Here’s my arrangement of the Duke Ellington classic tune “In A Sentimental Mood”.
I also had fun improvising a solo in the middle of my arrangement.
How do you make the perfect improvisation?
That’s a big question…There are college and university courses dedicated to to developing this skill and still there are those that say improvisation can’t be taught.
I’m reminded of the conversation between Miles Davis and John Coltrane where Miles told Coltrane that he played too many notes, he overplayed and his solos were too long.
I was fortunate to interview Paul Gilbert (the guitarist from Mr Big) and I asked him if his solos were improvised.
He said that he used to improvise his solos but he got to the point where he wanted to compose his solos so they suited the song.
Duke Ellington is maybe the most prolific of American songwriters.
His songs are standards today and his band in those days was the equal of any.
Edward Kennedy Ellington
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington D.C. in 1899.
His father had been a butler who had worked at the White House so he got his elegant manners and aristocratic demeanour which earned him the lifelong nickname of “Duke” from his father.
Both of his parents played piano and his mother saw to it that he was taught the piano.
His studies were so successful that he would play professionally at the age of 17.
Soon Duke would have his own band “Duke’s Serenaders”.
He wrote the songs, rehearsed the band and took the bookings.
Often he would be offered 2 gigs on the same night.
Seeing an opportunity Duke organised enough musicians to form 3 bands which let him take 3 bookings at the same time.
So the Duke’s Serenaders could be at 3 places at the same time!
Duke Ellington wanted to move to New York to try his luck in the Big Apple.
Things fell his way when the “Cotton Club” one of NY’s most prestigious rooms needed a band and the Duke was on the spot to make the most of the opportunity.
Their performances were broadcast across America which gave Duke Ellington and his band a national audience, from there they just went from success to success.
Big Band Salad Days During The War
It seemed that Duke Ellington was unstoppable but then the war changed everything.
When the war ended big bands like Duke’s 15 piece became uneconomical.
A lot of big bands folded.
Groups like Louis Jordan’s 5 piece band “Timpani 5” were cheaper and would supersede the 15 piece Swing bands like Duke’s.
Louis Jordan’s style of music became known as “Jump Blues” and is seen as the beginning of Rock & Roll.
Duke Ellington kept going with his big band paying his musicians with the royalties he received from his earlier hit songs but these were lean years and it looked like Duke being out of fashion was “washed up”.
Even playing at ice skating rinks just to get a gig.
Ellington would not be Beaton so easily.
He just kept going and through sheer hard work and determination he would be back.
The Newport Jazz Festival is said to be the original outdoor music festival and was probably the inspiration for Woodstock and other of the world’s great music festivals.
It began in 1954 and despite a couple of location changes it’s still an important event today.
In 1956 Duke Ellington was invited to play at the Newport Festival where he put in a Stella performance.
His soloists were polished and masterful.
A real masterclass display especially from the tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves who played a 27 chorus solo over one of Duke’s blues, “Diminuendo & Crescendo In Blue” which whipped the audience into a frenzy.
It’s Gonsalves’s solo that’s said to have resurrected Duke Ellington’s career and he would stay a major act for the rest of his life.
Gonsalves sadly died 10 days before Duke and Mercer Ellington, Duke’s son, didn’t tell his father in fear that it could impact his health.
Today Duke Ellington is recognised as one of the most important figures in American music with a formidable and long list of of classic songs “In A Sentimental Mood” being one of them.
I first came across “In A Sentimental Mood” on the album “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane” it was an unusual pairing in a way, I suppose the record label wanted put the old master, Duke, with Coltrane the young gun.
In A Sentimental Mood is the first tune on the album and I was so impressed that I wanted to learn it myself – and here it is.