R.I.P. GENE LEES — by Bruno Leicht, May 1, 2010

Yet another “man of words” has left the world’s stage.

Honestly, I didn’t realize that Gene Lees wrote the lyrics to Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby” or to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights (Corcovado)”.

This is a bloody shame; but after all I learned at Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides about Gene Lees, I think he wouldn’t have given a damn, because he certainly was aware that any woman or man of good taste would bump into one of his works sooner or later anyway.

I will try to compensate that gap of knowledge with the purchase of at least one of his books; and I guess, The Will To Swing, Gene’s biography on Oscar Peterson should be a good start.

I linked this post with Doug Ramsey’s very personal, and moving obituary about his very good friend, and mentor (feel free to click on the word “obituary”).

You will find more extensive posts about Gene Lees at Rifftides by one of his closest friends, musician and writer Jeff Sultanoff, and by the Canadian jazz musician Phil Dwyer who contributed a quite bizarre story about the purchase of “The Will To Swing”.

Addendum: Doug has referred to another obituary on Gene Lees. It’s by Terry Teachout, and can be read at the online edition of Wall Street Journal

2nd addendum: Peter Keepnews’ Obituary On Gene Lees in the NY Times.

Here’s a special dedication piece, Booker Little’s beautiful composition “Man Of Words”, originally written for jazz critic Nat Hentoff, and posted here in memory of a musician and author I unfortunately have never met.

Credits from the Booker Little page at

Booker Little (tp) Julian Priester (tb) Eric Dolphy (as, bcl, fl) Don Friedman (p) Ron Carter (b) Max Roach (d, timp, vib) Nat Hentoff (supervisor) – Nola’s Penthouse Sound Studios, NYC, April 4, 1961

Man Of Words

Get Booker Little’s greatest album here: Out Front or HERE

Talking about a lyricist, singer, and jazz critic without playing some related music, is like talking to a willing girl about kissing, but without touching her lips. (Blog owner’s note: All CD titles are linked to amazon & co., in case someone would like to purchase the complete albums.)

When I was 19, I was madly in love with brown-eyed Miss Katinka Zielinski from Poland who was sitting next to me at High School. Alas, it never happened.

She didn’t know it then (I told her ten years after), but “our” song was “Waltz For Debby”, the solo version with Bill Evans, from his 1956-album New Jazz Conceptions. I always thought of Katinka while playing this beautiful track over, and over again.

Gene’s beautiful lyrics can be heard on the very last track of this playlist. It’s from the Tony Bennett / Bill Evans album, recorded in 1975.

These two versions, the intimate piano solo, and the duet with the composer and the famous vocalist are the opener and the closer of this little playlist.

The 2nd track is “Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)”, but not the famous studio version with composer Antonio Carlos Jobim at the piano; this track is from the Getz/Gilberto live album Getz Au Go Go, recorded at the Greenwich Village “Café Au Go Go” in 1964. The Stan Getz Quartet with Gary Burton on the vibes, Gene Cherico on bass, and Joe Hunt on drums accompany Astrud Gilberto who delivers both in her charming manner, the English, and the Brazilian lyrics.

Track #3 is my favorite version of the same song: Here we go with Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Ed Thipgen who fulfilled some alleged requests of an invisible audience on one of their most famous albums: We Get Requests, recorded for Verve Records in 1964.

Now comes a torch version which is sung in English only, and with altered lyrics: Joannie Summers, here paired with Brazil’s guitarist Laurindo Almeida, and a bunch of strings, who did it very Softly, The Brazilian Sound.

Tony Bennett reflects the bitter-sweet projection of little Debby, who would be grown up too soon, then leaving her dolls, and her silly old bear behind. Bill’s supportive, never disturbing piano accompaniment is recorded a bit too peaked, too directly in my opinion.

I hope you all will enjoy the little musical trip through the lyrical world of Gene Lees.

Gene Lees Memorial Playlist

Waltz for Debby
Lyrics by Gene Lees

In her own sweet world
Populated by dolls and clowns
And a prince and a big purple bear.

Lives my favorite girl,
Unaware of the worried frowns
That we weary grown-ups all wear.

In the sun she dances to silent music,
Songs that are spun of gold
Somewhere in her own little head.

One day all too soon
She’ll grow up and she’ll leave her dolls
And the prince and the silly old bear.

When she goes they will cry
As they whisper “Good-bye.”
They will miss her I fear
But then so will I.

Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)
Lyrics by Gene Lees

Quiet nights of quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar,
floating on the silence that surrounds us.

Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams,
and a window that looks out on Corcovado, oh how lovely

This is where I want to be, here with you so close to me,
until the final flicker of life’s ember.

I who was lost and lonely, believing life was only
a bitter tragic joke, have found with you,
the meaning of existence, oh my love.

P.S. —

Dear folks,

it’s a horn of plenty, Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides. Here we go with a bunch of very interesting articles by Gene Lees, he wrote for

They are all about jazz musicians; and I just numbered them for the surprise effect.

Feel free to click on the Roman numerals; but take the time it needs, ’cause this is quality writing. No special order here.



This entry was posted in Jazz Stories & Tales, Invented Truths & Actual Happenings. Bookmark the permalink.