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How High The Moon Jazz Standard How High The Moon Jazz Standard


How High The Moon Jazz Standard

Written by: Fidelia Loeffler

Discover the iconic jazz standard "How High The Moon" and immerse yourself in the mesmerizing world of jazz. Experience the captivating melodies and improvisation that define this timeless genre.

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Jazz music, with its rich improvisation and complex melodies, has given rise to numerous timeless classics. Among these is the iconic jazz standard, “How High The Moon.” This vibrant and energetic composition holds a special place in the hearts of jazz enthusiasts, captivating audiences with its intricate harmonies and mesmerizing solos.

Originally written by Morgan Lewis, with lyrics by Nancy Hamilton, “How High The Moon” was first introduced in 1940 as part of the Broadway musical revue, “Two for the Show.” However, it was the instrumental rendition by jazz guitarist, Les Paul, and his then-wife, Mary Ford, in 1951 that truly catapulted the song to fame.

The song’s undeniable popularity within the jazz community lies in its ability to showcase the improvisational skills of musicians. The chord progressions and structure of “How High The Moon” allow for intricate and adventurous interpretations, making it an ideal platform for jazz musicians to showcase their virtuosity.

In this article, we will explore the history, composition, notable recordings, and lasting influence of this beloved jazz standard. From its humble origins to its enduring presence as a staple in jazz repertoire, “How High The Moon” continues to captivate and inspire musicians and audiences alike.


History of “How High The Moon”

The origins of “How High The Moon” can be traced back to the year 1940, when Morgan Lewis composed the melody for a Broadway musical revue called “Two for the Show.” The lyrics were penned by Nancy Hamilton, adding depth and emotion to the already captivating melody.

When “Two for the Show” premiered, “How High The Moon” received moderate success, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the song achieved its iconic status. One of the key catalysts for its rise to fame was the groundbreaking rendition by jazz guitarist Les Paul and vocalist Mary Ford.

Les Paul, known for his innovative approach to music, recorded a version of “How High The Moon” using multi-track recording techniques. This allowed him to layer multiple guitar parts, creating a lush and rich sound that showcased his mastery of the instrument. Mary Ford’s vocals complemented Paul’s guitar work, adding a touch of elegance and charm to the recording.

The success of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s recording brought “How High The Moon” to the forefront of popular culture. It reached the top of the charts and became one of the best-selling singles of 1951. The innovative use of technology in their recording set a precedent for future artists and cemented the song’s place in music history.

Following the success of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s rendition, “How High The Moon” became a jazz standard, with countless musicians interpreting and reimagining the song over the years. Jazz legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Stan Getz all put their unique stamp on the composition, each adding their own improvisational flair and vocal prowess.

Over time, “How High The Moon” became synonymous with the golden age of jazz, representing the spirit of innovation and creative freedom that defined the genre during that era. Its popularity extended beyond the jazz community, as the song was embraced by artists in other genres as well.

The enduring appeal of “How High The Moon” can be attributed to its timeless melody, memorable lyrics, and the opportunities it provides for musicians to showcase their improvisational skills. Whether performed as an instrumental or with vocals, the song continues to captivate audiences and remains a quintessential part of jazz repertoire to this day.


Composition Analysis

“How High The Moon” features a composition that showcases the brilliance of its creators, Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton. The song’s structure and harmonic progression offer a solid foundation for improvisation, making it a favorite among jazz musicians.

One notable aspect of the composition is its use of a minor tonality, which adds a touch of melancholy to the otherwise upbeat melody. The opening melody is catchy and memorable, creating a strong hook that draws listeners in from the start.

The song is predominantly in the key of G major, with a brief modulation to E flat major in the bridge section. This change of key adds a refreshing dynamic to the piece and provides a platform for musicians to explore different melodic possibilities. The chord progressions in “How High The Moon” are harmonically rich, consisting of a mix of major and minor chords, including some chromaticism.

The AABA song form is employed, where the A sections represent the verses and the B section serves as the bridge. The verses are characterized by a swung rhythm and syncopated melodies, while the bridge offers a contrasting, more legato and lyrical melody.

One of the defining features that make “How High The Moon” a favorite among jazz musicians is the chord progression in the A sections. The chord changes include a series of ii-V-I progressions, which are common in jazz standards. This allows for extensive opportunities for improvisation and harmonic exploration.

The structure and harmonies of “How High The Moon” provide a canvas for musicians to showcase their technical abilities and creative improvisation. From the swinging melodies to the exciting chord changes, the composition offers endless possibilities for musicians to push the boundaries of their musical expression.

It is worth noting that while the original composition of “How High The Moon” is attributed to Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton, the song has undergone many variations and adaptations throughout the years. Musicians have added their own unique interpretations, altering the harmonies and melodies to suit their personal style and preferences.

Overall, the composition of “How High The Moon” is the perfect marriage of catchy melodies, inventive harmonies, and a solid structure that allows for expressive improvisation. Its enduring popularity among jazz musicians and listeners alike is a testament to the brilliance of its composition.


Notable Recordings

“How High The Moon” has been recorded by numerous jazz artists over the years, each bringing their own unique interpretation to this beloved jazz standard. Here are some notable recordings that have left an indelible mark on the song’s legacy:

  • Ella Fitzgerald: Known as the “First Lady of Song,” Fitzgerald’s 1960 live performance of “How High The Moon” at the Berlin Jazz Festival is legendary. Her scat singing and vocal improvisation in this rendition are nothing short of mesmerizing, solidifying her status as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time.
  • Les Paul and Mary Ford: The groundbreaking recording by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951 revolutionized the use of multi-track recording techniques. Their version of “How High The Moon” showcased Paul’s virtuosic guitar skills and Ford’s smooth vocals, setting a new standard for innovation in music production.
  • Sarah Vaughan: Vaughan’s rendition of “How High The Moon” from her 1957 album “Swingin’ Easy” exemplifies her incredible vocal range and control. Her soulful interpretation and fearless improvisation make this recording a standout in the history of jazz.
  • Stan Getz: The tenor saxophonist Stan Getz displayed his exceptional musicality in his 1964 recording of “How High The Moon.” Getz’s smooth and lyrical playing style combined with his mastery of improvisation resulted in a breathtaking performance that has captivated listeners for decades.
  • Erroll Garner: Pianist Erroll Garner, known for his distinctive swing rhythm and expressive playing, recorded a remarkable instrumental version of “How High The Moon” in 1949. His exceptional technique and creative ingenuity shine through in this timeless recording.

These are just a few of the many notable recordings of “How High The Moon.” Each artist has brought their own flair, improvisation, and personal touch to the song, showcasing its versatility and infinite possibilities for interpretation.

The enduring appeal of “How High The Moon” as a favorite among jazz musicians is reflected in the countless recordings and performances that have kept the song alive throughout the years. It continues to be a canvas for artists to showcase their musicality, improvisational skills, and unique interpretations, ensuring its legacy for generations to come.


Legacy and Influence

“How High The Moon” holds a significant place in the history of jazz and popular music, leaving an indelible mark on the music industry and influencing countless artists across genres. Its enduring legacy and wide-ranging influence can be attributed to several key factors:

Jazz Standard Status: “How High The Moon” has achieved the status of a jazz standard, a testament to its enduring popularity and musical significance. It has become a benchmark for aspiring jazz musicians and a staple in jazz jam sessions, providing a common language that bridges generations of performers.

Instrumental Virtuosity: The composition’s intricate melodies and harmonies provide ample room for instrumental virtuosity and improvisation. Jazz musicians have used “How High The Moon” as a platform to showcase their technical skills, creativity, and musical expression. Its challenging chord progressions and engaging structure have helped further the evolution of jazz as an art form.

Scat Singing and Vocal Innovation: “How High The Moon” has also been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of vocal expression. Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic scat singing on her 1960 live performance elevated the technique’s popularity and showcased the song’s potential for vocal improvisation. It paved the way for future vocalists to explore new vocal techniques and expand the possibilities of jazz vocal performance.

Technological Advancements: The groundbreaking recording by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951 introduced innovative recording techniques to the music industry. Their use of multi-track recording opened up new possibilities for artists and engineers, revolutionizing the way music was recorded and produced. The influence of this recording can still be felt in contemporary music today.

Cross-Genre Appeal: “How High The Moon” has transcended the jazz genre and found its way into popular culture. Its memorable melodies and harmonies have been embraced by artists across genres, from pop to rock to R&B. Its timeless appeal and adaptability have allowed it to remain relevant and cherished by audiences of all backgrounds.

Cultural Significance: “How High The Moon” represents a significant era in jazz history, capturing the spirit of the Swing Era and the vibrant energy of the post-war years. It serves as a time capsule, reminding us of the societal and cultural changes that shaped the music of that time. Its continued popularity keeps the memory of this era alive and showcases the ongoing relevance and impact of jazz music on our culture.

Overall, “How High The Moon” has left an indelible mark on the music world. Its status as a jazz standard, its influence on vocal and instrumental innovation, and its enduring cross-genre appeal have solidified its place in music history. Aspiring musicians continue to study and interpret this timeless composition, ensuring that its legacy and influence will continue for generations to come.



For decades, “How High The Moon” has stood as a shining example of the beauty and brilliance of jazz music. Its infectious melodies, complex harmonies, and improvisational opportunities have captivated audiences and inspired countless musicians across generations.

From its humble beginnings as part of a Broadway musical revue to its groundbreaking recordings by Les Paul and Mary Ford, “How High The Moon” has transformed into a celebrated jazz standard. Its timeless appeal has been solidified by the remarkable interpretations of jazz luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, and Erroll Garner.

The song’s influence has extended beyond the jazz realm, shaping the evolution of popular music as a whole. Its impact can be felt in the innovative recording techniques pioneered by Les Paul and Mary Ford, as well as its cross-genre appeal that has attracted artists from various musical backgrounds.

Moreover, “How High The Moon” is more than just a song—it represents an era in jazz history, embodying the spirit of creativity, improvisation, and cultural significance. Its enduring legacy continues to inspire and influence musicians, helping to keep jazz alive and thriving in the modern music landscape.

As we reflect on the history, composition, notable recordings, and lasting impact of “How High The Moon,” it is clear that this jazz standard holds a special place in the hearts of music lovers worldwide. Whether experienced as an instrumental masterpiece or a vocal showcase, its charm and musicality continue to enthrall audiences, showcasing the timeless power of jazz music.

So, the next time you find yourself tapping your feet or humming along to the invigorating melodies of “How High The Moon,” take a moment to appreciate the rich history and enduring influence of this beloved jazz standard—a testament to the boundless creativity and enchantment of the world of jazz.

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