Despite music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and book by Joshua Logan (who also directed), the 1940 musical comedy Higher and Higher played for only 84 performances at the Shubert Theater on Broadway (there was a brief return engagement that summer).
June Allyson was in the original cast, as was Jack Haley, who also starred in the film released in 1943. Maybe you don’t remember “A Barking Baby Never Bites” or “Disgustingly Rich,” but one song from the musical is well known to everyone who treasures the Great American Songbook: From Act Two, “It Never Entered My Mind.”
It’s simply a gorgeous song, and unbelievably tender. The singer—of either sex—describes living a new solitary life, the contours of which are wholly new.
“Once I laughed when I heard you saying/That I’d be playing solitaire/Uneasy in my easy chair/It never entered my mind.”
There are literally hundreds of versions of this song, evenly distributed between vocal and instrumental takes. It’s been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Johnny Hartman, Carol Sloane, Cybil Shepherd, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Jeri Southern, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Chet Baker, Anita O’Day, Chris Connor, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, Jackie McLean, Suzanne McCorkle, Linda Ronstadt, Hugh Masakela and Mark Murphy.
And, of course, Miles Davis. I was reminded of the version that appears on the Prestige album Workin’, released in ’59, when I heard it in the new documentary Birth of the Cool (reviewed by me for New York City Jazz Record). Miles had recorded the song earlier, in ’54, with Art Blakey for Blue Note, but this is the version that gets me every time.
Although John Coltrane appears right at the end, the take is primarily Miles’ trumpet, Red Garland’s piano and Paul Chambers’ bass. The group wouldn’t last long after this recording. Miles would defect to Columbia Records, and fire both Coltrane and drummer Philly Joe Jones over their drug addiction. But here they caught lightning in a bottle.
This is from The Music Aficionado blog:
I find the classic quintet recording more mature and delicate [than the earlier version], and a large part of the credit goes to Red Garland who shines on this tune, playing a repeated four-note pattern over Chambers’s pedal-point bass during the muted trumpet melody. Garland also gets the only solo, a masterful showcase of ballad playing in which he sticks in a 10-second quote from Country Gardens at 3:58. The ending is unique with the same pattern played in double-time, a bowed bass and Coltrane’s only contribution to the song—the last two notes.
I listened to Miles’ version of this song over and over, maybe a dozen times. I played it for wife Mary Ann, and she fell for it, too. And she still hadn’t heard the lyrics.
“And once you told me I was mistaken/That I’d wake up with the sun/And order orange juice for one/It never entered my mind/You had what I lack, myself/Now I even have to scratch my back myself.”
That night, Mary Ann and asked Alexa (our Amazon Echo) to play some vocal versions of “It Never Entered My Mind.” We sampled Carol Sloane, Linda Ronstadt, Stacey Kent, Johnny Hartman, Helen Merrill, Johnny Hartman and Peggy Lee. The last two inhabited the lyrics most completely, and had the greatest emotional resonance. (I know Ms. Lee could be difficult, but when she sang she was without peer.) the definitive Hartman version is on his album The Voice That Is! on Impulse, but here he is doing it live, on TV with Sammy Davis Jr. You have to fast-forward through Sammy’s surprisingly good jazz vibraphone playing:
We can’t read COVID-19 “Alerts” 24-7. We need escapes, places of refuge. And right now, “It Never Entered My Mind” is ours.
Once you warned me that if you scorned me/I’d say a lonely prayer again/And wish that you were there again/To get into my hair again/It never entered my mind.”