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Moonglow (1934)

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Origin and Chart Information
With a clever counter-melody composed by George Dunning and new words by Steve Allen, the tune was an integral part of the 1955 motion picture Picnic.

- Chris Tyle

Rank 128
Words and Music Eddie De Lange
Will Hudson
Irving Mills

Father of the jazz violin, Joe Venuti, introduced “Moonglow” on a recording date for the American Record Company’s Banner label in September, 1933. Venuti’s record didn’t hit the charts, but the following year recordings by several bands did:


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

Writer George T. Simon, while working on a compilation of music for The Big Band Songbook, contacted composer Will Hudson regarding “Moonglow,” and Hudson explained how the tune came about. “It happened very simply. Back in the early ‘30s, I had a band at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit, and I needed a theme song. So I wrote ‘Moonglow.’” Hudson’s band flopped, so he traveled to New York and was hired by promoter/publisher Irving Mills as an arranger and composer.


More on Will Hudson at JazzBiographies.com

More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

Hudson’s tune and arrangement were picked up by violinist Joe Venuti. Venuti had just formed a big band after years of work with top groups like Paul Whiteman and successful freelancing on radio and records. (He’s on literally thousands of records from the period.) Joe liked the tune and recorded it twice--in September and October of 1933-- prior to the number’s publication. Neither recording did much during the record buying doldrums of the Depression.

Undaunted, Hudson continued to push his song. He managed to get the tune into the Broadway show Blackbirds of 1934 which opened in New York in December, 1933, and eventually played London in August, 1934.

Venuti’s version contains a verse, which Hudson discarded before rearranging the tune and giving it to Cab Calloway, who recorded it in January, 1934. Hudson tailored the arrangement by leaving spaces to spotlight Cab’s musicians. Alto saxophonist Eddie Barefield is the star of the session, contributing an outstanding solo.

In true Tin Pan Alley, song-plugger fashion, Hudson’s next stop was Benny Goodman, who, like Venuti, was planning to leave his successful freelance career behind to become a leader. Goodman further streamlined Hudson’s arrangement, making trombonist Jack Teagarden the focus. (An interesting feature of this recording is the shuffle rhythm played by guitarist Benny Martel, quite possibly the first recording of this effect that became a huge part of rhythm ‘n blues music two decades later.)

Goodman’s record took off. It was his first really big hit, landing at number one in the charts for 15 weeks. (The flip side, “I Ain’t Lazy, I’m Just Dreaming” with a vocal by Jack Teagarden, made the charts, too).


More on Eddie De Lange at JazzBiographies.com

The Casa Loma Orchestra version from July, 1934, was the first to feature Eddie DeLange’s lyric sung by reed player Kenny Sergeant. The next month popular African-American vocalist Ethel Waters waxed a vocal with the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra.

Benny Goodman’s Quartet recording from August, 1936, introduced vibraphonist Lionel Hampton as a member of Goodman’s ensemble, and the tune hit the charts for three weeks that year.

The song’s appeal never really dwindled. With a clever counter-melody composed by George Dunning and new words by Steve Allen, the tune was an integral part of the 1955 motion picture Picnic. Allen’s association with the tune continued the following year when he appeared in the starring role in The Benny Goodman Story which included “Moonglow” on the soundtrack.

More information on this tune...

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(Author/drummer Simon devotes four pages to “Moonglow,” including anecdotes from composer Will Hudson, the song’s history, musicians who performed it, and a copy of the sheet music.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Eddie DeLange, who co-led a big band with Will Hudson in the mid-1930s, wrote the lyric for “Moonglow.” As might be expected, the ethereal quality of the song is reflected in the lyric which is reminiscent of a magical time and place “where heavenly songs seemed to float from everywhere,” and two lovers “seemed to float right through the air.” Chris Tyle

Musical analysis of “Moonglow”

Original KeyC major
FormA - A - B - A
TonalityPrimarily major
Movement“A” consists of an arpeggiated figure in which the first interval is repeated; this entire motif repeats twice, followed by a repeated tonic. “B” descends chromatically from the dominant, followed by repeated notes, a rising arpeggio, and short chromatic descent.

Comments     (assumed background)

Melodically, very repetitive during “A,” almost like a riff. Changing harmonies (somewhat reminiscent of those used in “Just Friends”) add interest. The harmonic progression descends chromatically, following the melodic line, from I to VI, returning to the tonic via the circle of 5ths.

The repeated notes in the last two measures of the “A” sections are noteworthy. The chords used in the original are G6 - Eb7 -Am7 - Eb7 - G6, with the second Eb7 actually functioning as a “German Augmented Sixth” chord, which normally resolves to the tonic by way of V7 (in this case, the V7 is implied). Today, most players use a ct° (“common tone” diminished 7th chord, in this case Bb°7) here instead.

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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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Moonglow" may be found in:

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

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

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.)
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

Although this tune became a staple of clarinetist Benny Goodman’s Quartet, his first recording of it from 1934 was with a larger all-star group. Trombonist Jack Teagarden enlivens the proceedings with his bluesy playing, and Goodman has a gentle romp foretelling his later efforts.

That same year Ethel Waters, in a studio session with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, was the first female vocalist to record the number. But one of the best vocal renditions was done by Billie Holiday in 1952 for Verve with an all-star cast including hot trumpeter Charlie Shavers.

Back to 1934 for two more versions. First, a piano solo by Art Tatum, taken at a bouncier tempo than most but with usual Tatum elegance, and finally, Duke Ellington’s masterful arrangement featuring Johnny Hodges on soprano saxophone, an instrument he refused to play after 1940.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Benny Goodman
Timeless Holland
Original Recording 1931
Ethel Waters
Am I Blue?
ASV Living Era 5290
Original recording 1925
Billie Holiday
Solitude: The Billie Holiday Story, Vol. 2
Polygram Records
Original recording 1952
Art Tatum
Classic Early Solos (1934-1937)
Original recording 1937
Duke Ellington
Classics 646

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

No instrumentalist developed a stronger relationship with the song “Moonglow” than Lionel Hampton, and the early stages of that relationship are best heard on Benny Goodman’s quartet recording from 1936 (The Very Best of Benny Goodman). Billie Holiday’s wonderful 1952 rendition (Solitude: The Billie Holiday Story, Vol. 2) is a great place to start from a vocal standpoint. Meanwhile, Dizzy Gillespie’s 1958 recording (Have Trumpet, Will Excite) offers us a useful glimpse of more modern possibilities for the song.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Quintet of the Hot Club Of France
Swing from Paris
Emarcy Import
Original recording 1935

This “walking ballad” performance is a particularly strong example of Reinhardt’s creative and fleet-fingered guitar playing. Stephane Grappelli takes a nice solo as well, with a more lyrical approach.

Benny Goodman
The Very Best of Benny Goodman
Original recording 1936

Clarinetist Goodman offers a slow but subtly swinging interpretation of “Moonglow” with the more-than-capable assistance of drummer Gene Krupa, pianist Teddy Wilson and featured soloist Lionel Hampton on vibraphone.

Erroll Garner
Complete Savoy Master Takes
Savoy Jazz
Original Recording 1949

Pianist garner comes up with a bouncy, mid-tempo swinger with his trio. The results are extremely playful and rather irresistible.

Billie Holiday
Solitude: The Billie Holiday Story, Vol. 2
Polygram Records
Original recording 1952

While the tempo here is quite slow for a swinging interpretation, Holiday’s approach to “Moonglow” here is emotionally rather upbeat. Charlie Shavers is prominently featured on trumpet and adds quite a bit to the sound.

Lionel Hampton & Oscar Peterson
The Complete Quartets & Quintets
Polygram Records
Original recording 1954

Vibraphonist Hampton (revisiting a song closely identified with him) and pianist Peterson both take extended solos here. There is a somewhat epic feel to the proceedings between these solos and the tempo, which evolves from a slow ballad to a double-timed medium swing to a quadruple-timed brighter swing feel.


- Noah Baerman

Dizzy Gillespie
Have Trumpet, Will Excite!
Umvd Labels
Original recording 1958
Though softened somewhat by Les Spann’s velvety flute, the sharp edges of Gillespie’s trumpet do manage to break free for an awe-inspiring solo.
John Stetch
Stetching Out
1996 Terra Nova 9013
Original recording 1996
Elegance meets innovation as pianist Stetch gives the song a thorough exploration, stripping it in places and bolstering it in others to create a familiar stranger.
Gene Ammons
Up Tight!
1995 Prestige Records 24140
Original recording 1961
This smooth, easy-going, hard bop rendition finds tenor saxophonist Ammons keeping things soulful but simple over a mid-tempo pace.
Benny Green, Russell Malone

This pair of virtuosos starts the song in the bass clef, adding sensual richness to a song already ripe with sexual overtones. Their years of playing piano and guitar as a duo enable them to respond to each other with telepathic alacrity.
June Christy
Cool Christy
2002 Proper Pairs Compilation

This great 2-CD set is a collection of the vocalist’s early work from 1945 to 1951. While she could be a swinging vocalist with the Kenton band, her smokey voice was especially well suited to ballads.

- Ben Maycock

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

Eddie De Lange, Will Hudson and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1934 128 Moonglow

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