Digital remaster of October 30th 1930 session by The Harlem Footwarmers, from The OKeh Ellington C2K 46117
How to write a jazz standard.
1. Listen, to your musicians …
“This thing that clarinetist Barney Bigard used to play, Ellington made a tune of that, “Mood Indigo”, that Barney used to warm up his instrument.” Clark Terry
… and to your teachers.
Bigard learned it from his clarinet teacher Lorenzo Tio, who called it a ‘Mexican blues’ and titled it Dreamy Blues.
The usual voicing of the horns was clarinet at the highest pitch, trumpet in the middle, and the trombone at the lowest pitch. Ellington voices the trombone at the top of the instrument’s register, and the clarinet at the lowest. With the electric microphones of the time, it created a ‘mic tone’ from the overtones of the clarinet and trombone, giving the illusion of a fourth instrument. Both trumpet and trombone were tightly muted.
3. Collaborate …
Lyrics were added in 1931 by Mitchell Parish, although credited to publisher Irving Mills, as was common practice, and accruing royalties for the publisher. Ellington never complained publicly about such arrangements, but praised Mills’ guidance and actions as invaluable to his career.
… with open eyes.
“Why in the devil, when you found out what was done to you” – double dipping on royalties and an agent’s fee – “why didn’t you blow the whistle?” (Maurice Lawrence) Ellington replied that he could have, but then he “would have been black-balled in Tin Pan Alley”
4. Do the marketing.
In truth, the Ellington band had succeeded beyond expectation, at the Cotton Club and on national radio. Mood Indigo, their most popular single yet, had been released at the end of 1930. In 1931 their first nationally distributed press kit was released by Irving Mills. Tours, films and recognition as a composer were the next steps.
Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.”
Original sound from 78 rpm and Victrola
Excellent article about Ellington from The New Yorker
Note on the song
Extensive biography “Duke Ellington’s America” by Harvey G. Cohen