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Analysis: In A Sentimental Mood

Duke Ellingtons In a Sentimental Mood was written in 1935 and has become a classic
Jazz standard of that time. Many respected artists, such as Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane,
have covered it. This slow and expressive song manages to include a substantial amount of
chromaticism and modulation while remaining in the tonal center of D minor for the majority of
the piece. Ellington achieves his harmonic goals through key placements of harmonies, rhythmic
structures, melodic lines, and use of instrumentation.
In a Sentimental Mood follows an AABA format, which is typical of many of the songs
written in the same era. The A section of the song begins in the D Aeolian mode, or D natural
minor in a 4/4 time signature. This section of the song is characterized by a chromatic walk
down from D4-C#4-C4-B3 in mm. 1 and 2, and then from G3-F#3-F3 in m. 3 in the bass. This
walkdown can be considered one of the two main motives in the A section. The first walkdown
on the Dm chord creates a tense implied harmony moving two chords per measure from a Dm to
a Dm(maj7)/C# to a Dm7/C to a Dm6/B. The Dm(maj7)/C# and the Dm6/B contain bass notes
that are not in the key of D minor. This use of a chromatic bass line can be viewed as a static
harmony of Dm with a falling chromatic bass line in mm. 1-2 and a static harmony of Gm with
the same falling chromatic bass line in m. 3.
The chromaticism does not make this section atonal, the Dm chord is still clearly the
tonic. However, it does create a decent amount of tension. This tension keeps building until the
climax at measure 4, as the C9 chord is held out. Usually, a C9 chord would resolve to an F

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major chord, which would be the relative major of D minor, the tonal center of the piece.
However, in this situation it is followed by a no chord symbol and the ascending melodic line
brings the music back to the Dm chord. In the Aeolian mode, there is no leading tone, so the v
and the bVII can act as the dominant-functioning chords. In this case, the C9 chord, although it
has no leading tone, acts as a dominant-functioning chord to Dm.
The second motive in the A section of In a Sentimental Mood is characterized by six
eighth notes followed by a longer note value, such as the tied whole note and quarter note in mm.
5-6 and the half note in m. 9. The motive moves in a stepwise motion from F4-G4-A4-C5-D5F5-G5 on the lyrics In a sen-ti-men-tal mood in mm. 4-5. The melodic line of the A section is
accompanied by the same harmonies as the introductory section, with the chromatic falling bass
line. These two motives contribute to the majority of the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic
makeup of the A section of the song.
The melodic choices are also a point of interest in the piece when discussing the
chromaticism. For example, in measure 8, the descending melodic line contains an Ab4, while
the ascending melodic line in measure 9 contains an A4. Ellington makes use of both the D Blues
scale and the D Aeolian mode here. In a typical blues scale, which is very commonly used in
Jazz music, the blue note, or the flat five, is added creating chromatic steps from the fourth
scale degree to the flat five to the natural five. Measure 8 makes use of the blue note, by using
the flatted version of the fifth scale degree, while measure 9 makes use of the natural version of

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the fifth scale degree. Because this chromatic note can be explained using the D Blues scale, it is
not considered outside the tonal center.
The chord progression and the harmonic rhythm change in measure 10, with the chords
moving every quarter note from a D9 to a C#dim/D to a Ddim to a D7. These chords are not in
the key of D minor and the chromaticism makes the next few measures unstable. Still, this is not
uncommon for Jazz music of this era. The extended harmonies and chromatic notes add interest
to the piece without taking the music too far away from the tonal center. The D7 at the end of
measure 10 can be seen as the V7/iv, leading to the Gm7 in m. 11. The Gm chord is not tonicized
for long, as it is followed by a Gb7b5 and a Gb7. This instability is followed by an F6/9, which
is a quartal chord, making the section even more unstable. However, the F major chord is the
relative major of D minor. It is followed by another no chord symbol, which leads us back into a
repeat of the A section, starting back at Dm. The tension is finally resolved, as the music leads us
back to the tonic.
In Duke Ellingtons big band version of the song, the use of improvisation creates even
more tension with new added notes outside the key of D minor. However, the melodic line leans
heavily on the D Blues scale, so the chromaticism is once again explained in the tonal center.
The instruments also perform the song with a swing rhythm, which makes the tone of the piece
appears more relaxed. In the first A section, the melodic line is played by a brass instrument in a
high register. As the piece moves into the second A section, another brass instrument takes over

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the melodic line in the octave lower than the first brass instrument, creating an even more
relaxed and sultry feel.
Ella Fitzgeralds cover of In a Sentimental Mood is more of a bare bones ballad. In this
version, a guitar accompanies Fitzgeralds vocals. The timbre of the guitar is bright, however it
is being played very quietly, so Fitzgeralds voice is the main element of the song. The guitar is
there simply to provide the harmony, while most of the added chromatic notes come from
Fitzgeralds melodic line. In this version, Fitzgerald also leans heavily on the D Blues scale for
her improvisations. Her voice remains in her low and middle registers for both A sections, but
she puts a lot of emotion into every word she sings. This creates the dreamlike, or sentimental,
quality of the song.
After the repeat of the A section, there is an Ab13 chord which leads to a Dbmaj7 chord,
bringing us into the B section. The Ab13 chord acts as the dominant-functioning chord that helps
this section modulate to the new tonal center of Db major. Aside from some chromatic extended
harmonies, the chords of the B section are generally true to the key of Db major. However, in
mm. 23-24, Ellington creates tension again using a chromatic walkup in triplets, this time in the
melodic line of the accompaniment. This walkup once again creates chords that are not part of
the Db major key. The F#4-G4-Bb4-B4-C5-Eb5-E5-F5-Ab5 walkup creates a harmonic
succession of Bb9#5-Bb13-Eb7#5-Eb13-Ab7#5-Ab13. Even though most of the chords are not
diatonic, they still feel like they are leading up to the Dbmaj7 chord beginning in measure 25.

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Because the final chord in the succession is the dominant-functioning chord of Db major, the
music makes its way back to the modulated key.
To differentiate even further from the A section, the melodic line of the B section has
different rhythmic values. The A section contained a continuous melody with no rests. It was
characterized by groupings of eighth notes followed by longer note values, as mentioned before.
The B section also makes use of large groupings of eighth notes, however there is more space for
rest. For example, mm. 21-22 are made up of mostly eighth notes, while mm. 23-24 are mostly
rests. This lets the melodic line breathe for the first time in the piece since the entrance in m. 4.
The second half of the B section remains in the key of Db major until the last note of the
melodic line in measure 27. The Ab13 chord that ends m. 26 feels like it wants to go back to the
Db major chord, however a C7 takes its place. This seems a little jarring at first, but the C7
brings us back to the A section, and the original key of D minor. Because of the large amount of
instrumentation in Ellingtons version of the song, that C7 chord comes as more of a shock than
in Fitzgeralds version of the song. Even though in both cases, the Ab13 should lead back to the
Db major chord, in Fitzgeralds version, the guitar does a better job of creating a smooth
transition back to the key of D minor. This is in part due to the low volume of the guitar, but also
the use of arpeggiation of the chords instead of playing each chord in its entirety. This creates a
smoother and more natural transition. In the Ellington version, a blaring trumpet plays on the
upbeat of the measure preceding the C7 chord on a C4. This startling key change, while
intentional, creates a harsher transition back to the key of D minor.

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The last A section follows the same harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic pattern as the
previous A sections, but as the song comes to a close, the listener is unsure of how it will end.
Since there is no leading tone, there will be no V-i strong perfect authentic cadence that usually
ends most minor key songs. The last chords of the song are an F6 followed by an Fmaj6/9 chord.
The song finishes in the key of F major, which is the relative major to D minor. The D minor
scale used was actually D Aeolian mode, which is identical to the F Ionian mode. Because of
this, it is not so strange that the music ended on an F major chord. When the song comes to a
close, it seems like it has reached a home base, even though there was no authentic cadence
leading up to it.
In a Sentimental Mood is a great example of diatonic music, with added chromaticism.
Going through the song, it is evident that some chords are more important than others, and each
chord has a function. Even though the harmonic minor scale was not used, and there was no
leading tone to the Dm chord, there was still a sense of cadence and key. Therefore, the piece is
not atonal, but in the key of D minor.