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Darn That Dream (1939)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Darn That Dream has a very interesting and difficult melody in that its chromatic character makes the notes hard to find ... I’ve never heard a song quite like it.”

- Alec Wilder

Rank 70
Music Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics Eddie De Lange

“Darn That Dream” was introduced in the Broadway musical, Swingin’ the Dream, which opened November 29, 1939, at the Center Theater. The show closed shortly thereafter, on December 9th, after only thirteen performances. Lack of talent was not its downfall. Among those who sang “Darn That Dream” in the production were Louis Armstrong (as Bottom, pictured above), Maxine Sullivan (as Tatiana, Queen of the Pixies), Bill Bailey, Dorothy Dandridge, Vivian Dandridge, and Etta Jones, the latter three billing themselves as the Dandridge sisters (as three pixies). Note: Etta Jones of the Dandridge Sisters (born 1919) is not to be confused with Etta Jones the jazz/blues vocalist (born 1928).


More on Louis Armstrong at JazzBiographies.com

More on Maxine Sullivan at JazzBiographies.com

The show’s short run was a disappointment for all involved, especially the investors who lost nearly $100,000, one of the costliest failures of the time. For Benny Goodman, however, there was a residual bright spot. At the end of January “Darn That Dream,” featuring vocalist Mildred Bailey, became his first of three Top Ten pop-chart hits of 1940. “Darn That Dream” hit the charts two more times that year,


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

Besides “Darn That Dream,” Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie De Lange wrote five other songs for Swingin’ the Dream: “Swingin’ a Dream,” “Moonland,” “Peace, Brother,” “There’s Gotta Be a Weddin’,” and “Spring Song.” Benny Goodman shares credit for the music on the latter song. “Love’s a Riddle” also appeared in the show and was written by Alec Wilder, with Van Heusen and De Lange sharing credit for the lyrics. “Darn That Dream” would be the only hit from the score.


More on Jimmy Van Heusen at JazzBiographies.com

More on Eddie De Lange at JazzBiographies.com

Based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and billed as a “musical comedy extravaganza,” Swingin’ the Dream was set in New Orleans in 1890. The cast of 150, mostly African American actors, singers, and musicians, included, besides those mentioned above, Ruth Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Jackie “Moms” Babley, Butterfly McQueen, the Benny Goodman Sextet, Bud Freeman and His Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, and a full orchestra conducted by Don Voorhees. Agnes DeMille choreographed the dance numbers and Walt Disney did the artwork for the sets.

Swingin’ the Dream was panned by audiences and critics alike. The morning after opening night Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times said,

It would have been better to throw Shakespeare out of the window ...Every now and then a flare of dancing breaks through the professorial patter, and the Benny Goodman boys perform brilliantly on a piece of music. But the going is heavy through the long stretches of the evening.

In 1998, the title Swingin’ the Dream was recycled for the book, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture by Lewis A. Erenberg. The book is unrelated to the play but makes an interesting case that the Big Band Era, 1935-1948, was as relevant as the subsequent Bebop era, the former being when American popular music rid itself of the constraints of European influence. Erenberg discusses how the collaboration of African Americans and second-generation immigrants changed American culture and society.

In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder notes hundreds of jazz standards but in the case of “Darn That Dream” injects a bit of personal history. Asked to write an entire score for Swingin’ the Dream, which he did, Wilder then had to take it back “due to the duplicitous character of the producer.” For one reason or another, his composition “Love’s a Riddle” was kept in the show. Wilder comments that when he met Van Heusen, he was inclined to dislike him because of the circumstances. Regardless of his feelings at that time, Wilder shows a genuine appreciation for Van Heusen’s music, devoting to him nearly ten pages of mostly complimentary text in his chapter titled “The Great Craftsmen.”

More information on this tune...

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(Wilder, in his definitive book on American popular song, analyzes the musical content of “Darn That Dream.”)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

For “Darn That Dream” Jimmy Van Heusen used the standard A-A-B-A form. Within that constraint, however, he took chances employing a chromatic harmony, a difficult melody and an abrupt change of key in the bridge. Alec Wilder comments, “I’ve never heard a song quite like it,” and offers Van Heusen’s successful composition as proof that the public of that era, through the complex arrangements of big bands, had become accepting of “more daring pop tunes.”

Using Jimmy Van Heusen’s A-A-B-A form, Eddie DeLange fit lyrics that curse a dream in which one’s lover shows affection, a dream that never comes true. DeLange begins all four sections with the word “Darn,” followed by “that dream,” “your lips,” “that one-track mind of mine” and finally “that dream.” DeLange ends each A section with the line “Oh, darn that dream,” appropriately closing those sections with the song’s title and hook phrase.

In closing the bridge, DeLange makes light of the entire situation saying, “Just to change the mood I’m in, I’d welcome a nice old nightmare.” The reference to the change of mood is clever, using the turn from frustration to wry humor to coincide perfectly with Van Heusen’s change of key. -JW

Musical analysis of “Darn That Dream”

Original Key G major; false key change to Eb major in the bridge
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement “A” is essentially an eleven-note ascending scale moving chromatically for the first six notes, then step-wise for the last five before descending stepwise. The pitches are, of course, so embellished by neighbor tones, skips and leaps, that this is barely noticeable. “B” consists of a number of short, step-wise motifs in both directions.

Comments     (assumed background)

At his most sophisticated, Van Heusen presents an angelic melody that is devilishly difficult for the novice jazz performer. Many exotic harmonic devices are used and are wedded to the melodic line in a way not often heard in this genre. In the melody, D ascends to Eb by way of an upper G, then from E natural to F. Underneath, the chord progression goes from the I (G major) to the bVI (Eb), functioning almost as a German augmented sixth chord in that it resolves to a ii7 that the ear would expect to continue on to V7 – I. Instead, Van Heusen delays this by going to a III7 (embellished by a ctř7 based on iiii7(b5) – necessary, because of the melody note, a chromatic lower neighbor of the leading tone). This, in turn, resolves to vi, from which Van Heusen writes an exotic harmonic progression: vi – I – II7 – iv. This is actually ascending, but because of the inversions created by the descending bass line, we are tricked into hearing it as a descending progression. The iv chord is followed by a ctř7 functioning as a iiř7 of ii. This begins what is basically a circle-of-fifths return to the tonic but, again, so cleverly disguised by chord substitutions that it’s nearly impossible to recognize it as such. The ctř7 (Bm7(b5) in the original key) resolves to a VI7 (E7) and from there goes to ii7 (Am7) at the start of the last phrase of section “A”. The logical progression would then be V7 – I (D7 – G), but, instead, Van Heusen substitutes a bVII7 (F7) for the V7, then, instead of going back to I, he goes to iii (Bm7). This, of course, requires another circle of fifths in order to return comfortably to I, which is exactly what Van Heusen does (no substitutions this time, but several chord extensions).

After such an exotic, winding trip down tonal paths seldom heard, the contrasting simplicity of section “B” is almost a relief. The modulation from the first key to the second is fairly direct, using I – vii7 – III7 in which the vii7 becomes the pivotal ii7 of the new key (in the original, G – Fm7 – Bb7, winding up in Eb major). Section “B” consists of two old stand-bys: I – vi – ii7 – V7 in the first two-measure phrase, followed by iii – VI7(b9) – ii7 – V7 in the consequent phrase. The first phrase is repeated, but then the ear is warned of a change when the iiii’s are suddenly “tonicized” by a brief VII7 (V7/I in the new temporary key – Gm –D7 – Gm). Indeed, the song has returned to the parallel minor of the original key, but most listeners do not realize it until the following ii7 followed byV7 preceded by an embellishing +6 chord (Am – Eb7 – D7).

This song is one requiring a fair amount of study and preparation. The head should be learned thoroughly, and initial improvisations should focus on melodic embellishment (no easy task with a complicated melodic line like this one).

K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
Musicians' Comments

“Darn that Dream” has a beautiful melody combined with a lot of harmonic activity. Even taken at the customary slow tempo, the changes present some interesting challenges for the soloist.

John Stowell, jazz guitarist

Wonderful chromatic melody, both up and down. Great for advancing a tin ear. Fun too. Also lends itself to either up-tempo or slow and easy performance. In slow tempo work breath maintenance; in fast tempo eliminate gasps.

Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer

Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards -- Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.

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Soundtrack information
“Darn That Dream” was included in these films:
  • Alice (1990, Thelonious Monk)
  • Criminal (2004, Clifford Brown, Max Roach Quintet)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Darn That Dream" may be found in:

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(4 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax) and Chet Baker (trumpet), members of the West Coast “Cool” school of jazz, collaborated for about a year in an unusual group with a rhythm section of just string bass and drums---no chord instrument (guitar or piano). It was a radical approach that produced elegant results. The interplay achieved between Baker (then only 22) and Mulligan is distinctive and shows that they had a special ability to spontaneously create fine, improvised music. They were especially drawn to well-written popular songs, as their recording of “Darn That Dream” illustrates.

Although both Mulligan and Baker would go their separate ways, the music they achieved together would be, in some regards, the best of their careers.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Gerry Mulligan
The Original Quartet With Chet Baker [2-CD SET]
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1953
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Darn That Dream.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Miles Davis recorded a landmark version of “Darn That Dream” in 1950 (Birth of the Cool) as part of the “Birth of the Cool Sessions.” That performance features the vocals of bebop singer Kenny Hagood and a lush nonet arrangement by Gerry Mulligan, who would later record the tune himself. Among instrumental ballad renditions, Dexter Gordon offers one of his most lyrical ballad performances on a 1964 version recorded live in Europe (One Flight Up). Meanwhile, George Shearing’s quintet recording with Wes, Buddy and Monk Montgomery (George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers) is a standout performance that is not interpreted as a ballad, instead taking the tune as a bouncy swing number.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Miles Davis
Birth of the Cool
Blue Note Records

This tune comes from the Miles Davis sessions that are credited with ushering in the era and style of cool jazz. Interestingly, though, Davis does not solo on this tune. Instead, the featured voice is that of vocalist Kenny “Pancho” Hagood, whose singing is lushly backed by Gerry Mulligan’s arrangement.
Thelonious Monk
The Unique Thelonious Monk
1991 Original Jazz Classics 64
Original recording 1956
This lyrical (though Monkishly angular) ballad performance features Oscar Pettiford and Art Blakey. These sessions of standards were part of producer Orrin Keepnews’ plan to help build Monk’s audience, a process that subsequently led to the unveiling of some of Monk’s more complex original music.
George Shearing
George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers
1991 Original Jazz Classics 40
Original recording 1961
Shearing popularized the sound of melodies played together by piano, guitar and vibraphone. On this one-time collaboration, Wes Montgomery covers the guitar, with his brothers Buddy on vibes and Monk on bass. The CD features two swinging takes of this tune, which features some of Shearing’s famous unison melodies and block chord soloing after an opening portion in which the three lead instruments play in counterpoint.

- Noah Baerman

Nancy Wilson
But Beautiful
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1969
Vocalist Wilson gives this tune a gentle, lighthearted interpretation. The beauty of her singing is matched by her all-star band, which centers around pianist Hank Jones.
Dexter Gordon
One Flight Up
2004 Blue Note 84176
Original recording 1964
Gordon is one of the most noteworthy interpreters of ballads that jazz has known, and his breathtakingly lyrical reading of “Darn That Dream” is definitive even by his lofty standards. This performance, recorded in Europe, features fellow expatriates Kenny Drew and Art Taylor along with Danish teenager Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.
Bill Evans, Jim Hall
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1962
There is a quiet understanding on this duet from guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans. The musicians manage to weave two very independent streams into one solitary voice.
Count Basie & His Orchestra
America's #1 Band
Original Recording 1950
This live radio broadcast features a charming vocal turn by Helen Humes. If you listen closely, you can hear some wonderful playing by saxophonist Lester Young while Humes sings.
Art Pepper, George Cables

This is one of the last recordings of alto saxophonist Art Pepper, fittingly done with his friend and regular band mate, pianist George Cables. The camaraderie is readily apparent and propels the song to a higher level.
Kenny Dorham Quintet
Kenny Dorham Quintet
1993 Original Jazz Classics 113
Original recording 1953
This album features two takes of the “Darn That Dream,”’ both straight-ahead readings. Dorham’s lyrical trumpet is crystalline and pure, and the emotion is palpable.
Dianne Reeves
A Little Moonlight
2003 Blue Note

Vocalist Reeves delivers a beautiful rendition of “Darn That Dream,” an elegant and dreamy effort with accompaniment by guitarist Romero Lubambo.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Eddie De Lange and Jimmy Van Heusen

Year Rank Title
1939 70 Darn That Dream
1938 740 Deep in a Dream

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