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In a Sentimental Mood (1935)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Hearing Coltrane seize ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ is thanks enough.”

- Marc Greilsamer

Rank 19
Music Duke Ellington
Lyrics Irving Mills
Manny Kurtz

On April 30, 1935, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra introduced “In a Sentimental Mood.” Recorded on the Brunswick label and featuring Otto “Toby” Hardwick on alto saxophone, the composition went onto the pop charts on July 13, rising to number fourteen.

“In a Sentimental Mood” enjoyed a wave of popularity in the 1930’s. Other recordings to make the pop charts that decade included Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, 1936, which rose to number thirteen, and Mills Blues Rhythm Band, also in 1936, which rose to number nineteen. In an age of radio, “In a Sentimental Mood” was the theme song for no less than nine radio shows.


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

Although Ellington is credited for the music of “In a Sentimental Mood,” Toby Hardwick should be recognized beyond his introductory performance. In his biography, Duke Ellington, James Lincoln Collier comments, “...the central melodic ideas of virtually all of Ellington’s best-known songs originated in somebody else’s head.” Among many others examples, Collier points out that “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Prelude to a Kiss” were adaptations of Hardwick melodies.


More on Otto Hardwick at JazzBiographies.com

More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

The combination of Ellington’s music and the Kurtz/Mills lyrics has elicited high praise from music critics. Accolades have included “Simply the most beautiful song ever written” and “The perfect soundtrack for falling in love.”


More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

More on Manny Kurtz at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(Ellington biographer Collier devotes two paragraphs to anecdotes and a musical analysis of the song.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

It is always tempting to question how much Irving Mills contributed to a song bearing his name. In this case the lofty phrases,

“stars come through my room”
“flame that lights the gloom”
“wings of every kiss”

are so similar in style to Mills’ individual effort on “Caravan” (1937)

“stars above that shine so bright”
“The myst’ry of their fading light...”

that it seems likely credit is due.

In his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder comments that the lyrics to “In a Sentimental Mood” have little fluidity. While that may be true, as with “Caravan” their strength lies in the evocative power of the phrases. The lyrics are not witty, urbane, or exemplary in their construction like those of Lorenz Hart or Cole Porter, but they do successfully create images that support the mood of Ellington’s music.

“In a Sentimental Mood” is written in the basic popular song format A-A-B-A and appears to capitalize on a supporting phrase from a Gershwin song. The chorus opens with a seven-note climb up the scale that, with the exception of key, is the same as the opening of the chorus in Gershwin’s 1926 “Someone to Watch over Me.” The songs part company there, however, with Gershwin launching into a series of repeated notes before closing the first chorus (and others) with the title phrase. “In a Sentimental Mood,” on the other hand, pauses for a full measure at the end of the initial seven-note climb, providing emphasis that establishes the sequence of notes as the hook phrase and as the logical place to fit the title of the song. -JW

Musical analysis of “In a Sentimental Mood”

Original Key One flat; “A” starts in D minor and ends in F major with a false key change to Db major
Form A - A – B – A
Tonality About 45% is minor; first “A” wanders to the relative major key, while “B” is entirely major
Movement Primarily scale-wise, initially ascending from the third degree of the minor key, gradually working its way back down through a combination of steps and skips in both directions.

Comments     (assumed background)

The beginning minor gives the song a “brooding,” introspective feeling, but the eventual change to minor seems to bring some resolution. It has been pointed out that the first seven notes are identical to Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me.” However, the harmonic context is so radically different as to make it almost unrecognizable.

Harmonically, the piece is brilliant and unique. A descending bass line subtly leads the ear from i to iv. A V7 returns us to i, but then, changes the V to a minor v chord, making it a pivot iii chord of the relative major in a circle of fifths that leads the ear to the new tonic (in the original key: A7 – Dm – Am7 – D7 – Gm7 – C7 – F). This whole modulation is done with such finesse, the listener is hardly aware of it until the sudden shift back to i for the second “A”.

The harmonic progression of “B,” by contrast, is a fairly standard I – vi – ii – V7 (“Blue Moon,” “Heart And Soul,” etc.), but since the song has modulated into a distant key, it still sounds fresh. Part of this is also because many notes of the melody are on coloristic chord extentions–the major (raised) seventh, the ninth, and the eleventh, for the most part. Other important melody notes are chord extentions, the most notable being the first long sustained note of “A”. The initial seven-notescale run lands on the 11th (G in D minor). This could only work in a minor key and essentially makes the opening chord Dm11. The next predominant note is the 9th (A in G minor).

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).
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Soundtrack information
“In a Sentimental Mood” was included in these films:
  • The Natural (1984, instrumental)
  • He Said, She Said (1991)
  • A League of Their Own (1992, Billy Joel)
  • The Mambo Kings (1992, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra)
  • The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra)
  • The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996, Marvin Hamlisch, instrumental)
  • Love Jones (1997, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington)
  • Angel Eyes (2001, Dennis Smith)

And on Broadway:

  • Sophisticated Ladies (1981, Phyllis Hyman)
  • Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf (1989, Bunny Briggs, Jerome Richardson)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "In a Sentimental Mood" may be found in:

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

(2 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: Broadway productions, history and performers.)

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(2 paragraphs including the following types of information: anecdotal and music analysis.)
Free Chord Changes for this Tune
Chord changes and downloadable tracks at PlayJazzNow.com
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research
Free Chord Changes

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

Jazz History Notes

Duke Ellington’s lovely melody was the basis for a number of arrangements in the 1930’s, most notably those recorded by reedman Jimmy Dorsey, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, guitarist Dick McDonough, Benny Goodman, and Elllington himself. The Belgian-gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt’s version with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1937 showed he was not intimidated by the song’s harmonic structure; his work on the recording is forward-thinking.

The tune had a bit of hiatus during the 1940’s but resurfaced in 1953 with recordings by Sonny Rollins and Art Tatum, after which it was revisited by many jazz players.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli
Classic Early Recordings in Chronogical Order
Jsp Records

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “In a Sentimental Mood.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

The original Duke Ellington version of “In A Sentimental Mood” from 1935 (The Duke: The Columbia Years 1927-1962) is haunting and lyrical, showing what a brilliant composer and arranger he already was. Perhaps better known, especially among modern musicians, is his revisiting of the tune in 1962 (Duke Ellington and John Coltrane) with a quartet featuring the passionate saxophone of John Coltrane. A standout among vocal performances of the tune is Sarah Vaughan’s assured, intimate version from 1961 (Ballads: Sarah Vaughan) accompanied only by the guitar of Mundell Lowe and the bass of George DuVivier.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
The Duke: The Columbia Years 1927-1962
2004 Sony 92684
Original recording 1935
With all the great recordings of this tune, it would be easy to forget about Ellington’s haunting original version. It is well worth seeking out and provides a fascinating contrast with the more frequently cited quartet version with John Coltrane from 1962.
Sonny Rollins/Modern Jazz Quartet
Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet
Original Jazz Classics 11
Original recording 1953
Rollins’ brilliantly lyrical approach to ballads is in full bloom on this elegant collaboration with the recently-formed Modern Jazz Quartet.
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane

This Coltrane performance of “In a Sentimental Mood” can be found on a handful of compilations. It very well could be the definitive rendition of the song as the saxophonist is joined by Duke Ellington, himself, at the piano.
Nancy Wilson
But Beautiful
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1969
Wilson sings this tune hauntingly, backed by a quartet featuring the piano of Hank Jones.
Lucky Thompson
Lucky Strikes
1991 Original Jazz Classics 194
Original recording 1964
This is a lovely performance that displays tenor giant Thompson’s underrated skill at applying the bebop language to the soprano saxophone.
Earl Hines
Plays Duke Ellington, Vol. 2
1997 New World 80532
Original recording 1972
Hines approaches the tune with a swinging bounce while applying the harmonic richness typical of his latter-day Ellington interpretations.
Clark Terry
Duke With a Difference
Riverside/OJC 229
Original recording 1957
Terry was an important Ellington collaborator in the 1950s, and this joyful performance features him flanked by some of his cohorts from the Ellington orchestra.
World Saxophone Quartet
Plays Duke Ellington
Original recording 1986
This performance is modern and harmonically edgy, but it sings nonetheless, expressing the lyricism implicit in the song.

- Noah Baerman

Leon Parker
1996, Sony 67457

You won’t hear another rendition like this. Parker employs only conga drum and hand claps, bolstered by flute, alto sax, trombone, bass, steel pan, marimba, and berimbau!

- Sandra Burlingame

Sarah Vaughan
2002 Blue Note 37561

This compilation of recordings from the early sixties presents Vaughan at her most mature as a vocalist. Her elegance and innate sense of romance are perfectly suited for the song.
Mark Whitfield
The Marksman
1990, Warner Bros 26321

In his debut as a leader, guitarist Whitfield displayed all-around talent. His gentle reading of “In a Sentimental Mood” speaks to his respect and understanding for the “classics.”

- Ben Maycock

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

Duke Ellington, Manny Kurtz and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1935 19 In a Sentimental Mood

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