A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“In The Mood” is perhaps the most famous instrumental piece from the entire Swing Era. Recorded in 1939 by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, it’s kind of like a contemporary pop song in that every single section is “catchy.” The sax intro is instantly recognizable, and the melody abounds with several melodic “hooks.”

In the late 1980s, I got to know Al Klink, who played tenor sax on the Glenn Miller recording. Al told me that the group recorded several other tunes along with “In The Mood” on the same day, and that none of the musicians thought “In The Mood” would last long. They considered the other tunes to be more “hit-worthy” and predicted that “In The Mood” wouldn’t do well commercially. He laughed, recalling how wrong they were!

And if my memory is correct, Klink also told me that years later he played on Frank Sinatra’s iconic recording of “New York, New York.” Al told me that the same exact thing happened with that song: all the musicians thought it would be a “flop!”

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

Tex Beneke and The Glenn Miller Orchestra:
From the movie “The Glenn Miller Story” (video)

Al Clink story (and New York, NewYork)

Duke Ellington

It’s fun to hear one great band play a song that’s so strongly associated with another band. It’ makes us hear the music a little differently!

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The leadsheet of “In The Mood” is rare example of a complete arrangement in The Real Book, modeled on the big band orchestration. One quick listen to the Glenn Miller recording and you’ll know what to do.

A few tips:

1. You don’t need to play a lot of fancy chord voicings on “In The Mood.” 6th and 7th chords are appropriate and sound great.

2. If you’re playing without a bass player, you can play a simple walking bass line at letter ‘A’ that mainly outlines the chords. This is typical of the swing era, before bass players generally started playing more scalar and chromatic lines. At letter ‘B,’ I sometimes just repeat each chord root twice in the bass: Ab Ab, B B, Bb Bb, Eb Eb. “In The Mood” originated in a time before bass players were amplified, so they often kept their bass lines very simple so the basic tonalities were emphasized.

3. Even though it’s not on the original recording, I sometimes like playing a stride left hand pattern at letter ‘B.’

4. The 8th note line in m. 1-4 is fun to play in both hands, an octave or two apart.

5. For solos, you have two options. You can use the original chord changes at letter ‘B,’ like the Glenn Miller Orchestra did, or you can just play an Ab blues. A lot of wedding bands tend to play the blues for solos, although some jazz musicians don’t like this, saying that it isn’t true to the flavor of the tune. Use your own judgment.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
In The Mood: Wikipedia

Glenn Miller: In The Mood
Good article about Glenn Miller and “In The Mood”

Al Klink: Wikipedia

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Previous Song           Table of Contents           Next Song

Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration