A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing
Strayhorn wrote this piece in the same year as Chelsea Bridge, 1941. It was due to a dispute between the national broadcast stations and ASCAP, the American Society of Composers and Publishers, that Ellington, an ASCAP member, could not publish any music copyrighted in his name on public radio. To solve this problem and have his shows broadcasted, he commissioned both his son Mercer and Billy Strayhorn to compose new material. A Flower was another alto feature for Johnny Hodges, first recorded in 1946, and several times later on. In ’65, the orchestra recorded it with Ella Fitzgerald signing Strayhorn’s later added lyrics.
Just like Chelsea Bridge, A Flower was based on a harmonic idea outgrowing the conventional, functional jazz harmony. The piece centers on a so-called harmonic ostinato, a tool that can be found, for example, in the earlier compositions Ugly Duckling or Lush Life (here as a two-chord ostinato in the verse), but also in Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia (est.1942). Ostinatos and two-chord sequences can be found in the following era of modal jazz, in tunes such as My Favorite Things played by John Coltrane or Miles Davis’s So What.
Strayhorn’s stylistic signature in this context is a chromatic melody, as opposed to melodies based on diatonic scales. In the first four bars, the melody wavers between the #11 and the 13 of the static B9#11 chord. In bar 5, a chain of dominants begins, and the melody breaks out into wider gests for two bars, before it soothes down and affirms the tonic of Db by repeating this note three times, synchronous to the harmonic rhythm. The bridge of the 32-bar AABA form consists of a two-bar motif, sequenced twice and forming a sentence. The harmonic track goes from Db to D and back, however resolving in the B9#11 of the final “A” section.
The lyrics to this song are thematically as romantic as the title implies: An innocent description of different kinds of flowers and their attributes.