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Written: 1957

Music by: Cy Coleman

Words by: Carolyn Leigh

Written for:
Independent Publication
(not for a show, movie, revue, etc.)

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Frank Sinatra



Recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles
May 20, 1957
conducted and arranged by Nelson Riddle

track available on the album
Classic Sinatra - His Great Performances 1953-1960
and other Sinatra collections

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More Performances of "Witchcraft"
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet
(Video credit )

Harvie S (bass) and
Kenny Barron (piano)


live in concert circa April, 2012

A similar performance is available on the
2013 album Harvie S and Kenny Barron Witchcraft.
(album was recorded April 17, 2012
Brooklyn, New York)


Cafe Songbook Reading Room


Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Origins of the Song

(Read our discussion on criteria (currently unavailable)for inclusion of songs in The Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook).



David Ewen. American Songwriters, An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1987 (includes 146 bios of composers and lyricists).




book cover: James Gavin: "Intimate Nights The Golden Age of New York Cabaret"
James Gavin
Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret,
New York: Back Stage Books (revised edition) 2006


Classic American Popular Song: The Second Half-Century, 1950-2000 by David Jenness and Don Velsey
David Jenness and Don Velsey
Classic American Popular Song: The Second Half-Century, 1950-2000
New York: Routledge, 2006


book cover: "Sinatra the Song Is You" by Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald, Sinatra! The Song Is You A Singer's Art, New York: Scribners, 1995.
Da Capo Press
paperback edition
(shown above) 1997



book cover: Thomas Hischak, "Off Broadway Musicals"
Thomas S. Hischak
Off-Broadway Musicals since 1919:
From Greenwich Village Follies
to The Toxic Avenger
Scarecrow Press, 2011

Will The Real "Witchcraft" Please Stand Up

The origins of "Witchcraft" are a bit murky It's not a problem of who wrote thestandard. The music comes from Cy Coleman; the words from Carolyn Leigh. And they wrote it early in 1957, not long after Coleman suggested to Leigh that they get together to write and she agreed. David Ewen in his article on Coleman and Leigh in his book American Songwriters (1987), says they wrote their first song together, "A Moment of Madness," recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., only two days after Coleman asked her to collaborate; and pretty quickly the pair found some success writing at least four other songs in '57, one of which was "Witchcraft," the only big hit, as recorded by Sinatra, of that first bunch.

The conventional wisdom regarding the origins of "Witchcraft," (the song featured on this page) as related on many websites and in some print sources, is that it was introduced by Gerry Matthews in the 1957 Julius Monk revue Take Five and was then recorded by Frank Sinatra and released later in 1957 reaching #20 on the charts. This sequence is wrong. There was, in fact, a song in Take Five titled "Witchcraft" and it was sung by Gerry Mathews but it is a completely different song than the one with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh that Sinatra later made famous.

The Witchcraft" in Take Five is a completely different song written by Michael Brown. Here is that song from the Take Five cast album..

This is the performance of a song titled "Witchcraft" from the original off-Broadway cast album of a 1957 revue Take Five" performed by Gerry Matthews. Take Five is often but mistakenly identified as the source of the song "Witchcraft" made famous by Sinatra and featured on this page.

The incorrect notion that the song from Take Five is the same song as recorded by Sinatra has been promulgated on many websites and a few books because there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support that case: Both songs have the same title; Both songs originally appeared in 1957; the lyrics for one of the songs in the Julius Monk revue Take Five, titled "Westport," were in fact written by Carolyn Leigh the lyricist for Sinatra's "Witchcraft"; Leigh also wrote lyrics for the 1958 Julius Monk revue Demi-Dozen, one song from which, "You Fascinate Me So" was written with her then new songwriting partner Cy Coleman, the composer of the Sinatra "Witchcraft." Nevertheless, despite all of this circumstantial evidence, the two "Witchcrafts" are not even close to being the same song. Some people, of course, knew this all along; for example David Jenness and Don Velsey in their book discuss "Witchcraft" (It has "a fine boogie-like vamp and bass" and "shows Leigh's ability to use colloquial language that remains just a little obscure: 'It's such an ancien pitch / But one I wouldn't switch. . . .' also state quite matter-of-factly that "Another good song named 'Witchcraft' from the same ears, is by Michael Brown."

Here is a medley of two Coleman-Leigh songs sung by Trudy Kerr:
"Witchcraft" (written 1957) and "You Fascinate Me So" (written 1958).

Amazon iTunes

Wikipedia and so other sites make the more modest claim that "Witchcraft" (meaning the Coleman/Leigh/Sinatra song) was first "composed as an instrumental piece by Cy Coleman for the revue Take Five, but none offer any further evidence for this contention.

Well-respected scholars who have written about Take Five as well as about the Sinatra recording of "Witchcraft," don't even bother to make a connection between the two. James Gavin, a scholar of cabaret in New York City, doesn't mention "Witchcraft" in his discussion of Take Five in his highly regarded book Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret. Neither does Will Friedwald discuss any relationship between Sinatra's "Witchcraft" and Take Five in his book Sinatra! The Song Is You, even though he gives us a rather detailed account of the origins of the Coleman/Leigh "Witchcraft." According to Friedwald, in 1957, while Sinatra was filming Pal Joey in California, Sinatra's recording company at the time, Capitol, "got hungry for" a new single by Frank and instructed the singer's producer, Voyle Gilmore, to pick something for him to record. A meeting was called at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, and when Sinatra and his entourage (including Frank Military, Hank Sanicola and others) arrived, Gilmore had a pile of records for Sinatra to go through. Friedwald quotes Military recalling that Frank quickly nixed this plan telling Gilmore, "No, [you] pick one song. That's it." Gilmore, apparently having previewed the recordings, immediately pulled out a record called "Witchcraft" -- the Coleman-Leigh song. Military continued, "As [Gilmore] played it and it finished, Frank looked at us and we looked at him, and Hank [Sanicola] shook his head no." Frank said to play it again and after Gilmore did, the matter was settled. Frank said to Gilmore to do whatever he wanted with the others, but "This song I like." Interestingly, Sinatra must not have realized at that moment that he had picked a song with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh who had also written the words for his 1954 hit, "Young at Heart." (One would certainly like to know whose recording of "Witchcraft" Gilmore played for Sinatra, but we don't. Most likely it was a demo made by Coleman who was an accomplished singer and jazz pianist.)

Cy Coleman sings and plays his and Carolyn Leigh's song
"Witchcraft" on the TV show Playboy's Penthouse, hosted by Hugh Hefner, October 24, 1959. Coleman rearranges things a bit beginning with the first refrainand adding in the verselater. (Sinatra's hit recording of "Witchcraft" drops the verse altogether.) Other guests on this episode of the show include Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny Bruce, Nat King Cole and Charlie Shavers.

Sinatra's recording session with Riddle for "Witchcraft" turned out to be long and difficult, but Sinatra stuck with it until "he got it down right." (See video above right for photos of session.) Between Gilmore's taste in choosing "Witchcraft" for Sinatra to listen to and Sinatra's and Riddle's manifest talents and perseverance a hit and a standard were created out of the Coleman and Leigh song. The session took place on May 20, 1957. (by that time Dave Cavanaugh had replaced Gilmore as producer), which was some five months before that other but different song with the title "Witchcraft" was introduced in Take Five in the Downstairs Room in New York on October 12, 1957.

Friedwald adds that Coleman was very pleased with his song, especially liking how well the words and music worked together: "The words belong to the melody. That's when the lyric and music are good, too . . . you can't pull them apart." Finally, Friedwald takes us back to the very beginning: first Leigh had come up with the phrase, "It's Witchcraft." From that Coleman devised an "'exotic' melody to fit it. But when poking around at the piano, he came up with another melodic line that they instantly knew was better suited to the title" (Friedwald, pp. 250-251, hard cover Ed.). Again, there is no mention of the song being used in a cabaret show in New York, either as an instrumental by Coleman or otherwise. But there was a song (with both words and music) titled "Witchcraft" in that revue; it just wasn't the "Witchcraft."

Ed's. note: One needs to be cautious in suggesting that scholars like David Ewen as well as Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb (who in their book Reading Lyrics also state "Witchcraft" was introduced in Take Five) have made an error. If we are missing anything and someone has more information on this matter, please submit a comment.

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Critics Corner

James Kaplan Sinatra biography, Vol. 2, The Chairman
James Kaplan,
Sinatra, The Chairman
(Vol. 2 of the biography)
New York, Doubleday

Just before a recording session on May 20, 1957, at which Sinatra recorded four songs, three that didn't matter that much and one that did: "Witchcraft," Sinatra and Riddle had been on the outs over the recording of the song "Where Are You?" and the release of the album A Swingin' Affair; but Sinatra "wooed him back" for a session that included 2 1/2 hours on a new song by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, "the great 'Witchcraft'." According to James Kaplan in the second volume of his Sinatra biography, Sinatra The Chairman:

. . . . the time was well spent. From Riddle's shimmering, downward spiraling string intro (We've definitely left Gordon Jenkins territory) to the sensual glance-over-the-shoulder flute outro, the tune is a finger-snapping dream of sound, the perfect marriage of music, lyric, arrangement, and vocal--and quite simply one of the sexiest numbers ever recorded. Sinatra could sing the hell out of a torch song; no one could make you feel love's ache quiet so piercingly. But "Witchcraft" was the perfect antidote to the melancholy of "Where Are You?" and to the tyranny of love songs in general.

Proceed with what you're leadin' me to.

It was pure abandon: rapturous, guiltless. It was everything the 1950's wanted but couldn't have--all the fun that everyone knew Frank was having all the time (Kaplan, p. 152, hardcover Ed.).

"Witchcraft," as Kaplan notes was the song that became part of a Frank-Elvis duet on the occasion of Elvis's appearance on a Sinatra TV special, March 26, 1960. The former and current teenager heart-throbs sang "Witchcraft" (Elvis) and " Love Me Tender" (Frank) together. "In that moment," Kaplan writes, "Sinatra is welcoming Presley to the Great Showbiz Fraternity . . ." (p. 317-319).


In 1963, on his post-Capitol label Reprise, Sinatra decided to reprise his career by presenting new versions of previous successful recordings. The resulting album was Sinatra's Sinatra with Nelson Riddle as arranger and conductor. It included a new "Witchcraft" about which James Kaplan writes:

He [Sinatra] genuinely wanted to make these remakes fresh and new, and to a minor extent he succeeded. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The new rendering of . . . "Witchcraft . . . is a good enough reading that goes south fast as Sinatra strains for novelty. . . .

Kaplan finds this straining in a couple of places where Sinatra plays with the lyric, e.g. changing "that wicked witchcraft" to "that coo-coo witchcraft," or adds some "jazzy melodic improv." He doesn't find this "horribly wrong" but for him (Kaplan) it does no more than "focus attention on the singer as a celebrity rather than on the song itself" (p. 511).

1963 Sinatra version of Witchcraft" for his
Reprise label album Sinatra's Sinatra.

Ben Yagoda "The B-Sie"

Ben Yagoda
The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the
Great American Song

New York: Riverside Books

Ben Yagoda suggests it was anachronistic that songs like "Witchcraft" were written for independent publication as late as the late fifties.

The Coleman-Leigh "collaboration was a volatile partnership that began in 1957 and ended, during the pre-Broadway Philadelphia run of their show Little Me . . . . According to Coleman, Leigh [a fellow native of The Bronx] had grown more emotional over the years, tried to have director Bob Fosse arrested for cutting a lyric without her permission; for Coleman that was the last straw. But while the collaboration lasted it produced smart, precise, up-to-date, honest haunting swinging, sexy songs. "It Amazes Me" like "I Walk a Little Faster," was a favorite of [Blossom] Dearie and of Tony Bennett, two performers of impeccable taste; Sinatra, whose ears weren't bad, either, chose "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet to Come" for singles. Who would have thought that such one-off wonders could still emerge from the Brill Building? It was as if the clock had been turned back twenty years (Yagoda, p.237, hardcover Ed).

book cover: Wilfred Sheed "The House That George Built

Wilfred Sheed, The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty,
New York: Random House,

Wilfred Sheed is also interested in the tempestuous relationship between Coleman and Leigh and how it was (and was not) reflected in their songs:

. . . the words seem to understand the tune like a perfect marriage. It figures, because the partnership between Cy and his fellow Bronxite Carolyn Leigh was artistically if not humanly perfect. Besides (or because of) being brilliant, Carolyn Leigh seems to have been a (thoroughly justified) perfectionist. She demanded the same from her writing partner in what may have struck the so-far single Cy as a shrill married sort of voice. Apparently she brought out the screamer in him too -- along with some of his best, jazziest work. Like Irving Berlin, Cy was never happier than when chopping up his rhythms and injecting a surprise kick into them. And Leigh could ride his choppiest beats like a bronco buster in such typical numbers as "Witchcraft" and "I've Got Your Number" (p.297, hardcover Ed.).

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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "Witchcraft," as sung by Frank Sinatra on the CD
The Best of the Capitol Years and others. (Sinatra does not include the verse.

Leigh's lyric for the verse makes it clear at the outset that "Witchcraft" is about seduction, seduction that is devilish, poisonous and untrustworthy, seduction that should not be submitted to but is irresistible:

Shades of old Lucretia Borgia!
There's a devil in you tonight,
'N' although my heart adores ya,
My head says it ain't right.
Right to let you make advances, oh no!
Under normal circumstances, I'd go,
But oh! (Gottlieb and Kimball, p. 579)

The refrainthen delivers the specifics of the seduction and what makes it irresistible.

Those fingers in my hair . . . .

Finally, the onus is removed when at the end of the song, the singer admits or rationalizes her inability to resist by asserting, "There's no nicer witch than you." --And don't forget to appreciate Leigh's wicked rhyme of "Borgia" with "adores Ya."

To hear Leigh"s and Coleman's verse, listen to Ella Fitzgerald's live version on her album
Twelve Nights In Hollywood.

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or a slightly different version, also live, on the anthology album
Ella Fitzgerald Vol. 11 Jazz Collection

Amazon iTunes

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "Witchcraft" can be found in:

book cover: "Reading Lyrics" Ed. by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball

Reading Lyrics,
Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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("Witchcraft" page)


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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of


(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)

Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

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Frank Sinatra
album: All the Way (1961)

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Notes: Sinatra first released "Witchcraft" as a single (both 45 and 78 rpm) on Capitol (Capitol 3859 ... Recorded May 20, 1957). Then In 1961, Capitol released an anthology album titled All the Way that included the 1957 track of "Witchcraft" and was the first album that included a Sinatra "Witchcraft." This album was released in April, 2016. Click here for the same track of "Witchcraft" on multiple Sinatra albums. The video above is that first recording and also includes photos of Sinatra and Riddle from the recording session.
For an account of Sinatra and "Witchcraft," see center column at left.

For a later rendering of "Witchcraft" by Sinatra, see the Cafe Songbook critics' Corner, this page.
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Bill Evans Trio
album: Portrait in Jazz

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Notes: Recorded in New York City, December 28, 1959, Bill Evans, piano; Scott La Faro, bass and Paul Motian, drums.
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1958 and 1961
Ella Fitzgerald
(three live performances)
albums: Live at Mr. Kelly's (1958), Ella Returns to Berlin (1961) and Twelve Nights in Hollywood (1961)

Ella Live at Mr. Kelly's (Chicago)

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Ella Returns to Berlin

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Ella includes the verse on both recordings.
Live at Mr. Kelly's (1958): "Ella Fitzgerald didn't lack for live recording opportunities in the late '50s, which on the surface, would make this first issue of a 1958 Chicago live club date an easy one to pass on. Verve label head Norman Granz recorded her often in the '50s with an eye to releasing live albums, which he did with her shows at Newport in 1957 and Los Angeles' Opera House in 1958 (not to mention another 1958 concert in Rome that was released 30 years later to wide acclaim). Those shows, however, differed widely from this one, which found her in front of a very small audience at Chicago's jazz Mecca Mister Kelly's (Sarah Vaughan's landmark At Mister Kelly's was recorded there four months earlier). Fitzgerald's artistry is basically a given in this situation, but much of the material recorded here was rare and obscure; "Your Red Wagon" had only been released as a single, her delightfully melodic "Across the Alley from the Alamo" never appeared elsewhere, and for a pair of Sinatra evergreens -- "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "Witchcraft" -- the former had never appeared, and the latter only appeared later, on a 1961 return to the site of her Berlin live landmark." ~ John Bush at CDUniverse.com. Ella is accompanied by Lou Levy (piano); Max Bennett (bass guitar); Gus Johnson (drums).

Returns to Berlin (1961): "Though it was recorded in 1961, near the height of Cold War hostilities in Eastern Germany, Ella Fitzgerald Returns to Berlin is a magnificent performance of pure jazz bliss, free of sociopolitical subtext... or anyway, as free as jazz can ever be. Opening with a heartfelt, warm 'Give Me the Simple Life' that leads directly into a sassy take of Duke Ellington's classic 'Take the A Train,' Fitzgerald is in total control of both the band and the worshipful audience, and the adoration is well-founded. A medley of tunes from PORGY AND BESS is an early highlight, and a stretch of gorgeous standards, from a sprightly "Witchcraft" to a dazzling take on Juan Tizol's "Caravan," is topped by a wild version of the swing novelty "If You Can't Sing It You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)" and a politically interesting take on Brecht and Weill's subversive 'Mack the Knife.' Outstanding stuff." from CDUniverse.com.
Ella is accompanied by Lou Levy, piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Gus Johnson, drums; Herb Ellis, guitar, except on track 10 ("Anything Goes") on which Ella is accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio: Oscar on piano, Ed Thigpen on drums; Ray Brown on bass.

Ella also released a live performance album in 2009, Twelve Nights In Hollywood (Los Angeles), that was recorded mostly in May 1961, at the legendary club on Sunset Boulevard, The Crescendo, and included "Witchcraft." Some have called this four CD set, the tapes of which sat in storage for almost half a century until Norman Granz at Verve resurrected them, the most comprehensive and best sampling of Ella live. Not a little of this derives from the small club setting as well as Ella's spontaneity at a twelve night gig somewhat unexpectedly booked.
"All of her hallmarks (technical wizardry, breakneck scatting, irrepressible humor and warmth) are on full display, with a small but expressive quartet backing her performance, including pianist Lou Levy, guitarist Herb Ellis, drummer Gus Johnson, and bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks. . . ." ~ John Bush at CDUniverse.com.
To listen to Ella's rendition from the live album Twelve Nights in Hollywood, see center column at left.
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Oscar Peterson Trio
album: Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra

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Notes: "Master pianist Oscar Peterson works the ivories in typically impressive fashion on this 1959 tribute to Frank Sinatra. Performing with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, Peterson runs through 12 instrumental versions of songs made popular by Ol' Blue Eyes, including, naturally, faithful renditions of Sinatra signatures 'Witchcraft' and 'I Get a Kick Out of You.'

"Though the trio takes a swinging, intensely jazzy approach to these tunes, there is no excessive stretching out here--each cut clocks in at less than four minutes. Likewise, Peterson, Brown, and Thigpen color strictly inside the lines here, keeping things highly melodic, laid-back, and elegant. This is music more appropriate to a candlelit dinner than to a smoky club. But the appeal of A JAZZ PORTRAIT OF FRANK SINATRA is in this very distinction; Peterson and company quite obviously set this date to make an intimate, romantic, and beautifully listenable record."
from CDUniverse.com

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Mark Murphy
album: Sings Mostly Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman

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Notes: Featuring the Loonis-McGlohon Trio: Loonis-McGlohon, piano (arranger and leader); Terry Lassiter, bass; Jim Lackey, drums.
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John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
album: Dear Mr. Sinatra

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "John Pizzarelli is noted for his sensitive vocals, which recall the relaxed stylings of Nat "King" Cole and Chet Baker, as well as for his fluid, inventive guitar playing. On this album of covers of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, Pizzarelli wisely avoids the pitfalls of Ol' Blue Eyes imitations in favor of his own intimate approach. . . . Both attention-grabbing and supportive, his expertly arranged big band accompaniment likewise evokes the ring-a-ding-ding of the Rat Pack era while steering clear of mere pastiche." from CDUniverse.com.

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