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Star Dust (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
“[Ben Webster] did an impromptu four-minute improvisation on the number ... [which] became Webster’s own favorite recording. ”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 12
Music Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics Mitchell Parish

On October 31, 1927, Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals recorded “Stardust” at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana. Hoagy’s “pals,” Emil Seidel and His Orchestra, agreed to record the medium-tempo instrumental in between their Sunday evening and Monday matinee performances in Indianapolis, seventy miles away.

In 1928 Carmichael again recorded “Stardust,” this time with lyrics he had written, but Gennett rejected it because the instrumental had sold so poorly. The following year, at Mills Music, Mitchell Parish was asked to set lyrics to coworker Carmichael’s song. The result was the 1929 publication date of “Star Dust” with the music and lyrics we know today. The Mills publication changed the title slightly to “Star Dust” from “Stardust” as it was originally spelled.


More on Hoagy Carmichael at JazzBiographies.com

More on Mitchell Parish at JazzBiographies.com

Mills Music was owned and operated by brothers Irving and Jack Mills. Irving Mills was a songwriter and singer but is probably best remembered in his role as publisher and band manager, in particular with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In the latter half of the 1920’s Irving Mills recruited musicians for recording sessions using the names The Whoopee Makers and then Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang. Band members would change almost month-to-month, but at some point these groups included top names such as Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Hoagy Carmichael.


More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang recorded “Star Dust” on September 20, 1929, on the Brunswick label, and the song rose to number 20 on the 1930 pop charts. Shortly after the Mills recording, Isham Jones and His Orchestra recorded “Star Dust” as a romantic ballad, and their recording became a top-selling, number one hit.


More on Isham Jones at JazzBiographies.com

There are many accounts of how “Star Dust” came to be written. Carmichael tells his version in autobiographies The Stardust Road (1945) and Sometime I Wonder (1965); Will Friedwald devotes a 36-page chapter to the song in his book Stardust Melodies (2002); and Richard Sudhalter discusses the origin of the song in his Carmichael biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael (2002). According to the songwriter, inspiration struck while visiting his old university campus. Sitting on a wall reminiscing about the town, his college days, and past romances, he looked up at the starlit sky and whistled “Star Dust.” Sudhalter’s biography contends that the melody may have begun with fragments, evolving over months and maybe years, but Carmichael preferred to perpetuate a myth that sweet songs are conceived in romantic settings.

“Star Dust” is arguably the most recorded pop tune in history and, as such, a top jazz standard. The song has appeared on the recording charts with over fifteen artists. Billboard Magazine’s 1955 poll of leading disk jockeys recognized “Star Dust” four times as an all-time, popular song record by:

Many other recordings of “Star Dust” made the recording charts over the years:

  • Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang (1930, Hoagy Carmichael, Piano, #20)
  • Isham Jones and His Orchestra (1931, #1)
  • Bing Crosby (1931, #5)
  • Louis Armstrong (1931, Louis Armstrong, trumpet and vocal, #16)
  • Wayne King and His Orchestra (1931, #17)
  • Lee Sims (1931, #20)
  • Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra (Henry Wells, vocal) (1935, #10)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1936, #2)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1936, Edythe Wright, vocal, #8) (flip side of Benny Goodman’s Victor recording)
  • Sammy Kaye and His Orchestra (1939, #16)
  • Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1941, #2)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers, vocals) (1941, #7)
  • Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1941, #20)
  • Baron Elliott and His Stardust Melodies Orchestra (1943, Stardust Trio, vocals, #18)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1943, #23) (reissue of the 1941 recording)
  • Bill Ward and His Dominos (1957, #12)
  • Nino Tempo and April Stevens (1964, #32)

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

(Chart information from the latter two entries is from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Author/educator Forte book devotes nine pages to a thorough musical analysis of the song and its history.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

The song’s appeal to both jazz performers and listeners defies analysis. Its A-B-A-C structure is unconventional for a pop song*, and the melody is unusual in that it takes wide swings as a matter of course, not just at particular points of expression. Oscar Hammerstein II comments in the preface of his book Lyrics that “Star Dust” “rambles and roams like a truant schoolboy in a meadow. Its structure is loose, its pattern complex. Yet it has attained the kind of long-lived popularity that few songs can claim. What has it got? I’m not certain. I know only that it is beautiful and I like to hear it.”

Clearly Mitchell Parish’s lyrics are integral to the success of the song, creating an indelible mood. Originally Carmichael’s composition was played at a medium tempo suitable for dancing, but vocalists soon demanded that the tempo be slowed down to a pace in keeping with the dreamy lyrics. Parish’s phrases are strung together in a way that transforms his lush imagery from overly romantic to compelling, all the while supporting the flow of the tune. In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, Philip Furia comments, “Parish’s skill is manifest in the way he created a long, but conversational line that followed the contour of the melody, pausing with the music, but then driving forward syntactically.” Even when listening to an instrumental performance of “Star Dust” one cannot help but recall, if not the words, the feelings the lyrics evoke. -JW

* A visitor comments that the A-B-A-C form is not that unusual:

Your analysis of Stardust says that ABAC form is “unusual for a pop song”. My analysis of over 230 jazz standards shows that approximately 50% are AABA form and 30% are ABAC. Since most of these were pop songs in their day, this shows ABAC is not an unusual form, especially in 1927 when this song was written.

Examples include: Tea for Two, The Boy Next Door, All of You, Autumn in NY, Beautiful Love, But Beautiful ...

John Elliott, pianist and jazz educator

Musical analysis of “Star Dust”

Original Key C major
Form A – B – A – C
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Highly arpeggiated in both directions; some chromatic embellishment

Comments     (assumed background)

Despite being “all over the place” (over the range of a tenth), this tune stays firmly in a single key throughout. Musicians have commented on its resemblance to the improvisational style of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke (who was a good friend of composer Carmichael). The opening harmonic sequence, IV – iv – I – iii – VI7 – ii – VI7(+5) – ii – V7 - I bears strong resemblance to the second half of “After You’ve Gone,” except for the insertion of the iii chord and the extended V7 (actually turning into a V7(+5) before resolving back to I) in place of the second iv chord.

The “B” section is a long II7 – V7exchange, with the II7 becoming minor before resolving to the last V7 – I, event though technically, the I chord at that point – a I7(+5) – is really a V7 of the upcoming IV (F major in the original).

“C” contains a bit of a surprise; starting out with IV – iv, it returns to the tonic and its relative minor (I –vi, or C major and A minor in the original). Instead of going to the logical ii7 (or even III7), however, Carmichael goes to a VII7 (Am – B7). This resolves to the III7 (E7), as might be expected, but then goes to ii7 before the logical resolution of VI7 (A7). The VI7 resolves normally to the final ii7 – V7– I progression. Why Carmichael took the detours is hard to say; melodically, an E7 in measure 4 of section “C” would have worked just as well and made more sense from a tonal standpoint. Such deceptive resolutions were prevalent in late Romanticism and Impressionist music, both of which of were strong influences on Bix Beiderbecke’s music.

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
“Star Dust” was included in these films:
  • Star Dust (1940)
  • Hi Buddy (1943)
  • Stardust Memories (1980, Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra)
  • Goodfellas (1990, Billy Ward and His Dominos)
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993, Nat “King” Cole)
  • Casino (1995)

And on the small screen:

  • The Flintstones (1960, Fred, Barney, and Hoagy Carmichael)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Star Dust" may be found in:

William Zinsser
Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs
David R. Godine Publisher
Hardcover: 279 pages

(1 paragraph including the following types of information: lyric analysis.)

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages

(2 pages including the following types of information: lyric analysis.)

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(4 pages including the following types of information: history, performers, song writer discussion and sheet music.)

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

(2 pages including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(9 pages including the following types of information: history and music analysis.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages

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

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.)

Alan Lewens
Popular Song: Soundtrack of the Century
Watson-Guptill Publications
Paperback: 192 pages

(1 page including the following types of information: history, performers, style discussion and song writer discussion.)

Will Friedwald
Stardust Melodies
Pantheon; 1st edition
Hardcover: 416 pages

(34 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis, music analysis, performers, recordings and song writer discussion.)

Richard M. Sudhalter
Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 432 pages

(6 pages including the following types of information: history, lyric analysis and music analysis.)

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

On November 7, 1940, a milestone in jazz recording occurred. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, on a US tour, performed in Fargo, North Dakota. Two local Ellington fans had arranged to record the band live, a rare occurrence in those days of primitive recording equipment. During the course of the evening, the Ellington band swung through many of their great arrangements. At one point, a patron requested “Stardust,” a tune for which Ellington didn’t have a special arrangement. Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, in a performance remarkably similar to Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul” of the previous year, did an impromptu four-minute improvisation on the number. His version, which wasn’t commercially released until the 1970s, became Webster’s own favorite recording.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Duke Ellington
Complete Legendary Fargo Concert
Definitive Classics (no number

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

The version of “Stardust” that has had perhaps the greatest impact on the jazz world is Louis Armstrong’s from 1931 (Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Louis Armstrong). His trumpet and vocals are both heard at full maturity on this performance which ranks as one of the great early ballad performances in jazz history. Hoagy Carmichael’s own versions are also important for obvious reasons, with his mid-1940s small combo recording (Ole Buttermilk Sky) serving as a particularly good starting point.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Louis Armstrong
Ken Burns Jazz Collection
2000 Sony 61440
Original recording 1931
This is one of the classic performances displaying Armstrong’s emergence as a compelling frontman in a large ensemble environment.
Lionel Hampton
Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings
1996 GRP 652
Original recording 1947
Hamp’s epic live version of “Stardust” distributes solos among the all-star band, which includes such jazz giants as trumpeter Charlie Shavers, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Barney Kessel.
Clark Terry
Serenade to a Bus Seat
1993 Original Jazz Classics 66
Original recording 1957
Terry shows off his mastery of bittersweet ballads on this performance, which also features an energetic turn from tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.
John Coltrane
Stardust Session
Prestige 24056
Original recording 1958
We get to hear Coltrane’s contemplative side here with the understated accompaniment of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.
Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves
Salt and Pepper
1997 GRP 210
Original recording 1963
This features wonderfully sensitive interplay between Stitt’s alto and Gonsalves’ tenor, and each saxophonist shines on his own as well.
Ron Carter
2002 Blue Note 37813

Bassist Carter plays a touching version of “Stardust” accompanied only by the piano of Sir Roland Hanna.

- Noah Baerman

Ernestine Anderson
Ernestine Anderson
1992, Polygram 14076
Original recording, 1958
In one of the singer’s earliest recordings she plays it straight with a beautiful ballad version.
Jon Hendricks & Friends
Freddie Freeloader
1993, Denon 76302
Original recording, 1990
Hendricks wrote lyrics to Louis Armstrong’s version of “Star Dust” and sings them here with Judith Hendricks and the Vocalstra in a unique take on the classic.

- Sandra Burlingame

Hoagy Carmichael
Ole Buttermilk Sky
1998 Collectors Choice 64

The master plays and sings the definitive version of “Star Dust”’ on this compilation that shows Carmichael to be arguably the finest singer-songwriter of all time.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Jazz at Oberlin
1991 Original Jazz Classics 46
Original recording, 1953
This version, captured live at Oberlin College in Ohio, hints at the new directions Brubeck would be taking jazz with Time Out.
Lou Donaldson
A Man with a Horn
1999 Blue Note 21436
Original recording 1961
This album features a laid-back arrangement from the bluesy, hard bop saxophonist. The under-appreciated Donaldson trades some tasty solos with guitarist Grant Green.
Wynton Marsalis
Hot House Flowers
1990, Sony 39530
Original recording, 1984, Columbia
The song introduced this early Marsalis album and proved without a doubt that the trumpeter had something to say. “Star Dust” is the crown jewel of this excellent album.

- Ben Maycock

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

Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish

Year Rank Title
1929 12 Star Dust

Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Mills, Mitchell Parish and Dick Voynow

Year Rank Title
1939 985 Riverboat Shuffle

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