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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 panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Sophisticated Lady”

Original Key Ab major (“A” sections) and G major (“B” section) on Ellington’s 1933 recording
Form A -A -B -A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement The “A” sections arpeggiate upward and descend chromatically. The “B” section consists of leaps in both directions, ranging from a 3rd to a 7th.

Comments (assumed background)

For a song that is one of Ellington’s most angelic, it is devilishly difficult-particularly for the vocalist. It begins with a standard ii7 -V7 -I progression; however, the pickup note and its harmony are a half-step higher. The chord progression then leaps up a minor 6th (in the original key, from Bbm7 to Gb7) before descending chromatically to the V7 and resolving to I.

The second part of A is another standard harmonic progression, I -VI7 -II7 - V7 resolving to I, but the composers cleverly disguise this by a chromatic descent from I to VI7.

The “B” section uses the fairly standard I -VI7 -ii - V7 progression (“I Could Write A Book,” “I’ll Take Manhattan,” “At Long Last Love,” “Indiana,”et. al.) followed by its common variation, I -biiº - ii - V7. One of the most difficult aspects of this piece is the modulations. The modulation between “A” and “B,” going from the original key into one a half-step lower, is unusual enough. It is, however, approached with use of orthodox voice-leading chords which make sense to the ear. Going from “B” back to the original key for that final “A” is a different story; it is a direct key change with no modulation. The only hint comes two measures before, when the I chord turns into a 7th chord with a flatted ninth, but, after resolving, the harmony drops a whole step in order to get back into the original key of the “A” section. Generally, successful performance of this tune requires excellent aural skills and a great deal of study.

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).
Musicians' Comments

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Soundtrack information
“Sophisticated Lady” was included in these films:
  • Paris Blues (1961)
  • The Natural (1984, instrumental)
  • Sophisticated Lady (1989, Profile of singer Adelaide Hall)
  • Ulee’s Gold (1997, Billie Holiday)
  • Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra)

On Broadway “Sophisticated Lady” was included in:

  • Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976, Chip Garnett, Vernon Washington)
  • Sophisticated Ladies (1981, danced by Gregory Hines)
  • Stardust (1987, Michele Bautier)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Sophisticated Lady" may be found in:

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages


(1 page including the following types of information: lyric analysis.)

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 and performers.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


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

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


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

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


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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

David Hajdu
Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn
North Point Press
Paperback: 305 pages


(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: anecdotal.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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Jazz History Notes

Duke Ellington and Otto Hardwick’s sophisticated song from 1933 was a hit following its introduction. Two bands considered to be Ellington rivals, those of Don Redman and Jimmie Lunceford, recorded the tune in 1933 and 1934, respectively, while the great jazz trio of the Boswell Sisters did a superb job also in 1934. Two rather unusual recordings were by harmonica player Larry Adler in 1935 and the Washboard Rhythm Kings (a small combo using washboard instead of drums) in 1933. On his first recording session in 1933, the virtuosic jazz pianist Art Tatum did a memorable version. Although Tatum’s style at the time reflected the influence of “Fats” Waller and Earl Hines, he was beginning to incorporate the breathtaking runs which would later be his trademark.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Don Redman
Don Redman, 1933-1936
Classics 553

Jimmie Lunceford
Stomp It Off: Original Decca Recordings
Verve 608

iTunes
Boswell Sisters
Boswell Sisters Collection, 1934-1936
Storyville Records 3022

Larry Adler
Maestro of the Mouth Organ
Asv Living Era 5153

iTunes
Washboard Rhythm Kings
Washboard Rhythm Kings Vol. 4, 1933
Storyville Records 26

Art Tatum
Art Tatum Piano Master
Proper Box UK

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

Duke Ellington’s original version of “Sophisticated Lady” (Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Duke Ellington) is still beautiful and, yes, sophisticated today even though it was recorded all the way back in 1933. This is the place to begin with this tune, and it shows that his mastery of orchestration and texture manifested early in his career. Another definitive version, albeit a less well-known one, comes from the 1970s series of solo piano tributes to Ellington recorded by pianist Earl Hines (Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington). Like Ellington, Hines was ahead of his time dating back to the 1920s, and the stunning richness of his harmonies here show that his forward-thinking remained, as well as showing some of the harmonic possibilities for the tune. The melody is very complicated to sing, so it is not surprising that a definitive vocal rendition comes from the effortless voice of Sarah Vaughan (After Hours).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Duke Ellington
Sony
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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
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.
iTunes
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.”
iTunes
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.
iTunes

- 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.
iTunes
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

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

Duke Ellington, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish

Year Rank Title
1933 31 Sophisticated Lady

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