at Audio-Video Studios, NYC, 9 July 1955 — Miles Davis (tp) Britt Woodman (tb) Teddy Charles (vib) Charles Mingus (b) Elvin Jones (d)
Vodpod videos no longer available..
Stan Getz – Cool Velvet: Getz And Strings recorded in Baden-Baden, West Germany, March 1960
Stan Getz (ts) Blanchie Birdsong (harp) Dave Hildinger (vib) Jan Johansson (p) Freddy Dutton (b) Sperie Karas (d) Russ Garcia (arr, dir) unidentified strings
Stan Getz – recording data unknown
Grace Slick & The Great Society – recorded 1966, released on their second album How It Was, 1968. The track reappeared on the 1971 collection Collector’s Item which was simply a combination of the 9 tracks from their first album and the 8 tracks of the second album, in the same order except that the second album’s tracks appear first. The Great Society disbanded in late 1966 when Grace Slick left to become the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, replacing the departing Signe Toly Anderson who left the Airplane for personal reasons.
Gandalf – from their self-titled 1969 album
Flip Phillips – second track on Spanish Eyes, 1975, his first album as a leader in a dozen years, according to a review at All Music. Flip Phillips: bass clarinet, Mickey Crane: piano, Milt Hinton: bass, Mousie Alexander: drums
Abbey Lincoln – from her 1995 album A Turtle’s Dream
Bass – Charlie Haden, Christian McBride
Drums – Victor Lewis
Piano – Rodney Kendrick
Tenor Saxophone – Julien Lourau
Trumpet – Roy Hargrove
Vocals – Abbey Lincoln
John Hassell – leading track on his 1999 album Fascinoma
Reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine at All Music wrote:
Hassell has intended the album as a tribute to the “musical exotica” he heard as a child “on the radio or in movie scores,” and his statement unlocks many doors to his music. Echoes of early exotica and evocative jazz can be heard throughout the album, but Hassell pieces it together in an odd, original fashion. [read more]
Will-o-the Wisp – from A Gift for Your Dreams, 2007 — Cut by a neo-prog band heavily in debt to 1970s-era Genesis and Pink Floyd.
Pomplamoose – posted 16 August 2009
Some say that the inspiration for the character described in the song was a “fellow tribesman” of eden ahbez among a loosely tied group known as “Nature Boys,” Robert “Gypsy Boots” Bootzin. Bootzin himself claimed to have been the inspiration. However, ahbez biographer Brian Chidester, in a comment on this page dated 2013/01/06 at 9:22 am, writes
I know Gypsy Boots claimed throughout his life that he, not ahbez, was the inspiration for “Nature Boy.” To that end, ahbez told friends over and over that Boots was a phony.
In the photos above Bootzin stands leftmost, top row. Below, Bootzin appears as a guest in a 1955 episode of You Bet Your Life, winning the admiration of Groucho Marx (who was usually intolerant of extremists) for being a “rugged individualist.”
Gypsy Boots may have been an influence, but Chidester indicates that a principle mentor to ahbez was an earlier pioneer in the raw foods, and natural lifestyle movement in America, Bill Pester, pictured at right in front of his palm log cabin at Palm Canyon, California in 1917:
Ahbez would sleep outdoors in Topanga Canyon and often went off with his Nature Boy pals to the desert caves of Tahquitz Canyon, near Palm Springs. It was in Tahquitz Canyon that Ahbez would encounter his mentor, Bill Pester, a German immigrant who taught radical philosophies of the day, including nudism and natural medicine. It is likely that Ahbez also discovered Eastern philosophy and mysticism during this period, adopting the name “eden ahbez” (and choosing to spell his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only God was worthy of capitalization). For more information on the pre-hippie movement in Germany and Southern California, Gordon Kennedy’s Children of the Sun* is a primary text.
* In a review of the book (the title above is the link), John Savage wrote:
Another crucial figure was Bill Pester (b 1886) who fled from Germany to the US in 1906 to avoid military service. A confirmed naturmensch, he lived with the Cahuilla Indians in the Coachella Valley – where he had an organic farm. It was meeting Pester that changed the life of Eden Ahbez (b 1908): a born wanderer from an early age, he settled in California during the late 30′s, part of a group of ‘nature boys’ that congregated around John and Vera Richter’s live-food cafe, Eutropheon, in Los Angeles.