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Stairway to the Stars (Park Avenue Fantasy) (1935)

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Origin and Chart Information
Lyricist Parish was a perfect choice since he was a specialist in “retrofitting” lyrics to instrumentals, honing his craft on such hits as “Stardust,” “Solitude,” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

- Chris Tyle

AKAStairway to the Stars
AKAPark Avenue Fantasy
Rank 167
Music Matt Malneck
Frank Signorelli
Lyrics Mitchell Parish

Vocalist Ray Eberle, with Glenn Miller’s orchestra, recorded “Stairway to the Stars” in May, 1939. Their record hit number one and stayed in the charts for 13 weeks. It was Miller’s second number one record.

 

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

Violinist Matt Malneck and pianist Frank Signorelli’s composition “Park Avenue Fantasy” was recorded by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra for Victor Records on September 11, 1934. The following year it was published by Robbins Music as “a modern composition for piano.”

“Park Avenue Fantasy” is what is referred to as an extended work, rather than a 32-bar popular song, similar to other pieces recorded by Paul Whiteman such as George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” and “Cuban Overture.” It is the melody of the final theme that became “Stairway to the Stars.”

 

More on Matt Malneck at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Frank Signorelli at JazzBiographies.com
 

Malneck and Signorelli collaborated on a number of pieces. Frequently the tunes would begin as an instrumental with the lyrics added at a later time. “I’ll Never Be The Same,” an early hit for the two, was recorded in 1928 by Eddie Lang as a guitar solo, and three years later Joe Venuti, along with Lang and Signorelli, recorded it as “Little Buttercup.” The lyrics, by Gus Kahn, didn’t appear until the sheet music was published in 1932.

A similar situation befell “Park Avenue Fantasy.” Although Whiteman performed the piece on his Kraft radio program, it wasn’t the type of material that really clicked with the public. The piece languished from 1935 until early 1939, when Malneck used it as the theme for his radio show, “Music by Malneck.” At that time either Signorelli or Malneck approached Mitchell Parish to write lyrics for the finale section of the piece. Lyricist Parish was a perfect choice since he was a specialist in “retrofitting” lyrics to instrumentals, honing his craft on such hits as “Stardust,” “Solitude,” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

 

More on Mitchell Parish at JazzBiographies.com
 

Once the publishers had the final copy, they began plugging the tune with various bandleaders. The up-and-coming band led by Glenn Miller was in a position to promote the tune. Miller had worked with both Signorelli and Malneck during his freelance years and was familiar with their talents. Enlisting the aid of arranger Bill Finegan, an arrangement was made of the number featuring vocalist Ray Eberle. It was recorded by Victor Records May 9, 1939, to be issued on their budget label Bluebird. On May 17, 1939, Miller performed the tune during a live broadcast from the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and on May 29, from the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. This type of air play brought the number to the attention of the public, so once the record was released there would already by a ready audience.

Interestingly Ray Eberle’s brother Bob (who spelled his last name Eberly), recorded the tune with Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra, their version moving to third position in the charts.

More information on this tune...

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


(Hischak’s encyclopedia relates the history of the song and its performers.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Parish’s lyrics tell about a romance that builds a stairway to the heavens: a night of song and violins, where two people sail away to heaven. Chris Tyle

Musical analysis of “Stairway to the Stars (Park Avenue Fantasy)”

Original KeyC major; false key changes to E minor and D minor at “B”
FormA1 - A2 - B - A3
Tonality“A” is major; “B” is minor
MovementAfter an initial chromatic figure, “A” moves up and down by thirds; “B” is primarily a series of descending and ascending scale patterns with occasional chromatic alterations.

Comments     (assumed background)

The harmonic progression begins with a V7/IV (C7/Gm7 going to F in the original), followed by the minor iv; it is similar to the opening changes of “Cherokee.” “B,” on the other hand, uses a contrasting minor progression nearly identical to the “B” section of “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

The graceful melodic line is not difficult, but the opening three notes of “A” can be a bit tricky for the uninitiated. The tendency is to hear this three-note ascending chromatic lead-in as pick-up notes, with the following measure actually being the first. This is mainly due to the fact that this is one of those rare situations in which the first full measure of the song begins with a rest. The “lead-in” begins on beat two of measure one, not a preceding “pick-up” measure. Count beats carefully; it will be found that this tune contains the standard thirty-two measures in typical eight-measure sections without extra measures or beats.

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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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Stairway to the Stars (Park Avenue Fantasy)" 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: history and performers.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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Jazz History Notes

Multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter’s session for indie label Keynote was one of the first recordings of this composition in a strictly jazz setting. Carter’s performance on alto sax is in the typically opulent ballad style for which he was renowned.

Frank Rosolino was one of the most influential bebop trombonists of the 1950s. A 1955 quartet session caught him at the end of his stay with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. Kenton’s arranger Bill Holman was responsible for the clever writing on “Stairway to the Stars.” Both Rosolino and altoist Charlie Mariano contribute some exceptional solo work.

The baritone saxophone can be an unruly beast unless in the right hands. Harry Carney of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and Gerry Mulligan were well known bari-tamers, but Serge Chaloff, a veteran of Woody Herman’s First Herd, was another. His last session as a leader in 1956 produced a memorable version of the song.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Benny Carter/Arnold Ross
Art of the Saxophone Ballad
Indigo 2090

Frank Rosolino
Stan Kenton Presents Bob Cooper, Bill Holman & Frank Rosolino
Mosaic #MD4-185

Serge Chaloff
Blue Serge
Blue Note Records 94505

iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Stairway to the Stars (Park Avenue Fantasy).” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Two legendary female vocalists are responsible for definitive versions of “Stairway to the Stars,” Ella Fitzgerald on her lighthearted 1939 recording (The Early Years Part 2) and Sarah Vaughan on a much slower version from 1957 (Live at Mister Kelly’s). Perhaps the best-loved instrumental version of the song is the tender 1961 recording Wes Montgomery and Milt Jackson (Bags Meets Wes).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Glenn Miller
Essential Glenn Miller
RCA
Original recording 1939

Miller’s band is heard at it’s hippest, thanks to a clever arrangement by Bill Finegan. Also noteworthy are the understated vocals of Ray Eberle

iTunes
Ella Fitzgerald
Early Years 2
Verve
Original recording 1939

This ballad performance has a bit of swing to it and Fitzgerald’s vocals are subtle but exuberant, with a somewhat brash arrangement behind her. Her opening melody statement is straightforward, with a bit more embellishment the second time around

iTunes
Sarah Vaughan
Live at Mister Kelly's (Reis) (Rstr) (Dig)
Verve
Original recording 1957

Vaughan takes things at a very slow tempo on this live recording. Her melody statement is beautiful and faithful, albeit with some subtle acrobatics, and she is accompanied perfectly by her longtime associates Jimmy Jones, Richard Davis and Roy Haynes.

iTunes
Bill Evans, Jim Hall
Undercurrent
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1962

Pianist Evans and guitarist Jim Hall team up as a duo here and come up with a slow, lyrical version of “Stairway to the Stars,” sharing melody duties with one another. The accompaniment provided by each is subtle yet full, and their solos are terrific as well.

iTunes
Dexter Gordon
Our Man in Paris
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1963

Tenor saxophonist Gordon’s mastery of the jazz ballad is on full display on his stunningly lyrical interpretation of “Stairway to the Stars,” recorded live in Paris. Pianist Bud Powell contributes a particularly melodic solo of his own.

iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Bill Evans
Moonbeams
1999 APO 9428
Original recording 1962
Pianist Evans’ interpretation of the song is soft and romantic. In this, his first recording after the death of his beloved bassist Scott LaFaro, Chuck Israels ably fleshes out the trio with drummer Paul Motian.
iTunes
Milt Jackson
Bags Meets Wes
2001 Riverside Records 9407
Original recording 1961
Jackson’s vibraphone rings out bluesy, elongated tones in contrast to guitarist Wes Montgomery’s subtle chords. Pianist Wynton Kelly accents the proceedings.
iTunes
Kevin Mahogany
My Romance
1998 Warner Bros Records 46226
Original recording 1998
Mahogany underlines the subtle beauty of the song with his understated approach that retains the vocalist’s muscular phrasing while softening his deep, resonant voice.
iTunes
Spike Robinson
Stairway to the Stars
1995 Hep Records 2049
Original recording 1990
Robinson was not as well known stateside as he deserved to be because he made his home in England. But he had a beautiful, light, and unforgettable tone on tenor sax.

- Ben Maycock

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

Matt Malneck, Mitchell Parish and Frank Signorelli

Year Rank Title
1935 167 Stairway to the Stars (Park Avenue Fantasy)

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