Slang, Puns, and Wittiness in "Lush Life" and Contrafacts

Prior to yesterday, I never knew that "lush" was a slang term, e.g.
"On any ordinary day I would have described these people as barflies and lushes but now their eyes all seemed to me as big as portholes and shed a moral light" —Humboldt's Gift (1973), Saul Bellow
According to Merriam-Webster Online:
Lush, noun - a person who makes a habit of getting drunk <she accused him of being a lush and a spendthrift> 
Billy Strayhorn looking contemplative or sleepy.
I've never heard anyone use "lush" in this way in conversation; maybe it's a regional thing, or maybe it's an older term that's gone out of style. If so, I could imagine that Billy Strayhorn, in considering his reputation for sophistication and worldliness, would have had this double-meaning for "lush" in mind when writing "Lush Life." I'm sure some jazz historian has written about this already, but such a little added shade of meaning changes the whole tune for me, in a way—it's a bit darker and a bit more self-consciously self-destructive, I think.

* * *

These sorts of subtle and sometimes ironic titles are all over the place in jazz — I wonder if somebody's tried to compile them all. At Smalls last night, I learned that Joshua Redman's "Jazz Crimes" is entitled to reference Monk's tune "Evidence," since "Jazz Crimes" takes the same hits. But as I learned from Curtis Nowosad, "Evidence" is an oblique reference to it's precursor title, "Justice," which is a pun on "Just Us," related to the original tune, "Just You, Just Me."

 A lot of this jazz history miscellanea is collected in liner notes from records; hopefully in the future, digital downloads will come with scans or text files of liner notes.

Off the top of my head, a few other amusing title inside jokes:

"Confirmation" ==> "I Know" (Sonny Rollins over "Confirmation" with Miles comping on piano)

"Tune Up" ==> what do you do after you tune up? You "Countdown"!

"How High the Moon" ==> in the era of the Space Race, everyone was thinking about "Satellite"

"There Will Never Be Another You" ==> "You or Me" (great Jimmy Heath head!)

"Cherokee" ==> there have been too many: "Half-Breed Apache" (Stan Getz and Chet Baker...questionable)

Every Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, or Lennie Tristano head, practically.

For some pretty egregious examples, check out Matt Catingub's record "I'm Getting Cement All Over Ewe." 

There's also a tune on the record called "Donna Lieb," which is the melody of "Donna Lee" adapted over the changes of "Stella." This is not unheard of, though! "Donna Steps Giant Lee" is "Donna Lee" over "Giant Steps."

Oh, and "Evol Deklaw Ni" is a fun head to play over "Love Walked In" (or is it "In Walked Love?").

I'm sure there are many more, but I'll leave it here. Anybody have any personal favorites? 


  1. Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond- "Stand Still" is "My Heart Stood Still"'
    Sonny Rollins- "Moritat" is "mack the knife"
    Only two I can think of.


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