“Then, with disillusion deep in your eyes, you learned that fools in love soon grow wise…”

Composed in 1932 by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, with words added by Mitchell Parish (Duke thought they were “wonderful –but not entirely fitted to my original conception”), “Sophisticated Lady” was released in 1933 and spent 16 weeks on the pop charts, peaking at #3.

The version above is a terrific 1961 live recording by Sarah Vaughan which takes great care with the melody and breathes full life into the lyrics. It’s particularly interesting because it begins with the bridge, not the first verse. Then gives us the final verse, then starts over from the beginning and goes straight through.

“Sophisticated Lady” remained one of Duke’s most enduring standards and was performed regularly by the band for decades, most frequently as a feature for the current clarinetist, or for the baritone saxophone of the great Harry Carney.

Carney was not the first baritone saxophonist in jazz, but he was the first important one, and a giant indeed; his straightforward approach and tremendous, robust sound have influenced nearly every baritone player who’s come since. He served longer than anyone else in Duke’s band, from 1927 through Duke’s death in 1974. By both sound and personality, he was considered the anchor of the band, and possibly the greatest anchor any big band has ever had. A close friend and confidant to Duke, he would conduct the band sometimes in Duke’s absence, and when the band was on the road, Duke would ride in Harry’s car. Carney was also a very early proponent of “circular breathing,” a technique used by some wind players that involves breathing in through the nose while breathing out with the mouth to produce one long, uninterrupted sound. (Kenny G would later log a Guinness World Record by using this technique to hold a note for 45 minutes and 47 seconds.)

Carney is featured at his very greatest in this elegant performance from the 1960s. Watch for the sound that begins at 2:20 and doesn’t stop for over a minute.


1981’s Broadway revue Sophisticated Ladies, a tribute to Ellington’s music, gave its title song a lovely showcase for groundbreaking entertainers Hinton Battle (who won the first of his three Tony Awards) and Paula Kelly. The subtlety displayed here is marvelous.