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The Strange Case of IN THE MOOD

David Berger

Rescoring an Iconic Chart




A few weeks ago I read a post online from my old buddy Kenny (not my brother—although he is heavy, musically) Berger. Kenny was the original baritone sax player in my first band in 1971. After about a year of rehearsing with us every Monday afternoon, he asked me if it would be OK for him to bring in a chart he was writing. I said, “I didn’t know you wrote.” He told me that it was his first chart. Naturally, I didn’t expect much. After all, it takes about 10 charts before you know what you are doing.


The following Monday we played his Upper Manhattan Medical Group arrangement, and it was fantastic. I asked him how he did it. He said it was easy. “I play your charts every Monday afternoon and then go over to the Vanguard to sub for Pepper  [Adams] and play Thad [Jones] and [Bob] Brookmeyer’s charts. I just listen and steal what I can from you guys.”


Several years later Kenny and I played in the National Jazz Ensemble. I did the lion’s share of the writing for that band, but Chuck Israels (our leader) and several other band members like Rod Levitt, Jimmy Knepper, and Bill Dobbins wrote some beautiful material as well. Kenny’s charts on Jitterbug Waltz and Sophisticated Blue still amaze me.


Kenny went on to study with Brookmeyer who told him, “If you study with me long enough, you’ll never work.” Kenny’s post refers to Brookmeyer. Three years ago Kenny was commissioned to write a chart on In The Mood. He didn’t really hear it as an arrangement but rather a re-composition. All melodic and motivic material is derived from the original, which contained more usable motifs than he thought it would. Here’s the link to a recording of his chart.


Having played In The Mood more times than I care to remember, and having written my own arrangement of it to play on dance gigs that required it, I was intrigued to hear what Kenny did to solve the innate problems of this Swing Era anthem.


Upon first listening, I’ve got to agree with Kenny; he mostly dealt with the In The Mood thematic material abstractly. In fact, I would say that whenever I recognize any riffs from the original, they seem out of place in this post-Thad Jones genre. I loved all of Kenny’s blues choruses and wished that he could have forgotten about In The Mood altogether, and just developed that material into its own chart. But that wasn’t the assignment.


So, here is one solution in arranging material from another era that I learned from Gil Evans: Keep what works and transform anything that is inappropriate to fit your language.  The main thing is to not have contempt and to honor that which has value.


In the case of Kenny’s derangement, the motifs of the original sound like slapstick comedy in the middle of a sophisticated intense drama. I’m not sure that translating In The Mood, which was arranged in 1938 by Eddie Durham for both Artie Shaw and for Glenn Miller (but was based on Don Redman’s 1928 Hot And Anxious and Joe Garland’s 1933 In The Mood for Edgar Hayes’ band) is going to work for anyone in post-Swing Era clothing.


About 20 years ago, my band was playing a number of high-end weddings and fund-raising galas. Wealthy attendees with no Lindy Hop chops would inevitable request In The Mood. One fine gentleman told me that it’s the only song he can dance to. I told him that we just played a swing number that is very similar and is at the same tempo, to which he replied that he needed to dance to the melody. In case you haven’t guessed, he was white. There it was—the old adage—white people dance to the melody, and black people dance to the groove in the rhythm section.


In order to please future audiences, I set out to slay the dragon and face one of my biggest challenges—to write an arrangement of In The Mood that will satisfy the dancers and the musicians in my band. The dancers want Glenn Miller’s record verbatim and the guys in the band want none of that.


Last night we played our arrangement at Swing 46. Hopefully you can tune out the talking and feet shuffling and focus on the music. With the slightest amount of ingenuity, you can listen and look my score at the same time.


Recording: DB Re-arranged version of In the Mood



Upon sitting down to the proverbial blank sheet of score paper, I had to determine what I needed to keep for the dancers, and discard what didn’t work in the Miller recording. First off, Miller’s saxophone and trumpet solos solos had to go. I want my guys to improvise. That shouldn’t be a deal breaker for the dancers.


My concept was to make the chart a little Dukish, say, early 1940s. The original intro is pretty good in setting up the motifs of the piece. It just needed a bit of melodic and rhythmic tweaking and reharmonization. That led me to determine what the motifs of this tune are.


Motif a is the 3/8 over 4/4 triadic arpeggios in the harmonized saxes at letter A. The contrasting b motif is the repetitive eighth notes in the brass turnaround in bars 11 and 12 of the melody chorus. The basic blues form combined with the arpeggiated block chords in the saxes really doesn’t work for me. My first instinct was to put the saxes in unison at a lower volume and have them accent the top notes (the Ab tonics that appear every third note). Already this is more swinging.


Another thing that bothers me about the original 1928 riff is the predictability of the syncopation on the and-of 2 following all the long eighth notes in the second bar. Just for fun, I put a short quarter on beat 2 and a long eighth on beat 3. This reverses the usual on-the-beat setting up a syncopation. It’s a bit of an inside joke, but I haven’t gotten any complaints in the past 15 years.


Rather than have the brass answer the saxes, I have the trombones and trumpets act independently, alternating closed and open plungers and hats—so that they are in call and response—the bones are under the now-unison saxes and the trumpets answer while the saxes breathe. Rather than keep the brass harmonies static, I alternate tonic diminished with tonic triads in the bones and 6th or 7th chords in the trumpets. 


In the turnaround I combine chromatics with repetitive pitches by having the top two trumpets move chromatically against the repeated notes in the Trumpets 3 and 4 and the tonic pedal in the saxes and dominant pedals in the bones. This is a development of the trombone/bass harmonization of the repetitive sax pitches in measures 1-2 of the intro (diatonic progression with chromatic passing diminished). The descending sax figure in both the first and second endings is a foreshadowing of the minor 3rd melodic figure in the lead alto coming up in the contrasting B section of the piece.


Here is a major flaw in the Durham chart: his B section isn’t different enough from his A section. It’s very confusing. Are we still in the blues? Durham has an 8-bar B theme, which contrasts to the 12-bar blues theme at A. The problem is that he not only is in the same key, but he starts with the same Ab6 chord. My solution is to keep as much of the melodic material as I can, and then reharmonize it, We start on the subdominant: basically IV-I-IV-I (two bars apiece with passing chords).


I also switched the textures: the saxes are now harmonized in big fat chords with the roots on the bottom versus unison trumpets and harmonized offbeat pecks from the bones when the saxes return to unison.


Durham’s chart is all about alternating contrasting 12-bar blues and the 8-bar section. I’m going to go with that, now that I’ve created a real contrasting section. So, at letter C I have 2 choruses of tenor solo playing the blues. Letter D is a slight rephrasing (injecting just a tinge of bebop) of Durham’s original interlude leading to the trumpet solo over the 8-bar B form played twice. This section needs a hair-raising trumpet solo, since it is the climax of the chart. Irv didn’t need any encouragement. I knew he wouldn’t.


At F I return to the melody as played by the saxes at A. This time I have the bones holding out long syncopated notes that form a crazy reharmonization. I figure by now we’ve heard the blues melody so many times that we will know what the harmonies are supposed to be, and then we’ll be delighted with the placement of  this diatonic melody in the context of abstract chromatic harmony.


In keeping with the tradition of the parade marching away down the street in the Miller arrangement, we play Letter F softer the second time coming down to the walking bass in the final two bars before the surprise loud ending where the parade quietly marches around the corner and suddenly is in our face. Rather than use the corny Miller ending (this actually was Miller’s idea, not Durham’s), I bring back six of the motifs we’ve heard earlier in the chart. It’s more satisfying to tie up loose ends than to introduce new material in the coda.


I wouldn’t say this is one of my greatest arrangements, but I did my best to keep everyone happy. There are many more details that could be addressed, but this should give you an idea of my approach to solving this tricky problem. I’m sure there are many other successful solutions that other arrangers have come up with or will come up with, or as the voice-over on the old TV series Naked City told us, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is just one of them.”

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  • Hans Doerrscheidt on

    Jim McNeely did a pretty good job in the late 90s for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, preserving many of the principles/motifs of the original version, but updating enough to make it fit the more modern environment.

    Of course, that scary ending doesn’t work with the average trumpet section.

  • Nathan Wilensky on

    And I thought it was cool to like Wingy Manone’s “Tar Baby Stomp” as the Ur-Lick.


    Well, I like Kenny Berger chart better. Sorry.

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