"Donna Lee" is a bebop jazz standard composed by either Charlie Parker or Miles Davis (A dispute exists over who the true composer is). 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 on four note groups over each change.
A dispute exists over whether Charlie Parker or trumpeter Miles Davis composed the tune in 1947. Parker was credited on the original 78 rpm recordings  and the tune was also copyrighted under Parker's name.
Yet, in Miles Davis' autobiography, Davis states "I wrote a tune for the album called 'Donna Lee,' which was the first tune of mine that was ever recorded. But when the record came out it listed Bird (Charlie Parker) as the composer. It wasn't Bird's fault, though. The record company just made a mistake."
"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
- Davis (1989), p. 103
- "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
- Davis, Miles (1989). Miles, The Autobiography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-72582-3
- Brian Priestley Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker
- Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans: Out of the Cool