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Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana) (1917)

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Origin and Chart Information
“In 1959, ‘Indiana’ was included in the films The Gene Krupa Story and The Five Pennies (a Red Nichols biography). Nichols appeared in the former and dubbed for Danny Kaye in the latter.”

- JW

AKABack Home Again in Indiana
Rank 41
Music James Hanley
Lyrics Ballard MacDonald

Fast cars and jazz are not readily associated in many minds; however, “Indiana” is a favorite of fans of both. The majority of those who recognize the song would identify it as “Back Home Again in Indiana,” a highlight of the Indianapolis 500 pre-race ceremonies, courtesy of the distinctive voice of Jim Nabors. Jazz fans, on the other hand, are more likely to say it is “Indiana,” a favorite of jazz musicians and the basis for numerous compositions, including Lennie Tristano’s “No Figs” and Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee.” The official title is simply “Indiana.” “Back Home Again in Indiana” is the first line of the refrain.

The story of “Indiana” begins with Paul Dresser (1858-1906). Born Johann Paul Dreiser Jr., he was the older brother of the well-known novelist, Theodore Dreiser, whose works include An American Tragedy (1925), the basis for the film A Place in the Sun (1951).

By the age of thirty-seven Dresser had tired of a jack-of-all-trades career on the minstrel circuit and decided instead to concentrate on composing popular songs, a sideline in which he had already experienced some success. In 1897 Dresser wrote his biggest hit, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” a million-selling song that is often compared to Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home.” Unfortunately his success in composing and publishing would be short lived, and at the age of 47 Dresser died penniless.

Paul Dresser’s music would become his legacy, and in 1913 the Indiana State Legislature adopted “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” as the state song. Four years later Jack Hanley and Ballard MacDonald wrote “Indiana,” a song similar musically and lyrically to the Dresser composition. While Hanley and MacDonald had secured permission to use a couple of bars from the publisher of the state song, Clayton W. Henderson, professor of music at Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, and author of On the Banks of the Wabash: The Life and Music of Paul Dresser, suggests that the song “Indiana” borrows shamelessly from Dresser’s lyrics and music. He proposes, “By using note values of long, followed by short durations throughout his song--precisely those note lengths that pervade Dresser’s songs--Hanley simulated the entire musical mood of ‘Wabash.’”


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Over twenty years later, brother Theodore Dreiser considered a lawsuit charging the songwriters with plagiarism but was dissuaded by the publishers and possibly by the fact that he would be suing Ballard MacDonald, a composer already familiar with copyright infringement. In 1910 MacDonald was the plaintiff in a suit against Fred Helf, the publisher of the sheet music for “The Barbershop Chord,” a hit song MacDonald had begun and others had finished. When Helf omitted MacDonald’s name, MacDonald sued him for $37,500, driving Helf out of business.

“Indiana” was a near instant hit in 1917, first with a Conway’s Band recording which rose to number eight on the pop charts and then with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, again rising to number eight. In 1929 Red Nichols and His Five Pennies’ recording climbed the charts to number nineteen. All three hits were instrumentals.


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

Jim Nabors (1930-) who portrayed Gomer Pyle in the The Andy Griffith Show (1963-1964) and Gomer Pyle, USMC (1964-1970) began his annual rendition of “Indiana” at the Indy 500 in 1972. The tradition began in 1946 with tenor James Melton. In between 1946 and 1972 the vocalists included Frank Parish, Morton Downey Sr., Dinah Shore, Dennis Morgan, Mel Torme, Brian Sullivan, Vic Damone, Ed Ames, and Peter DePaolo. Substituting for Nabors in some years were Peter Marshall, Dr. Richard Smith, Phil Harris, Louis Sudler, and a recording of Nabor’s voice due to a rain delay.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana)”

Original Key F Major
Form A1-B-A2-C
Tonality Major throughout
Movement About 65% arpeggiated, 35% step-wise, fairly balanced between upwards and downwards motion. Totally, it’s somewhat like traveling through rolling hill country.

Comments     (assumed background)

The “A” sections follow the circle of fifths progression beginning with I-VI7-II, stretching out each chord to a full measure (unlike “I Could Write a Book” or “Sweet Lorraine,” where there is a chord change every two beats). In addition, passing chords are used, going from the initial I down to the VI7 (in the original key, F-E7-Eb7-D7), but their use is purely decorative (Charlie Parker ignores them altogether in his “Donna Lee” variation). The recommendation here is not to worry about hitting every single chord–focus on the “big picture,” i.e., the voice leading.

The “B” section is a contrasting, but fairly common, progression, starting on IV, followed by iv before resolving to I (think “Aloha Oe,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” or “Isn’t It a Lovely Day?”). After this, it again descends to VI7 for another circle of fifths (the same as the beginning, but used quite differently, so be aware).

Going from “A2’ into “C,” there is a deceptive resolution from V7 to vi, which then goes to a iv before returning to the opening “I” of the “C” section–very tasteful, but tricky for the novice. “C” contains a circle of fifths as well, this time going up to III7and resolving to vi. This, in turn, resolves directly to I by way of a “common-tone diminished chord,” a handy harmonic device that can resolve to almost anything (in this case, D minor becomes D˚7–which contains the same notes as F˚7).

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Soundtrack information
“Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana)” was included in these films:
  • Roberta (1935, The Wabash Indianians)
  • With a Song in My Heart (1952, Susan Hayward dubbed by Jane Froman)
  • The Gene Krupa Story (1959, Red Nichols)
  • The Five Pennies (1959, with lyrics by Sylvia Fine)
  • Hoosiers (1986)
  • Sweet and Lowdown (1999, Red Nichols)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana)" may be found in:

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

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)
Free Chord Changes for this Tune
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Jazz History Notes

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded “Indiana” for Columbia Records on January 30, 1917, days after their first successful New York appearance. A month later Victor Records quickly released “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixieland Jass One Step” (arguably the first jazz recording), selling thousands of copies to the dismay of Columbia executives who quickly released “Indiana.”

“Indiana” continued thereafter to play a large part in jazz history. A jam session favorite, recordings were made in the twenties (Red Nichols, Eddie Condon) and thirties (big bands of Benny Goodman and Harry James and small groups led by Roy Eldridge, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins) and into the forties, fifties and sixties (Chet Baker, Clifford Brown and Stan Getz).

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Original Dixieland Jazz Band Vol. 2
Jazz Archives #82 Pias

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana).” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Given how early “Indiana” emerged as a jazz standard, it is interesting how many of its definitive recordings come from later periods in jazz. Lester Young’s swing-era performance with Count Basie on piano from 1944 (Complete Savoy Recordings) went a long way towards showing the potential the song had for modern applications. Those modern applications, meanwhile, were brought to fruition by bebop musicians, most notably pianist Bud Powell, who produced a noteworthy trio rendition in 1947 (Bud’s Bubble: 1944/1947).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Bud Powell
Bud's Bubble: 1944/1947
2000 Epm Musique 159742
Original recordings, 1946-47
Just a few months before appearing on Charlie Parker’s original recording of “Donna Lee,” Powell shows off his affinity for the “Indiana” chord changes upon which “Donna Lee” is based. He is in peak form on this up-tempo trio performance with bassist Curley Russell and drummer Max Roach.
Art Tatum
The Complete Capitol Recordings
Blue Note Records

Tatum is heard here in a trio with guitarist Everett Barksdale and bassist Slam Stewart. The trio format forces him to relax a bit, but the results are still stunning.
Lester Young
Complete Savoy Recordings
Savoy Jazz 17122
Original recording 1944
Young is accompanied here by a rhythm section of Count Basie band members, including guitarist Freddie Green and the Count himself on piano. The results are exceptionally swinging and energetic, with Young in top form.
Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson
Just One of Those Things
1999 Polygram 547437
Original recording 1954
Hampton and Peterson both display their capacity to swing with simultaneous ease and energy on this fun performance.
Barry Harris
Chasin' the Bird
1996 Original Jazz Classics 872
Original recording 1962
Pianist Harris is the virtual embodiment of second-generation bebop mastery. His mastery is on display throughout this burning trio performance.
Rosemary Clooney
Still on the Road
1994 Concord 4590

Clooney offers us a strikingly tender vocal rendition of “Indiana” that is gentle without being excessively sappy.

- Noah Baerman

The Hi-Lo's
Cherries and Other Delights
1993 compilation, Hindsight Records #603

This vocally acrobatic quartet was respected in the jazz world and wildly popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They have a lot of fun with “Indiana,”’ opening in straight barbershop style and throwing in a little soft shoe before taking it outside.

- Sandra Burlingame

Erroll Garner
Penthouse Serenade
1994, Savoy #162
Original recording, 1949
Pianist Erroll Garner’s fingers are a sonic blur in this rendition. The skillful accompaniment allows Garner the freedom to fly all over the keys, giving the song a catchy stride feel.
Gary Burton
For Hamp, Red, Bags and Cal
2001 Concord Jazz #4941

Burton is joined by guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Christian McBride for this airtight reading of the song. There’s a great rhythm to the trio and Malone’s hypnotic solo lays down nicely over Burton’s vibes.
Dave Brubeck. Jazz
Red, Hot and Cool
Sony 61468
Original recording 1955
Recorded live at Basin Street in New York, Brubeck et al. deliver a superb up-tempo rendition of the song. Saxophonist Paul Desmond’s phrasing is fantastic, and the overall sound is warm and infectious.

- Ben Maycock

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

James Hanley and Ballard MacDonald

Year Rank Title
1917 41 Indiana (Back Home Again in Indiana)

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