Tunes on Tuesday: Old Devil Moon

Why this tune?

The great Tony Bennett celebrated his 94th birthday a couple of weeks ago – that reminded me of a great version of Old Devil Moon he performed on MTV Unplugged in 1994, which my musical colleague Tony Gudell shared with me. Burton Lane and Yip Harburg wrote it as a slow romantic duet for Finian’s Rainbow in 1947, but Bennett takes it much faster. Most other versions by jazz singers follow a similar approach, including a recent recording by the DC area vocalist and educator Darden Purcell.

Dig this detail!

Even without Harburg’s great lyrics, this tune works as a jazz instrumental, with over 100 instrumental recordings since its Broadway debut. Most of those are up-tempo as well, but it’s worth listening to Ahmad Jamal’s 1951 recording that stays closer to the slower tempo of the musical.

When jazz players play Old Devil Moon, we usually play the first section with a stop time or latin feel, then swing the chorus. I think this mix of feels is one reason for the continuing popularity of the tune among jazz players and at jam sessions.

Hear the story

Check it out!

Tony Bennett, MTV Unplugged

Darden Purcell, from “Where The Blue Begins”, 2016

Ahmad Jamal, 1951

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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