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Easy Living (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Buster Bailey opens the first few bars of the song on clarinet, and Lester Young and the others play soulfully behind Ms. Holiday.”

- Jon Luthro

Rank 80
Music Ralph Rainger
Lyrics Leo Robin

“Easy Living” is a slow ballad with straightforward lyrics that declare just how wonderful life can be when living for someone you love. The songwriting team of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin wrote this song while under contract to Paramount. It was written for the film of the same name and was the film’s only song.


More on Ralph Rainger at JazzBiographies.com

More on Leo Robin at JazzBiographies.com

The 1937 Paramount movie starred Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Luis Alberni, Mary Nash, Franklin Pangborn and William Demarest. Mitchell Leisen directed and Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay, which was based on a story by Vera Caspary (A Letter to Three Wives, Laura). Easy Living is generally well-reviewed and is best characterized as a screwball comedy classic.

“Easy Living” was reprised in the 1949 RKO film, Easy Living (same name, different plot), starring Victor Mature, Lucille Ball, Sonny Tufts, and Lizabeth Scott. Again it is the film’s sole song, but this time it is sung by Audrey Young, who went on to become better known as Audrey Wilder, wife of Billy Wilder.

“Easy Living” did not immediately garner much public attention because it was only performed instrumentally in the original film. However, Billie Holiday recorded it with Teddy Wilson’s Orchestra on June 1, 1937, and their version stayed on the charts for two weeks in July, 1937, peaking at fifteenth position.


More on Billie Holiday at JazzBiographies.com

More on Teddy Wilson at JazzBiographies.com

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

To capitalize on the success of the Holiday/Wilson recording, “Easy Living” was recycled in the 1939, Paramount film Remember the Night, also written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen.

More information on this tune...

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(This book conatains a short biography of Leo Robin and eight pages of his lyrics, including those for “Easy Living.”)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Easy Living”

Original Key Eb major, modulating to B major during the “B”section, then back to Eb major for the last “A” section
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Primarily skips; leaps of a major 6th and minor 7th occur frequently.

Comments     (assumed background)

The initial chord progression is an acending I-vii˚7/ii-ii-vii˚7/iii, similar to “Memories Of You” and “Doin’ The New Low-Down,” which is actually a variation of I-vi7-ii-V7 (“I Could Write a Book,” “At Long Last Love,” etc.) The latter progression would work just as well, but the original elegant changes are preferable. The reason is to provide a contrast with the “B” section, which actually does use the latter progression, albeit in a distant key.

The modulation from Eb to B in the second ending is worth commenting on since it works so well. It begins with a I going to IV7 – typical for an ending – but then, instead of returning to I, the IV7 resolves to bviim7. In the original key this is: Eb-Ab7-Dbm7. The Dbm7 then becomes a ii7 of the new key of B major, making for a smooth transition. The second modulation–going from B major back to Eb–is accomplished almost as well, as the bass note of the vi7 chord (of B major) drops two steps, turning it into a “pivot” chord that leads to the V7 of the original “A” key (Eb major).

Melodically, this sort of piece is loved by instrumentalists and hated by vocalists for the same reason–wide intervals. Despite this, the range of the song is no more than octave and a fifth. With proper warm-up and technique (translation: RELAX!), this should pose no more than a moderate challenge for the intermediate jazz vocalist.

K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Soundtrack information
“Easy Living” was included in these films:
  • Easy Living (1937, instrumental)
  • Remember the Night (1939, Billie Holiday)
  • Easy Living (1949, Audrey Young)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Johnny Hartman)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Easy Living" may be found in:

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray lived a tragically short life but made a mark on postwar transitional jazz. On his 1949 recording session (which produced his famous original “Twisted”), Gray works his magic on a ballad version of “Easy Living.” He’s accompanied by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker’s rhythm section of Al Haig (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). (The CD reissue includes an alternate version).

Another tenor player, Stan Getz, was influenced by Lester Young (as was Wardell Gray). In an interesting alignment, Getz is featured with Count Basie’s orchestra in a live 1954 recording, playing the tune that Young recorded with Billie Holiday.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Wardell Gray
Memorial Vol. 1
Original Jazz Classics 50

Stan Getz
The Complete Roost Recordings
Blue Note Records 59622
Original recording 1950
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Easy Living.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Billie Holiday’s classic and stunningly emotional rendition of “Easy Living” (Strange Fruit: 1937-1939) has become the point of reference for many people who have taken on the tune since then. Among the great instrumental recordings of the tune are performances by two of the definitive ballad interpreters in modern jazz history, Bill Evans (Bouncin' with Dex) and Dexter Gordon (New Jazz Conceptions).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Miles Davis
Blue Moods
1991 Original Jazz Classics 43
Original recording 1955
A few months before forming his classic hard bop quartet, trumpeter Davis recorded this cooler-toned session along with vibraphonist Teddy Charles and trombonist Britt Woodman. Interestingly, the other players, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Elvin Jones, would come to be known for music that was anything but cool, but they show total restraint on this ballad performance.
Bill Evans
New Jazz Conceptions
Original recording 1956
In the 1950s, Bill Evans became the most widespread influence on jazz pianists since Bud Powell a decade before. This ballad performance from his debut album shows that his lush, modern sense of harmony and his crisp, flowing right hand lines were already well-developed at the beginning of his recording career as a bandleader.
Dexter Gordon Quartet
Bouncin' with Dex
Original recording 1975
This session, featuring Tete Montoliu on piano, Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, is among the best of the many excellent sets Gordon recorded for the Steeplechase label while living in Europe in the 1970s. Though these recordings are less heralded than his previous work, they show that he was still evolving. The two takes of “Easy Living” here show his ballad artistry to be undiminished.

- Noah Baerman

Billie Holiday
Strange Fruit: 1937-1939
2000, Jazzterdays Records #102423

Billie became identified with this song. This collection includes the 1937 version recorded with Teddy Wilson's Orchestra. Buster Bailey opens the first few bars of the song on clarinet, and Lester Young and the others play soulfully behind Ms. Holiday.
Clifford Brown
The Definitive...
2002, Universal
Original recording, 1953, Blue Note
Trumpeter Brown's regal version is included in this collection along with his compositions, "Joy Spring"' and "Daahoud."' There's also a bop outing with Art Blakey, a lyrical version of "Stardust,"' an exchange with Sonny Rollins, and vocals by Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
Nancy Wilson
But Beautiful
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1969
Wilson gives an unhurried, assured performance of “Easy Living” alongside the sympathetic quartet of guitarist Gene Bertoncini, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate.
Howard Roberts
Good Pickin's
2006 Verve 5931
Original recording 1959
The underrated guitarist Roberts shines on this ballad performance, showing the rich chordal style and clear single note lines that made him an underground hero of sorts among guitarists.
Ann Hampton Callaway
Easy Living
Sin-Drome Records

This CD features two different lineups of musicians, including, among others, Kenny Barron and Bill Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums; an excellent album by an excellent vocalist.
Alan Broadbent
Pacific Standard Time
1995, Concord 4664

This instrumental version features the ever-graceful and refined Alan Broadbent Trio with Broadbent on piano, Putter Smith on bass, and Frank Gibson, Jr. on drums.
Kurt Elling
Flirting with Twilight
2001, Blue Note

Elling’s straight-ahead but impassioned reading of the vocal is leant urgency by the throbbing instrumental backing.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin

Year Rank Title
1937 80 Easy Living
1935 179 If I Should Lose You
1937 762 Thanks for the Memory

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