Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The World's Most Complicated Jazz Song

"Lush Life".

It has been recorded by over 500 artists, and it probably remains one of the most complex, beautiful jazz songs ever written. Penned in the 1930's by Billy Strayhorn, it embodies what we think of as "classic" jazz while posing a major challenge to any vocalist, partly owing to its unusual progressions and key shifts. Even Frank Sinatra hard a hard time singing this song.

Unquestionably, my favorite versions of "Lush Life" are the fairly recent renditions by Natalie Cole and Queen Latifah. When I listen to either, I feel as if I should be sipping a martini in a quiet Hollywood bar on an afternoon in 1959. It's that kind of song.

Strayhorn, the composer of "Lush Life", was one of Duke Ellington's favorite songwriters. Yet, as his biographer David Hajdu writes, Strayhorn was a "minority three times over" -- he was African-American, gay, and open. Certainly, he must have faced his own challenges, but he left us with one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

If you've never heard "Lush Life", either find a copy or listen to a sample online. You'll instantly see what I mean about its appeal.

Thank you, Mr. Strayhorn. Shaken or stirred?