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Perdido (1942)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Perdido’ is the perfect vehicle for him. [Peterson] hits each note perfectly whether with ferocity or tenderness.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 58
Music Juan Tizol
Lyrics Ervin Drake
Hans Jan Lengsfelder

On December 3, 1941, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra recorded “Perdido” for Standard Radio Transcription Services, a company that provided leased programming to radio stations. It is their January 21, 1942, recording of the song on the Victor label, however, that is regarded as their original recording. A modest hit, “Perdido” entered the pop charts on May 22, 1943, rising to number twenty-one.


More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

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

In 1944 Ervin Drake and Hans Lengsfelder were enlisted to fit lyrics to the tune, though the song was not generally sung with the Ellington band, the exception being Ella Fitzgerald on her 1957 recording of Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook.


More on Ervin Drake at JazzBiographies.com

More on Hans Jan Lengsfelder at JazzBiographies.com

In Stuart Nicholson’s Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol says he wrote “Perdido” on a train while sitting next to Herb Jeffries. The trombonist then handed it to Ellington who made an arrangement right then and there, and that very night they played it at a dance. A poster for Ellington’s Tempo Music, included in Nicholson’s book, bills “Perdido” as “It’s Latin America in Jitterbug Time.”


More on Juan Tizol at JazzBiographies.com

“Perdido” is a driving composition in the popular A-A-B-A form. Its simplicity, short phrases, and irresistible swing feeling have made it one of the top vehicles for jazz jam sessions. As a result, recordings of “Perdido” are frequently ten minutes or more in length, allowing for multiple instrumental solos and variations on the basic theme. One such legendary session finds Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips partaking in a tenor sax battle at a 1947 Carnegie Hall set (The Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic on Verve: 1944-1949.)

More information on this tune...

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(Ellington’s biographer analyzes the song’s musical content.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Tizol’s tune clearly has no room for complex or wordy lines, but one has to wonder how much time was spent on developing its lyrics. The song begins “Perdido, I look for my heart it’s Perdido” and then the bridge, “High is the sun…” followed by “Low is the moon…” The words are not exactly clever. The Ervin Drake and Hans Lengsfelder effort seems little more than an afterthought dashed off on a busy afternoon. Minimal as they are, the lyrics seldom draw critical comment, favorable or unfavorable, although one music website editorial declares, “They don’t write ‘em like that now. Good thing, too.” -JW

Musical analysis of “Perdido”

Original Key Bb major
Form A – A –B – A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement This tune is highly motivic. “A” consists of a skip and a step, alternating with an arpeggiated figure before leaping up a major sixth and down a fifth toward the end. “B” is a sustained note that jumps down a fifth before ascending step-wise and repeated once a whole step lower.

Comments     (assumed background)

This is a favorite “jam” tune because of its simplicity. “A” is merely a ii – V7 – I, repeated over and over, while “B” is a circle of fifths similar to the bridge of “I Got Rhythm.” Each section is built from motifs that repeat, making this tune easy to learn and retain.
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
“Perdido” was included in these films:
  • Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976, The Dave Brubeck Quartet)
  • Another Woman (1988, Dave Brubeck Quartet)
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989, The Duke Ellington Orchestra)
  • Blue Ice (1993, David Green, bass; Anthony Kerr, vibes; Pete King, alto Sax; Gerald Presencer, trumpet; Charlie Watts, drums; Steve Williamson, tenor Sax)
And on stage:
  • Sophisticated Ladies (1981, 1st time instrumental, 2nd time Judith Hamison, Hinton Battle) Broadway musical
And on television:
  • The Sopranos (2000, The Notables) HBO TV series, Season 2, Episode 17 "Commendatori"
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Perdido" may be found in:

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

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

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

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Gary Giddins
Visions of Jazz: The First Century
Oxford University Press; New Ed edition
Paperback: 704 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: performers.)
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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

Violinist Stuff Smith had a popular, swinging, six-piece combo on 52nd Street starting in 1935. By 1944 he had scaled the group down to a trio, which, by 1945, included bassist Ted Sturgis and pianist Billy Taylor. Now Dr. Taylor, he commented about the trio prior to his joining it, “Stuff’s trio at the Onyx in 1944 was one of the greatest, most rhythmic trios I ever heard.”

The trio in 1945 wasn’t bad either, as is evidenced by a recording of the group performing “Perdido” at a Town Hall concert in 1945. The seven-minute version of the tune is taken at a moderate tempo and features great swinging solos by leader Smith and Art Tatum-influenced Taylor.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Stuff Smith
Time and Again
Proper Pairs PVCD 118

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Perdido.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra’s original recording of “Perdido” (Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band) is noteworthy both as a historical document and as a shining example of Ellington’s gifts and those of his sidemen. Ella Fitzgerald is participated in many important recordings of the tune, and her 1957 performance with Ellington’s Orchestra (The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books) stands out both as one of the most charming and one of the most faithful to the song’s melody. Meanwhile Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and a rhythm section of bebop giants are responsible for a 1953 live recording (Jazz at Massey Hall) that displays the song’s usefulness as a bop vehicle.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band

Some great recordings of “Perdido” have been made, but none have surpassed this original Ellington studio version. Ellington himself plays wonderfully on this track, as do Harry Carney, Rex Stewart, Ben Webster and Ray Nance, all of whom have moments in the spotlight.
Oscar Peterson
J.A.T.P. In Tokyo - Live at the Nichigeki Theatre 1953
Pablo 2620104
Original recording 1953
This is one of the best of Ella Fitzgerald’s numerous charming recordings of this tune. After singing the melody and scatting for a while, she hands the baton over to tenor saxophonist Ben Webster for a long solo. Their rapport here foreshadows their collaboration a few years later on several tracks of her “Duke Ellington Songbook” recordings. Flip Phillips follows with an energetic tenor solo of his own.

- Noah Baerman

Carmen McRae
1994 Legacy Recordings 57887
Original recording 1965
This and the next recommendation are for two very different versions of "Perdido"': McRae gives it a seductive reading at mid-tempo, alternately scatting through some of its phrases...
Sarah Vaughan
The Roulette Years
1991 Blue Note Records 94983
... and Vaughan takes it uptempo, soaring to imaginative heights with the Basie band.
Quintet, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach
Jazz at Massey Hall

The bebop super group of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach has a whole lotta fun with this track. When not playing their hearts out, the musicians are verbally egging each other on. Even the audience cannot contain itself.
Oscar Peterson
My Favorite Instrument
1990, Polygram #821843
Original recording, 1968, Verve
The Canadian pianist struts his stuff on this solo outing, and "Perdido"' is the perfect vehicle for him. Peterson has the hands of a surgeon and hits each note perfectly whether with ferocity or tenderness.
Ella Fitzgerald
The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books
1993 Polygram 519832
Original recording 1957
Fitzgerald collaborates here with Ellington and his orchestra and it is a match made in heaven. Everybody swings with assurance and subtlety.
Don Patterson
Dem New York Dues
1995 Prestige 24149
Original recording 1969
Patterson swings like mad here, showing off his noteworthy application of bebop phrases and techniques to the organ. Other soloists here include. They begin and end the performance with sly references to Tadd Dameron’s “Wahoo,” a melody riff that is often used by modern musicians when performing “Perdido.”
Art Tatum/Lionel Hampton
The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 3
Pablo 2405426
Original recording 1955
Tatum, Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich take “Perdido” at a relaxed medium tempo, though plenty of sparks fly nonetheless.
Duke Ellington
Ellington Uptown
2004, Sony
Original recording, 1952, Legacy Recordings
Ten years after recording the song for the first time, the Ellington Orchestra explores the song’s possibilities and, in the process, highlights its timelessness.

- Ben Maycock

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

Ervin Drake, Hans Jan Lengsfelder and Juan Tizol

Year Rank Title
1942 58 Perdido

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