Skip to page content

About this Piece

Composed: 1930

Length: 5 minutes

Orchestration: flute, English horn, alto saxophone ( = clarinet), alto saxophone ( = bass clarinet), tenor saxophone ( = clarinet), baritone saxophone ( = oboe and clarinet), bassoon, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, drum set, piano, guitar, harp, and strings

Edward Kennedy Ellington, to use his full name, is generally regarded as the greatest American composer in the jazz idiom (whatever that means), and perhaps the greatest of all. His first real "hit" was this remarkably subtle, simple-sounding number, the quintessence of what Stanley Dance called "sophisticated melancholy." The original was for a small ensemble of just seven players, with the haunting melody line shared by clarinet, trumpet, and trombone, supported by a rhythm section of piano, banjo, bass, and drums. There are actually three names listed as co-composers of the song: in addition to Ellington, his manager Irving Mills and clarinetist Barney Bigard receive credit on the label of one early recording. Ellington claimed to have composed Mood Indigo in 15 minutes as he waited for his mother to cook supper the night before the OKeh recording session of October 30, 1930. Bigard claims to have contributed the second strain. Mills may have done nothing but make the whole thing possible.

This arrangement for large orchestra displays the craft of the versatile American composer and conductor Morton Gould (1913-1996).

- Dennis Bade