The many faces of "Stella by Starlight"

Recently I got obsessed with the classic 1944 jazz standard “Stella by Starlight”.

I thought I’d share some very different interpretations of this music.

Harry James, 1947

Here’s the original version, not jazz, but slow, sentimental, lush: a sentimental serenade perfect for dancing foxtrot to. Pretty good, if you like “oldies”. And if you don’t like oldies, you need to hear this anyway, to understand why the piece was so interesting: there is inherently beautiful harmonic movement and color that would attract jazz musicians to adopt this tune and transform it, and they still continue to do that.

Miles Davis quintet, 1964

A really quirky version that starts with a slow intro before everyone starts swinging, and then it goes fragmented again, and then the cycle continues with all kinds of different ideas. Ten minutes long.

Tito Puente, around 1983?

Tito Puente and his Latin jazz band, Michel Camilo on piano. Puente himself starts off soloing on vibraphone: beautiful, haunting rhythmic playing. Later, there is an electric guitar solo. But mostly, this whole performance is melodic, and with its steady and standard Afro-Cuban rhythmic drive, utterly danceable for salsa. Something different!

This is the performance that inspired me to write this blog post, because I’d never encountered this version before, but it was so enchanting. From foxtrot original to salsa… who would have thought?

Chet Baker quartet, 1987

Live video footage from Tokyo. Baker is near the end of his tragic life. He starts off with a fragmentary approach, and makes use of long-held but gently played notes that creates soft but extended dissonances against what’s going on.

Learn Jazz Standards

A wonderful backing track from “Learn Jazz Standards”, not for listening to but playing against:

One day I’ll take up the challenge of improvising an own performance of “Stella by Starlight”, but I have to confess that right now it seems too hard for me.


I love “Stella by Starlight”. It will endure forever as a jazz standard, I’m sure. I hope you like it too.

comments powered by Disqus