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Sophisticated Lady (1933)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist George Duvivier provide a gentle, unobtrusive backdrop for Vaughan to deliver a bittersweet rendition of the ballad.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 31
Music Duke Ellington
Lyrics Irving Mills
Mitchell Parish

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra introduced “Sophisticated Lady” with a 1933 recording that featured solos by Toby Hardwick (alto sax), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), and Ellington (piano). The recording entered the pop charts on May 27 and stayed there for 16 weeks, rising to number three. The flip side of the record, “Stormy Weather,” enjoyed nearly the same fortune, rising to number four. Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather” had been introduced by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra (Harold Arlen, vocal) earlier that year, and Duke Ellington’s cover was just one of many that year.


More on Otto Hardwick at JazzBiographies.com

More on Barney Bigard at JazzBiographies.com

More on Lawrence Brown at JazzBiographies.com

Other recordings of “Sophisticated Lady” to make the recording charts include:


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

As with many Ellington songs, “Sophisticated Lady” started out as an instrumental and was subsequently fitted with lyrics by Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, a staff writer for Mills Publishing at the time.


More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

More on Mitchell Parish at JazzBiographies.com

The origin of the melody for “Sophisticated Lady” is often a point of contention. Lawrence Brown takes credit for creating the first eight bars and gives recognition to Toby Hardwick for the release. Other accounts give the majority of the credit to Hardwick. In his Ellington biography, Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington, Stuart Nicholson reports, “The composer credits originally showed Ellington, Hardwick, Brown, and Mills.” When the song was published, however, Hardwick and Brown were given no credit, and as a result, no royalties.

This was not unusual. Musicians were often paid a flat fee for compositions when the future potential was unknown. And most of these works never became hits. But “Sophisticated Lady” proved to be one of Ellington’s most popular and lucrative compositions.

In Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, author John Edward Hasse comments that in 1961 Ellington earned about $79,000 in royalties, much of that from recordings of Ellington standards by himself and other artists, especially “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Satin Doll,” and “C-Jam Blues.” Adjusted for inflation, that would translate to over $400,000 in 2004.


More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

According to William Zinsser in his book, Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs, the song “Laura” was born out of a disagreement between composer David Raksin and director Otto Preminger. Preminger wanted to use “Sophisticated Lady” as a theme in the film Laura, but Raksin felt it was wrong for the movie and wrote “Laura” in a weekend as a replacement.

The 1976 Natalie Cole hit, “Sophisticated Lady (She’s A Different Lady),” is unrelated.

More information on this tune...

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

(Ellington biographer Collier offers a musical analysis of the song.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Duke Ellington
Original recording 1934
The original recording of this tune is a classic example of early Duke Ellington balladry. This recording features Ellington’s lush ensemble scoring along with lyrical contributions from numerous individuals in the band, including trombonist Lawrence Brown, saxophonist Otto Hardwicke, clarinetist Barney Bigard and Ellington himself on piano.
Thelonious Monk
Plays Duke Ellington
Riverside 201
Original recording 1955
Monk always had an emotionally compelling way with a ballad, and the sophisticated harmonies of this tune prove to be an ideal fit for his style.
Earl Hines
Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington
1996 New World 361
Original recording 1971
Earl Hines was one of the great interpreters of Ellington’s material, and this recording displays how ahead of his time Hines was in his use of rich, modern harmonies.
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon At Montreux
With Junior Mance
(1991 Prestige 7861) Original recording 1970
Gordon displays both lyricism and intensity on this in-depth live exploration of “Sophisticated Lady.”
Duke Ellington
Solos, Duets and Trios
1990 RCA 2178
Original recording 1940
Jimmy Blanton revolutionized the bass and was one of the first bop-leaning soloists on any instrument. Hearing him take the lead on this duet with Ellington is proof of his remarkable command of the bass as a melodic instrument, and he treats us to some of his bowing as well.

- Noah Baerman

Sarah Vaughan
After Hours
1997, Blue Note 55468
Original recording, 1955
The singer is superb in this small group performance. Guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist George Duvivier provide a gentle, unobtrusive backdrop for Vaughan to deliver a bittersweet rendition of the ballad.
James Carter
J.C. On The Set
1994 Sony 66149

Horn man Carter picks up the baritone sax for this brooding version of the Ellington tune on an album JazzTimes called “one of the outstanding debuts of this year--or just about any other...”

- Ben Maycock

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