Stories of Standards: "Nature Boy" by eden ahbez

Dec 10, 2017

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In 1948 eden ahbez gave a handwritten copy of “nature boy” to Nat “King” Cole’s agent/manager. Cole’s performances of the song proved quite popular, although permission to record required finding ahbez, who was at that time living with his wife and son under the Hollywood sign. Originally written in waltz time, Cole and arranger Frank de Vol changed it to “rubato”, without a set rhythm. “nature boy” immediately went to the number one spot on the Billboard charts and stayed there for eight weeks. The lyrics were based on a Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophy influenced by the Wandervogel movement in Germany, which ahbez had encountered at the Eutropheon, a small restaurant whose followers, known as “Nature Boys”, wore their hair and beards long and ate only raw fruits and vegetables.

Controversy arose when Herman Yablokoff sued for plagiarism, citing similarities in melody to "Shvayg mayn harts" ("Hush My Heart"), written for Yablokoff’s 1935 play “Papirosn“. The suit was settled out of court for $25,000. ahbez always said that the melody had come to him “as if an angel was singing it”; Yablokoff’s response was that if the angels were singing it they must have bought a copy of his song. The similarity of both to a portion of Antonin Dvorak’s 1887 “Piano Quintet No. 2”, based in part on Czechoslovakian folk music, suggests that either Dvorak’s music or Czech folk music had influenced both Yablokoff and ahbez.

eden ahbez (pronounced ah-bee) was born in 1908 in Brooklyn, New York, where his given name was George Alexander Aberle. After spending several years in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, he was adopted in 1917 by a couple in Chanute, Kansas, where he was raised with the name George McGrew. In the 1930s he lived in Kansas City, where he worked as a piano player and dance band leader. In 1941 he went to Los Angeles, where he played piano at the Europheon and changed his name to eden ahbez, which was uncapitalized owing to his belief that only God and Infinity were worthy of capital letters. ahbez continued writing and worked with several other musicians, including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Grace Slick who was in The Great Society band at the time. ahbez died in 1995 after being struck by a car. His album “Echoes from Nature Boy” was released posthumously.
 

Nat King Cole Trio – Johnny Miller, bass; Nat King Cole, piano; Oscar Moore, guitar
Credit http://pastdaily.com/2017/05/07/nat-king-cole-1945-past-daily-downbeat/