For a teenager living in Pittsburgh, Strayhorn’s lyrics are remarkably worldly. Their jaded sophistication and inner rhyming sound a bit like Cole Porter though they are not considered derivative and are often praised by both critics and well-known lyricists.
The musical form of “Lush Life” is quite complex. The verse takes an A-A-B form, with the A sections containing seven bars and the B section containing fourteen. As with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Star Dust,” the verse has become an integral part of the composition. The thirty-two bar refrain usually plays just a little longer than the verse and has an A-B-A’-C format.
The years Strayhorn spent fine-tuning his composition are readily apparent. His meandering melody is intricately supported by ingenious chord progressions and, in combination with well-crafted lyrics, creates an unusual but enduring work of art. For fifteen years Strayhorn held this project close, not realizing, and perhaps not wishing, that “Lush Life” would become one of the top jazz standards of all time. -JW
Musical analysis of
Brief false key changes to Ab major and
D in mm.30-33; otherwise, it does not stray
far from the original tonic.
||A – A – B
– C1 – C2
(C1 and C2 designate the refrain)
stepwise, with a few intervals of a third
and fourth. There is a fair amount of chromaticism
mixed with repeated notes.
The song is extremely sophisticated, both
melodically and harmonically, particularly
in the “C” sections, where Strayhorn uses
variations on a single motif to build interest
while maintaining structural consistency.
Harmonic movement is often chromatic, creating
chord substitutions for functional voice-leading
chords and harmonic extensions in the melody,
particularly in the “C” sections. Also noteworthy
are the irregular phrases; none are eight
measures long. The “A” sections consist
of seven-measure phrases; “B” is fourteen,
and the “C” sections are twelve measures
each. Success in mastering this piece lies
in learning Strayhorn’s melody thoroughly
over the original harmonic progression.
This is not one that can be “faked” easily.
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).