Kevin Mahogany: Lush Life
Kevin Mahogany (vocals)
My Romance (Warner 47025-2)
Recorded: New York, May 11-13, 1998
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
Billy Strayhorn's harmonically sophisticated and lyrically artsy "Lush Life" was first recorded by
Nat King Cole in 1949 (not counting the composer's own then unreleased version), and thus began debate and controversy that has endured to this day. Strayhorn took affront to Cole's mangling of the lyrics and the structural distortions caused by Pete Rugolo's arrangement. In 1963, Johnny Hartman (with John Coltrane) recorded what is still considered by most to be the definitive vocal interpretation, although that hasn't stopped singers ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Sarah Vaughan from trying to do justice to Strayhorn's challenging rubato masterpiece, not to mention numerous instrumentalists. Sinatra loved it, but finding it too difficult put off recording it, at first temporarily (in 1958) and then permanently. Clarinetist Tony Scott perhaps typifies (to an extreme) the view of some towards "Lush Life," writing on his website: "The greatest singers have sung 'Lush Life' wrong." Among those either singing or playing it incorrectly, Scott cites Cole, Ella, Vaughan, Hartman, Oscar Peterson, Coltrane, Joe Pass, and Strayhorn himself!
So now we come to Kevin Mahogany's version. One of the finest voices to emerge in jazz since the '90s, Mahogany humbly places "Lush Life" 11th and dead last in the track order on his My Romance CD. He also sings "I Apologize" two selections prior, maybe subconsciously wishing to placate in advance those who might take exception to his singing of "Lush Life," or even just attempting it. Mahogany and pianist Bob James beautifully navigate the lyric and chordal minefields of Strayhorn's tune, both artists understated but assured. The warm purity of Mahogany's voice, and his clear and graceful articulation of the words help ensure his success. From his opening foghorn-like "I …" to his daringly near-falsetto closing "too," Mahogany is in full control. Yet even he flubs a word or two, singing "wheels" instead of "wheel," "hearts" instead of "heart" (the latter at least according to Strayhorn's biographer David Hadju, although everyone pluralizes it). He also enunciates "distingué" rather awkwardly, as if wanting to make sure that no one thinks he's singing "distant" instead, as many other vocalists have carelessly done.
Reviewer: Scott Albin