Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo

It's interesting to compare this recording of "Mood Indigo" with Ellington's December 1930 version, the more instrumentally filled out of his three original 1930 recordings of the tune. Doing so, we hear an innovative work with unique voicings; as Ellington expert John Edward Hasse has explained, Duke and co-composer Barney Bigard "turned the usual roles of trombone, trumpet and clarinet on their heads by assigning the trombone the high notes and the clarinet the low, creating a blend of tonal colors probably never heard before in all of music history."

In this 1961 rendition we hear Ellington, with Armstrong, Bigard and Trummy Young, turn that original piece into a sublime work of musical art. In the 1930 track, we also hear the origins of the remarkable clarinet part played by Bigard on this recording.

A distinctive Ellington mini-prelude begins things, and Armstrong follows with a majestic statement of the theme. Barney Bigard next takes the lead and plays some ineffably beautiful, exquisitely shaped, lyrically flowing lines, with gloriously rich clarinet tone, parts in that low range Hasse noted in the original record.

Louis then sings the lyrics, which transition into a scat section, the latter part harmonically complemented by Trummy Young's muted trombone; and that leads into a lovely, soulful, unique high-range trombone solo, with striking tone—and breath—control. In the midst of that solo, Armstrong (rhythmically) says, "Oh, listen to ol' Trummy blowin' that pretty horn." That's an example of a nice, collegial thing Armstrong would do: compliment by name a band member playing especially well, giving him special recognition; he'd also say, "take it" so-and-so as he signaled a bandmate for a solo, giving a special platform for the musician's performance. The tune finishes in beautiful "mood indigo" manner with Armstrong's vocal, assisted by Young's continued, subtle trombone work, Ellington and the rest backing them.

Finally, another of my jazz heresies: In this particular case, I think the piece would actually be better without the lyrics/vocal. (This comes from a musician/songwriter whose best musical ability is his singing and his lyrics!) I just don't think the lyrics are especially good; the musical composition, with those instrumentalists playing and improvising so extraordinarily, is so good there is need for nothing else.

February 24, 2009 · 0 comments


Rachael Price: Mood Indigo

So we're sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table, me and TheWife. There's a large (but recently shrinking) pile of unopened review material sitting between us. I pop one fresh CD into my laptop and give bits and pieces of it a secret listen (earbuds can save a marriage, I tell you).

While I'm reading the liner notes, "that" look passes over TheWife's face. She has apparently noticed the photo of Rachael Price on the back of the digipack. So as to dissuade the notion that I'm in this purely for the pretty faces, I unplug the my earphones and let the voice drift into the room. Yes, she had to admit that there's definitely something going on there.

And so there is. While I don't normally lean toward being a skeptic, it goes without saying that maybe the jazz world doesn't need another take on "Mood Indigo." No, it needs this one. She might be 23 years old, but her voice goes far, far beyond that. With echoes of both Abbey Lincoln and (gulp!) Amy Winehouse, I was just mesmerized.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Gianluca Petrella: Mood Indigo

After starting with a sonic jungle that Ellington may have approved, the quartet launches into a post- modern "Mood Indigo" full of playful irony and respect for the spirit of Duke's "jungle period." The vocal qualities of Petrella's trombone are a highlight, and Bearzatti's clarinet follows in the same vein, while the rhythm team briskly marks the beat. These young Italians' reinterpretation of this classic is original and highly enjoyable.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo (1950)

The advent of the long-playing record finally released Duke Ellington from the time constraints that had previously forced him to slice and dice his creative output into three minute installments. In truth, Ellington had grown comfortable with short forms, and even when he wrote extended suites for his late vintage LPs, he tended to fill them with short vignettes of a few minutes duration. But for his first LP, Ellington revisited some of his earlier classics and fleshed them out into longer versions. His 15-minute version of "Mood Indigo" is a breathtaking reworking of a song Ellington had first recorded twenty years earlier. Here Ellington pulls out every trick in the book, taking this song all the way from Mood Infrared up to Mood Ultraviolet, and touching on every shade between. The whole track shines, but the avant-garde waltz restatement toward the close is about as good as big band writing can get. Fans who are looking for outstanding Ellingtonia from the 1950s should start here.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Nina Simone: Mood Indigo

A classically trained pianist, Nina Simone kicks off Ellington's "Mood Indigo" with a two-fisted display that sounds amazingly like Duke, fires off a fugue worthy of J.S. Bach, and finally vocalizes with a youthful (age 24) defiance that thankfully would never mellow. When she sings "You ain't never been blue / Till you've had that mood indigo," Simone is clearly invoking not personal depression but her homeland's 300-year collective black experience. Her militant Afro-Americanism and kick-ass feminism would both find wider voice in the 1960s and '70s. But Nina Simone was there first, a pioneer woman on the Fifties frontier.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo (1930)

Duke Ellington, photo by Herb Snitzer

"Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand musicians and make a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger will nod his head and say, 'Oh, yes, that's done like this,'" remarked André Previn, who knew all about orchestration. "But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don't know what it is!" Previn was probably thinking of "Mood Indigo." No other orchestrator ever accomplished more with less. Backed by a four-piece rhythm section, Duke's three horns make a sound fit for nirvana. Only Whetsol's and Nanton's occasional imperfections remind us that humans are at work.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


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