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Mood Indigo (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
Duke Ellington’s first vocal version, recorded ten years after the tune’s instrumental premier in 1930, featured the silky voice of Ivie Anderson.

- Chris Tyle

Rank 161
Words and Music Barney Bigard
Duke Ellington
Irving Mills

Duke Ellington’s Orchestra introduced “Mood Indigo” at New York’s Cotton Club in 1930. Although composer credit for the tune was Albany Bigard, Duke Ellington, and Irving Mills (Ellington’s manager at the time), the complete story is a bit more complicated. The orchestra’s first recordings of the tune were made in October and December, 1930.

For a short time Ellington had the great Creole clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet in the band, until he left in 1925. (Bechet was a peripatetic individual and didn’t want a steady job.) Ellington had been looking for a clarinetist to replace Bechet when in December, 1927, just a few days after Duke had started his engagement at the Cotton Club in New York, he hired New Orleans born clarinetist Albany “Barney” Bigard.


More on Barney Bigard at JazzBiographies.com

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More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

Bigard was a perfect choice for the band. Bechet was one of his favorite clarinetists, and as a young man he studied clarinet with one of New Orleans’ finest musicians and an excellent jazz musician, Lorenzo Tio, Jr. Tio was a member of the orchestra led by violinist Armand Piron, a group that played the finest engagements in the Crescent City. In 1923 they made a special appearance in New York at the Roseland Ballroom, and their music caught not only the public’s fancy but that of the top record companies, and they recorded for Victor, Okeh, and Columbia Records.

In 1930 Bigard approached Duke with a composition that he claimed as his own. In his autobiography With Louis and the Duke: The Biography of a Jazz Clarinetist, Barney partially sets the record straight. “My old teacher, Lorenzo Tio (Jr.), had come to New York...with some tunes and parts of tunes he had written. There was one I liked, and I asked him if I could borrow it. He was trying to interest me in recording one or two.... I took it home and kept fooling around with it. I changed some of it around...and got something together that mostly was my own but partly Tio’s.”

Truth was, however, that the tune was the theme song of Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra of which Tio was a member. Its title was “Dreamy Blues” (early recordings by Duke’s band show both “Mood Indigo” and “Dreamy Blues” as the title). Although Bigard claimed that most of the piece was his, we can now never be sure since Tio never copyrighted his original number. Tio’s daughter claimed, “We had this business arrangement with Duke Ellington.”

Over the years, “Mood Indigo” was one of the tunes most closely associated with the early Ellington band, and Duke continued to play it together with “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Creole Love Call,” calling the piece “a medley of our award-winning compositions.” And, indeed, “Mood Indigo” continued to win awards, even after Ellington’s death. In 1975 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences inducted Duke’s 1930 Brunswick recording into the Grammy Hall of Fame.


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

“Mood Indigo” has charted several times over the years. Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra recording for Brunswick was on the charts for ten weeks in 1931, peaking at #3. The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra’s rendition reached #19 on the charts in 1934.

In 1954 the Norman Petty Trio’s instrumental version hit #14 in the pop charts. That same year, the vocal rendition by the Four Freshman reached #24 on the charts.

More information on this tune...

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

(Ellington biographer analyzes the musical content and relates the history of the song.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Early Ellington: Complete Brunswick Recordings
Original recording 1930

On the original recording of the song, Ellington creates a lovely three-horn orchestration that sounds both traditional (in large part thanks to the banjo) and progressive. Arthur Whetsol on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone and Barney Bigard on clarinet all contribute wonderfully.

Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra
The Chronological classics-Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra 1930-1934
Original recording 1934

This slowly swinging performance features some influential and highly creative orchestration and arranging by Willie Smith. Listen especially for the skillfully-deployed plunged brass.

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
Polygram Records
Original recording 1957

Fitzgerald’s vocals are masterful yet subtle on this restrained, soulful recording. Oscar Peterson’s elegant interjections add a great deal of flavor as well.

Charles Mingus
Mingus Dynasty
Original recording 1959

Mingus, an unabashed Ellington devotee, provides a great orchestration of “Mood Indigo” here. There are soulful melody statements by saxophonists Booker Ervin and John Handy and excellent and often surprising solos by trombonist Jimmy Knepper, pianist Sir Roland Hanna and Mingus himself on bass.

Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins
Ellington Meets Hawkins (Reis) (Rstr) (Dig)
Original recording 1962

Given his orchestrational mastery, it should not be surprising that Ellington manages to make five horns sound so lush here. The focal point, though, is an extended Coleman Hawkins tenor saxophone solo. Hawkins is soulful and creative, aided significantly by some great piano by the Duke.


- Noah Baerman

Jimmy Smith
Dot Com Blues
2001 Blue Thumb Records 543978

A slow, bluesy rendition of the song (almost nine minutes in length) capitalizes on the fastidious precision of Russell Malone’s fret work and the laid-back funk riffs of Smith’s organ.
Ellis Marsalis
Duke in Blue
1999 Columbia 63631

Marsalis’ sparse, music-box-like introduction opens up into a warm, mid-tempo blues reading on this sincere solo tribute to the composer.
Thelonious Monk
Plays Duke Ellington
Riverside 201
Original recording 1955
One genius tips his hat to another on this esoteric yet compelling interpretation of the song. The rhythm section lays out a sauntering swing over which Monk elegantly creates.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album
1996 Polygram Records 46717

Vocalist Bridgewater is featured with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra singing some fine arrangements of Ellingtonia.
Charles Mingus
Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
1995 GRP 170
Original recording 1963
Bassist Mingus never did anything ordinary, to which this session attests. Part of it was recorded at the same time as his famous “Black Saint” session and includes a similar horn lineup as well as Jaki Byard on piano.

- Ben Maycock

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