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Ill Wind (1934)

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Origin and Chart Information
“In many ways, beginning with its phrase organization, ‘Ill Wind’ is a remarkable song for 1934.”

- Allen Forte

Rank 234
Music Harold Arlen
Lyrics Ted Koehler

While composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Ted Koehler were writing for Harlem’s Cotton Club, they produced several hit songs, starting with “Get Happy.” The popular club featured prominent African-American entertainers such as Ethel Waters, who introduced their “Stormy Weather,” and Lena Horne, who introduced “As Long As I Live.” “Ill Wind” was written for their last show there in 1934, Cotton Club Parade, and was sung by Adelaide Hall. Their collaboration which began in the late ‘20s continued into the ‘40s when they wrote for films.

 

More on Ted Koehler at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Harold Arlen at JazzBiographies.com
 

“Ill Wind” charted twice in 1934. Arlen himself sang it with the Eddy Duchin Orchestra and it rose to number three over a six week period. Leo Reisman’s Orchestra took the song to number 17 with vocalist Thelma Nevins.

 

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

Alec Wilder in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 calls “Ill Wind” “unique and inspired.” Allen Forte offers an extensive analysis of the song in his book The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design, saying, “In many ways, beginning with its phrase organization, ‘Ill Wind’ is a remarkable song for 1934.” He points out its appeal to jazz musicians: “The chord progression over the first three-bar group is refractory in terms of conventional harmonic analysis, which is perhaps one reason it is admired by contemporary jazz musicians.” Stylistically, Arlen’s compositions tended toward jazz and blues. Says Forte, “Arlen’s very large output, its excellent quality, and, above all, its originality easily rank him among his elders in the small world of eminently talented songwriters.”

Koehler’s brooding lyric (which Forte calls “colloquially sardonic”) about the troubling aspects of love is a plea for relief:

Blow ill wind, blow away
Let me rest today
You’re blowin’ me no good (no good)

The Academy Award winning Arlen, who received the statuette for “Over the Rainbow” in 1939 and received four other nominations, was honored in 2005 with a Centennial Celebration which featured a tribute by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the release of a CD, Arlen Plays Arlen, by his adopted son, saxophonist Sam Arlen.

“Ill Wind” has been recorded by singers from Billie Holiday to Abbey Lincoln, and there have been many tribute albums to Arlen’s music by both singers and instrumentalists. The song was famously recorded by trumpeter Lee Morgan on his Cornbread album in 1965. “Ill Wind” is featured in recent recordings by bassist Jay Leonhart, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, saxophonist Scott Hamilton, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and vocalists Janis Seigel and Wesla Whitfield.

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 analyzes the musical content of the song and relates its history.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Sandra Burlingame

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Reading and Research
Additional information for "Ill Wind" 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: 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


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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
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Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

In the early 1950s, jazz fused successfully with Afro-Cuban rhythms, and one of the earliest albums in this genre was the 1951 Verve recording arranged by Cuban-born Chico O’Farrill. There’s little solo work on “Ill Wind,” but the interest lies in the fine arrangement, the great ensemble playing, and the superb percussion work.

Pianist George Shearing’s 1950s ensembles had a distinctive sound created by the use of octaves in the piano combined with the same from the vibraphone. Shearing’s 1953 recording of “Ill Wind” is typical of his group’s work and features Cal Tjader on vibes. (Shearing and company were pioneers in the use of Latin rhythms.)

The 1956 edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was a corker of a band with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), and Blakey on drums. Their mellow version of “Ill Wind” features not only exceptional solo work but stellar brush work by leader Blakey.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Chico O'Farrill
Cuban Blues: The Chico O'Farrill Sessions
Polygram Records 33256

iTunes
George Shearing
Late Night Piano
Rebound Records 520425

Art Blakey
The Jazz Messengers
Sony 65265

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

Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler

Year Rank Title
1933 106 Stormy Weather (Keeps Rainin' All the Time)
1931 157 Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
1929 169 Get Happy
1932 184 I've Got the World on a String
1934 234 Ill Wind
1934 365 As Long As I Live
1933 480 Let's Fall in Love
1941 485 When the Sun Comes Out
1932 528 I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

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