Billy Strayhorn's crowning glory. Lush Life's reputation as one of the most sophisticated ballads in the jazz repertoire is attested by its unconventional structure, spellbinding melody and intricate harmonic meanderings.
The structure of Lush Life's verse is solely dictated by the melody, resulting in a couplet of irregular 7 bar phrases. Rather than conforming to the even phrase lengths of 1930's popular music, Strayhorn's verse is malleable and inherently expressive, lending itself to a colla voce style. The spontaneous tune in the second half of the verse sounds almost through-composed. Perhaps lyrics preceded melody in the compositional process of this opening section.
Although Lush Life was completed in 1936, the first public performance was not until Duke Ellington's 1948 Carnegie Hall concert. Strayhorn accompanied Kay Davis for their duet rendition which was received to rapturous applause.
More brilliant versions: Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane (1963), Donna Summer (1982), Kurt Elling with strings (2009).
Strayhorn's genius as a composer and arranger was nurtured by Ellington throughout their synergistic relationship. Duke wrote the following tribute to Bill after his passing:
"A man with the greatest courage, the most majestic artistic stature, a highly skilled musician whose impeccable taste commanded the respect of all musicians and the admiration of all listeners." Duke Ellington, May 31 1967
I attempted to steal some of Johnny Smith's inner voice movement from his chord melody arrangements of My One And Only Love and I'm Old Fashioned:
"When an idea is shared, it’s potential increases", Matthew Syed writes in his book Rebel Ideas. He illustrates the hugely positive effect of cognitive diversity and explores the concept of information spillover - a term coined by economists but relevant in many contexts.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's partnership embodies Syed's notion - the positivity of cognitively diverse collaboration. They understood that ideas are not subject to diminishing returns. Their relationship is a reminder that a creative pursuit is more meaningful as a collective pursuit.
Take the A Train: composed by Duke Ellington, arranged by Billy Strayhorn.