"Donna Lee" is a bebop jazz standard composed by Miles Davis. It was written in A flat and is based on the chord changes of the traditional jazz standard "(Back Home Again in) Indiana". One unusual feature of the tune is that it begins with a half-bar rest. It is a very complex, fast moving chart that utilizes a compositional style based around the usage of four note groups over each change.
Miles Davis composed the tune in 1947, his first recorded composition, although authorship is often credited to saxophonist Charlie Parker. Parker was credited on the original 78 rpm recordings, a mistake perpetuated through numerous reissues and causing early confusion. The tune was also copyrighted under Parker's name.
"Donna Lee" was originally recorded by the Charlie Parker Quintet on May 8, 1947 for Savoy Records in New York City. The performers for the session were Charlie Parker (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Bud Powell (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), and Max Roach (drums). Also recorded in the same session were "Chasin' the Bird", "Cheryl", and "Buzzy".
The tune is a particular favourite of avant-garde saxophonist Anthony Braxton, who has recorded it many times. It is also the last song ever recorded by trumpeter Clifford Brown, prior to his death in a car accident at age 25.
Origin of the name
In Charles Mingus's quasi-autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, he enters a period in his life where he has two "wives", one named Donna and one named Lee-Marie. When Mingus introduces them to Miles Davis, and as he considers them as one wife exhibiting the best qualities of both people, he refers to them as "Donna-lee".
- Chambers (1998), p. 61
- "Session details: Harris Smith Studio (May 8, 1947)". Plosin.com. 1947-05-08. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- Ira Gitler's interview with Mark Myers
- Chambers, Jack (1998). Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis. De Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80849-8
- Burlingame, Sandra "Donna Lee" @ jazzstandards.com. Accessed 2007 September 20
- Brian Priestley Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker
- Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans: Out of the Cool