Donna Lee

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For the Anthony Braxton album, see Donna Lee (album). For the American field hockey player, see Donna Lee (field hockey).

"Donna Lee" is a bebop jazz standard composed by either Charlie Parker or Miles Davis (the composer's identity is disputed).[1] It was written in A-flat and is based on the chord changes of the traditional jazz standard "(Back Home Again in) Indiana".[1] One unusual feature of the tune is that it begins with a half-bar rest. It is a very complex, fast-moving chart with a compositional style based on four-note groups over each change.


It is disputed whether Charlie Parker or Miles Davis composed the tune in 1947.[2] Parker was credited on the original 78-rpm recordings[2] and the tune was copyrighted under Parker's name, but according to Miles Davis in his autobiography, "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."[3]


"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".[4]

Jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius recorded his interpretation of the tune, a solo fretless electric bass rendition featuring Don Alias on congas, for his debut album Jaco Pastorius (1976).

The tune is a particular favorite of avant-garde saxophonist Anthony Braxton, who has recorded it many times. It is also the last song recorded by trumpeter Clifford Brown before his death in a car accident at age 25.

The guitar solo in the rock song "Monkey Bars" by Canadian rock band Coney Hatch from their debut Coney Hatch is a modified version of the intro to "Donna Lee."

Origin of the name[edit]

The piece is named after bassist Curly Russell's daughter, Donna Lee Russell.[5]

Charles Mingus's quasi-autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, describes a period in his life when he had two "wives", one named Donna and one named Lee-Marie. When Mingus introduced them to Miles Davis, he referred to them as "Donna-Lee"; Mingus considered them one wife with the best qualities of both women.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Burlingame
  2. ^ a b Chambers (1998), p. 61
  3. ^ Davis (1989), p. 103
  4. ^ "Session details: Harris Smith Studio (May 8, 1947)". 1947-05-08. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  5. ^ Ira Gitler's interview with Mark Myers


Further reading[edit]

  • Brian Priestley Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker
  • Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans: Out of the Cool