Song 123: Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, “In a Sentimental Mood” (1963)

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Whenever I hear this song, I’m instantly relaxed. It’s not sad or overly quiet, it just is, the same way sentimentality can be sad, but it’s really its own thing. Duke Ellington’s piano especially captures the idea of being “in a sentimental mood,” somehow. Like sentimentality and nostalgia, it’s a little sad, and seemingly both major and minor. Coltrane, meanwhile, makes the melody sound like a human voice, sort of a reversal of how Ella Fitzgerald tried to sing like a horn. The combination is beautifully seamless, so much so that you wouldn’t ever guess there was a nearly 30-year difference between Ellington and Coltrane.

Coltrane and Ellington had never worked together before, but they each knew their way around a standard. Not that there’s anything bland or old-fashioned about this record. It sounds, with its bare-bones arrangements and production, like jazz in its purest form. It’s the kind of sound you think of when you think of jazz. With these two guys, of course, it couldn’t have gone any other way.

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