Paramount commissioned composer Ralph Rainger and lyricist Leo Robin to write “Easy Living” for the 1937 comedy film of the same name, starring Ray Milland and Jean Arthur. The song appeared in the original film as an instrumental version, which perhaps contributed to its initial obscurity.
Later in 1937, Billie Holiday recorded “Easy Living” with Teddy Wilson’s Orchestra. Billie Holiday’s rendition gained attention and launched “Easy Living” into the charts for the first time, where it remained for two weeks.
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Though few other jazz musicians covered “Easy Living” in the ensuing years, Billie Holiday re-recorded the tune in 1947.
After Billie Holiday’s second recording, other artists picked up the song, which peaked in popularity in the late 1950s. Clifford Brown, Wardell Gray, Peggy Lee, and George Shearing all recorded versions of “Easy Living” in the late 1940s and early 1950s, augmenting the song’s popularity within the jazz community. From 1955 through 1957, more jazz artists made recordings of “Easy Living” than all of the preceding years combined.
Throughout “Easy Living,” progression is accomplished through the use of diminished chords, which move the song forward by half steps. The song takes a slow tempo and some of the best recordings are clean and unembellished renditions, allowing the beauty of the composition and the unique chord modulation in the second ending to shine.
Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan are just a few of the notable artists who have produced recordings of “Easy Living.”
Listen to an “Easy Living” cover by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass below:
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