Why this tune?
When jazz musicians call out “Stella,” they’re not quoting Marlon Brando, but calling “Stella By Starlight,” a tune from a 1944 movie that has become a top 10 standard in the jazz world. It’s one of the first standards I learned to play by heart, and a regular feature at jazz jam sessions – back when we got together for jam sessions.
Victor Young wrote “Stella” for the movie The Uninvited, and performed it with his orchestra in the film. When I checked out the recording from the film on YouTube, I was surprised to see comments from several viewers who were sent there by Barry Harris, presumably to learn from the original version of this classic song.
Dig this detail!
Unlike many other musical and movie songs that entered the jazz canon, “Stella” started as an instrumental, with lyrics added later by Ned Washington, who, according to jazzstandards.com, found it challenging to fit the title into the existing melody. There are hundreds of instrumental and vocal versions to enjoy, including creative recent interpretations by pianist Robert Glasper and the DC area vocalist Rochelle Rice.
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Victor Young and his Orchestra, from The Uninvited