"How High the Moon" is a jazz standard with lyrics by Nancy Hamilton and music by Morgan Lewis. It was first featured in the 1940 Broadway revue Two for the Show, where it was sung by Alfred Drake and Frances Comstock.

In "Two for the Show", this was a rare serious moment in an otherwise humorous revue.

Most notable recordings[edit]Edit

The earliest recorded hit version was by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra. It was recorded February 7, 1940 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 35391, with the flip side "Fable of the Rose".[2] The Les Paul Trio recorded a version released as V-Disc 540B with a spoken introduction which was issued in November, 1945 by the U.S. War Department. In 1948, bandleader Stan Kenton enjoyed some success with his version of the tune. The recording, with a vocal by June Christy, was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 911 (with the flip side "Willow, Weep for Me")[3] and 15117(with the flip side "Interlude").[4] It reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on July 9, 1948, its only week on the chart, at #27.[5]

The best-known recording of the song is by Les Paul and Mary Ford, made on January 4, 1951. The record was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 1451, with the flip side "Walkin' and Whistlin' Blues",[6] and spent 25 weeks (beginning on March 23, 1951) on the Billboard chart,[5] 9 weeks at #1. The record was subsequently re-released by Capitol as catalog number 1675, with "Josephine" on the B-side.[7]

The song was sung in various recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, becoming (with the Gershwin's "Oh, Lady Be Good!") Ella's signature tune. She first performed the song at Carnegie Hall on September 29, 1947.[1] Her first recording, backed by the Daydreamers, was recorded December 20, 1947 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24387, with the flip side "You Turned the Tables on Me".[8] Her most celebrated recording of "How High the Moon" is on her 1960 album Ella in Berlin, and her version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."[9]

Other versions[edit]Edit

  • Ray Anthony - Jam Session at the Tower (2008)
  • Alexia Vassiliou / Alexia - recorded the song in her 1996 Jazz Album, featuring Chick Corea, "In A Jazz Mood" for Sony-BMG.
  • Louis Armstrong and his orchestra (recorded in two parts November 30, 1947, released by Decca Records as catalog numbers 28103 & 28104, each with the flip side being a part of a two part recording of "Body and Soul"[10])
  • Mitchel Ayres' orchestra (vocal: Mary Ann Mercer: recorded February 8, 1940, released by Bluebird Records as catalog number 10609B, with the flip side "A House with a Little Red Barn"[11])
  • Chet Baker (trumpet)on the album Chet
  • Jeff Beck and Imelda May live performance, 2010 Grammy Awards
  • Bonnemere (released 1949 by Royal Roost Records as catalog number 582, with the flip side "Autumn Leaves"[12])
  • Randy Brooks and his orchestra (recorded March 22, 1946, released by Decca Records as catalog number 29479, with the flip side "Thunder Rock"[13])
  • Charles Brown Trio (recorded November 11, 1948, released by Aladdin Records as catalog number 3071, with the flip side "Texas Blues"[14])
  • The Dave Brubeck Octet recorded a lengthy track, with narration, where they play "How High The Moon" in various jazz styles.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded a 9:11 length version of the piece at Oberlin College in March of 1953 which is included on the Fantasy Records LP and CD "Jazz at Oberlin"

Songs based on "How High the Moon"[edit]Edit

Another jazz standard, "Ornithology" by Charlie Parker, is based on the chords of "How High the Moon". It was common among jazz musicians (Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and others) to seamlessly include "Ornithology" in the solo when performing "How High the Moon". Lennie Tristano wrote the contrafact "Lennie-bird" over the chord changes, and Miles Davis/Chuck Wayne's "Solar" is also based on part of the chord structure.[45]

John Coltrane's composition "Satellite" is also based on the chords of "How High the Moon", which Coltrane embellished with the three-tonic progression he also used on his composition "Giant Steps".


Paul McCartney stated during the filming of Les Paul: Chasing Sound that "How High the Moon" was the first song The Beatles played when they first got together. The sculptural armchair "How High The Moon", designed by Shiro Kuramata for Vitra AG of Switzerland in 1986, was named after this song.

Jeff Beck paid tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford at the 2010 Grammy Awards Ceremony by playing a note-for-note version of How High the Moon with Imelda May singing, a year after Les Paul died.

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