Lush Life (jazz song)
"Lush Life" is a jazz standard with lyrics and music written by Billy Strayhorn from 1933 to 1938. However, the song was only performed privately by Strayhorn until he and vocalist Kay Davis performed it on November 13, 1948, with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. It is usually performed in the key of D-flat major.
The song's lyrics describe the author's weariness of the night life after a failed romance, wasting time with "jazz and cocktails" at "come-what-may places" and in the company of girls with "sad and sullen gray faces/with distingué traces". Strayhorn was only 16 when he wrote the majority of the song, which was to become his signature composition (along with "Take the 'A' Train").
The melody is over relatively complex chord changes, compared to many jazz standards, with chromatic movement and modulations, which evoke a dreamlike state and the dissolute spirit characteristic of the so-called lush life.
One of the most notable recordings of "Lush Life" was by Nat King Cole. John Coltrane also recorded it at least twice, once in 1958 as the title track of an album for Prestige Records, and again in 1963 with his "classic quartet" and Johnny Hartman. The earlier version was 14 minutes long. But the author once said that the best version was of Billy Eckstine on his 1960 album No Cover, No Minimum.
Jack Jones recorded "Lush Life" for his album Where Love Has Gone (1964). Donna Summer recorded the song with Quincy Jones for her self titled 1982 album. In 1985 it was the title track of Lush Life, the second of Linda Ronstadt's three albums of American standards. Natalie Cole recorded a version of the song, with an outstanding arrangement by Johnny Mandel, for her 1991 album Unforgettable... with Love. Eileen Farrell sang on an orchestral arrangement of the song in 1991 on the album It's Over as part of the highly regarded Reference Recordings series. Queen Latifah recorded a Mervyn Warren arrangement for inclusion in the soundtrack to the 1998 film Living Out Loud, a recording that was subsequently included on The Dana Owens Album in 2004. Kenneth Branagh sings the song a capella in the 1991 film Dead Again as the character singing is awaiting execution. Paul Ruffino, a long-time Johnny Hartman devotee, performed the song in a sold-out Hartman retrospective in 2004 in Manhattan. It was performed by theremin virtuoso Pamelia Kurstin at the 2002 TED conference.
Other artists who have recorded the song include: Billy Eckstine, Terell Stafford, Stan Getz, Ernie Watts, Andy Bey, Sylvia Brooks, Sheila Jordan, Tito Puente, Nancy Wilson, Patti Lupone, Ella Fitzgerald & Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Julie London, Carmen McRae, Johnny Mathis, Chet Baker, Blossom Dearie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Anthony Braxton, Rickie Lee Jones, Rare Silk, Kate Ceberano & Mark Isham for their album Bittersweet, Buddy Rich, Harry James, Kurt Elling, Lisa Ekdahl, Molly Johnson, Sammy Davis Jr., Bebi Dol, Stevie Holland, Linda Ronstadt, Sylvia Brooks, José James, and Joey Alexander. Ronstadt's version won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s). Lady Gaga recorded a version of the song for her duet album with Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek. Trio Désolé recorded it in 2013 and released it on their album "Sweet Surrender". The clarinetist Tony Scott in 1996 released an entire album called "Lush life" dedicated to the song, with many different interpretations of it.