“I’m in a Dancing Mood” (1936) Tommy Dorsey with Jack Leonard /Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond (1959)

“I’m in a Dancing Mood”

Composed by Al Hoffman, Al Goodheart and Maurice Sigler; probably arranged by Paul Wetstein (Weston) or Dick Jones.

Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Victor on November 24, 1936 in New York.

Tommy Dorsey, first and solo trombone; directing: Ray (Andy) McKinney, Max Kaminsky and Joe Bauer trumpets; Les Jenkins, and Walter Mercurio, trombones; Freddie Stulce, first alto saxophone;  Joe Dixon, clarinet and alto saxophone; Clyde Rounds and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophones;  Dick Jones, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Gene Traxler, bass; Dave Tough, drums; Jack Leonard (*), vocal.

The story:

It was an exciting time for the members of Tommy Dorsey’s band when this recording was made toward the end of November 1936. After about a year and a half of back-breaking work, including almost non-stop touring, TD had secured a berth on a sponsored network radio show. Here is the blurb that appeared in Variety on October 21, 1936: “KOOL, SPUDS PLACE COMICS ON BLUE …Two mentholated cigarette-sponsored comedy shows take to the NBC Blue web in November. Jack Pearl is slated for a 26-week romp, starting Nov, 9, under Kool sponsorship. Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn is the agency. Will hit 45 stations at 9:30-10 Mondays. Eugene Conrad instead of K. Wells will write for Pearl, who brings back ‘Baron Munchhausen’ in a comedy script’ show along somewhat different lines. Tommy Dorsey orchestra and a singer will augment. For the Ed Wynn stanza, starting Nov. 14 at 8:30 to 9. Spuds will, augment the comic with a guest star policy and will have Don Vorhees and Graham McNamee. Young and Rubicam is the agency for Spuds. Wynn will have several writers, among them Herman Timberg of vaudeville. Both comedians were represented by Lyons, McCormick & Lyons. They were signed without the customary auditions.”(1)

A collage of photos showing Tommy Dorsey’s band probably in early April of of 1937. At top L-R: Bunny Berigan, Jack Leonard, Edythe Wright, and TD. The band photo shows, front L-R: Les Jenkins, Walter Mercurio, Jack Leonard, Axel Stordahl, Edythe Wright, Johnny Mince, Mike Doty, Bud Freeman and Freddie Stulce; back row L-R: Joe Bauer, Andy Ferretti, Pee Wee Erwin, TD, Dave Tough, Carmen Mastren, Gene Traxler and Howard Smith. By the time this photo was taken, the Dorsey band was on its way to national popularity, and Bunny Berigan was leading his own band.

It is difficult to explain today how big a break it was for any band to secure a steady spot on a sponsored network radio show in 1936. The closest comparison would be if an entertainer were to be featured on a network television series in the golden age of television. The entertainer would receive ongoing, weekly exposure for a minimum of several months to an audience of millions; would have the opportunity to focus on his/her work, refining presentation to a high level; and of course be paid a very good salary. And if audiences responded positively, the show’s tenure would be extended. Bands and show business careers were made on network radio in the 1930s.

When Tommy Dorsey landed this radio show, he and his band were definitely the featured attraction. The headliner was comedian Jack Pearl. Pearl was a known show business quantity in 1936. Born in New York in 1894, Jack Perlman debuted as an entertainer in School Days, Gus Edwards’s vaudeville act. He made the transition from vaudeville to broadcasting when he introduced his character Baron Munchausen on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1932. His creation was loosely based on the Baron Munchausen literary character. As the Baron, Pearl would tell far-fetched stories with a comic German accent. When the straight man (originally Ben Bard, but later Cliff Hall) expressed skepticism, the Baron replied with his familiar punch-line: Vass you dere, Sharlie? (“Was you there, Charlie?”). This punch-line, when delivered by Pearl with a German accent, was considered hilarious by people, and soon became a part of the national lexicon, at least until the arrival of the next radio fad. Pearl appeared in numerous comedy revues on Broadway through the late 1920s and into the 1930s. Perhaps the apogee of his career was reached in 1933 with the production by M-G-M of the film Meet the Baron. That film starred Pearl, Jimmy Durante, Zasu Pitts and Ted Healey and his Stooges. The “Stooges,” later achieved fame in films as the madcap slapstick comedy team called The Three Stooges. Meet the Baron was produced by David O. Selznick, who was then Louis B. Mayer’s son-in-law.

What no one could have known in the autumn of 1936 was that Pearl’s star in the firmament of American entertainment was on the wane, while Tommy Dorsey’s was waxing. Week after week, Pearl’s comedy routines fell flat with network radio audiences, while the music of Tommy Dorsey, with his featured singers Jack Leonard and Edythe Wright, created very strong positive audience reaction. By mid-1937, Pearl was eased-out and TD had the show to himself. For the next two-plus years, Dorsey worked as hard as possible to keep his radio show fresh, presenting a wide variety of music. But always at the center of TD’s presentation were these elements: 1) his virtuoso trombone playing; 2) the singing of Jack Leonard and Edythe Wright; 3) a solid band that played well whatever music was required. (At left: Tommy Dorsey pictured in NBC’s Radio City Studio 8G along with Edythe Wright, Jack Leonard, Freddie Stulce and Johnny Mince, and at rear, drummer Dave Tough, guitarist Carmen Mastren and bassist Gene Traxler.)

Jack Leonard and Edythe Wright, here caught daydreaming between songs, were two very popular members of Tommy Dorsey’s band in the late 1930s.

The music:

The lighthearted song “I’m in a Dancing Mood,” a British import, was composed by Al Hoffman, Al Goodheart and Maurice Sigler in 1936 for the English film This’ll Make You Whistle, which starred Jack Buchanan and Elsie Randolph. British bandleader Bert Ambrose made a recording of it on August 12 1936, and somehow the tune came to the attention of Tommy Dorsey, who always cast a wide net for material.

The arrangement TD’s band plays here, probably written by Paul Wetstein (later Weston) or the band’s pianist, Dick Jones, is a joyous celebration of the melody and lyric of “I’m in a Dancing Mood.”  The chart is rather utilitarian, except for one feature: the delightful ascending and descending saxophone section backgrounds that shadow the up and down flow of the song’s melody, and point-up the euphoric mood sung about by Jack Leonard.

The performance begins with a brief ensemble introduction, then shifts to the first chorus and an open trombone solo where Tommy sets forth the melody for sixteen bars. His sound, intonation and phrasing are impeccable. But he does not phrase over the bar lines much if at all, something for which he later became renowned. (Jack Leonard, who sings the second chorus, does, in a couple of places.) Note the cup-muted brass and singing saxophones behind TD. The band plays the bridge as a contrast to the trombone solo for eight bars, and the saxophones then the brass finish the chorus.

Leonard’s vocal chorus is handled with smooth aplomb, especially considering the brisk tempo. Once again, the keening saxophones behind him are noteworthy, a musical touch that enhances Jack’s singing. Also of note is the way Dick Jones plays the piano part in the rhythm section accompaniment behind the vocal. He is playing in the quintessential chunk-chunk mid-1930s dance band mode, which was about to be changed forever with the arrival of the aphoristic Count Basie on the pop music scene.

The final half-chorus spots the entire ensemble building the performance to a gentle climax and bright finish. In this sequence, one can detect some roughness in the trumpet section, an extreme rareness in any of TD’s many recordings. This no doubt was the result of Tommy’s recent firing of first trumpeter Steve Lipkins, and then hurriedly covering that important chair for this recording session with a sub, Andy McKinney. Tommy soon re-hired Lipkins only to fire him again, and then begin to load up his trumpet section with great players like Andy Ferretti (lead) and Pee Wee Erwin (jazz). In between all of this, TD had trumpeter Bunny Berigan bolster his trumpet section on its radio show and recordings for several weeks. Radio money enabled TD to play his game of musical chairs. But he was always making moves that he thought were improving his band, even though in the short term they may have destabilized his band’s ensemble unity.


“I’m in a Dancing Mood”

Composed by Al Hoffman, Al Goodheart and Maurice Sigler; arranged by Dave Brubeck.

Recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for Columbia on June 25, 1959 in New York.

Dave Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

The story continues:

Dave Brubeck had a remarkably successful career in music that stretched from the 1940s into the Twenty-first Century. He worked in a number of musical idioms, but was most famous for the jazz he produced with the Dave Brubeck Quartet through the 1950s and 1960s. Whatever Brubeck did musically, it was based on his deep understanding of the music of the swing era.

His choice of the song “I’m in a Dancing Mood” as a vehicle for him to present changing meters, tempos and moods is an interesting one. Brubeck first recorded his arrangement of “I’m in a Dancing Mood” at one of his earliest sessions for Columbia, on March 12, 1956. From that time on, he kept the tune in the regular repertoire of the DBQ for many years. The recording presented here, made on June 25, 1959, presents the classic Quartet, with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass, and the superb drummer Joe Morello driving the rhythm. (Shown above right.)

This performance is a great one, but it seems that no matter how many times the DBQ played “I’m in a Dancing Mood,” the musicians were always inspired to add new twists here and there. This applied particularly to the alto saxophone solos performed by Paul Desmond. On the Columbia recording presented here, Desmond starts his solo with a weird drone that suggests a Berber souk in North Africa, but eventually moves into a swinging improvisation on the chords of “I’m in a Dancing Mood” that ends way too soon. (Desmond plays a similar opening on the Ed Sullivan video presented below from 1960, but then improvises a completely different tract of music from the Columbia recording.)(2) (Joe Morello and Eugene Wright are shown above left.)

Be it by Dorsey or Brubeck, “I’m in a Dancing Mood” is happy music.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links: 

(*) John Joseph Leonard, February 10, 1913 – June 17, 1988.

(1) Variety, October 21, 1936, (39).

(2) Here is a wonderful video version of “I’m in a Dancing Mood” performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1960 with TV personality Ed Sullivan not long after the Columbia recording presented above was made. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8ivFtfqnM8

Here are some links to more music by Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond:




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1 Comment

  1. I confess that I’d never paid the same great attention to “I’m in a Dancing Mood” that I had to most other TD sides of this period, a time I especially enjoy in the band’s history. Three things, however, did stand out: TD’s rather untypical phrasing, Carmen Mastren’s buoyant rhythm and Jack’s very sincere-sounding vocal. Tommy’s singing tone (a trite description, I know) was my inspiration for taking up trombone, and I studied very closely his lyrical phrasing and memorized where he breathed in all his solos. Uncharacteristic though his approach to his “Dancing Mood” spot is, in minimizing the trademark legato lines, it does mirror the construction of the lyric and suits the rise and fall of the melody and harmonic structure. As we see, the brass comes in for the bridge, but we can be certain that if TD had gone on to the melody’s high C-sharp (his most famous high note, for its inclusion in his theme), which would have followed his last note in the solo, high B natural, he wouldn’t have breathed (just as Jack doesn’t in his vocal) between the two notes/phrases, as this was where his approach to the instrument had its most dramatic impact. As in this chart, a section or more usually entered at the bridge in the opening chorus, though.

    It seems that some aspiring jazz guitar players of today chuckle a bit at the Swing Era’s “chunk-chunk” comping, which they invariably label “Freddie Green-style” — Freddie being generally the only recognized name of the period. Perhaps imagining the art of playing jazz to involve nothing but single-note improvisation, they may find keeping time, a hardly unimportant job, monotonous. It could be that some believe the modern approach of essentially playing little harmonized melodies on the upper strings sets behind the instrumental soloist or vocalist to be a more stimulating or creative style. What best suits the combo environment doesn’t necessarily work as well in a big band, however. Players such as Freddie Green, today the most widely known Swing Era rhythm guitarist; Allan Reuss (my favourite) and the great Carmen Mastren developed shell chord comping, a deceptively simple technique, into a high art. For a type of music that was designed to appeal to young dancers, this manner of laying down the rhythm paradoxically strove for an economy of movement on the part of the guitarist while conveying and encouraging motion in the listener. Even here, in the 2/4 that we associate so strongly with TD, we can appreciate the bounce and suppleness of Mastren’s beat; it’s crisp and steady, as it should be, but vibrant. In listening closely during TD’s solo, we can pick out little nuances and spice that Carmen adds to his job of timekeeper. To these ears, Dick Jones is just needlessly doubling Carmen’s part behind Jack’s vocal.

    I recall being disappointed several years ago in reading the essays in the booklet for RCA Victor’s THE SONG IS YOU, the remastered CD package of all the Sinatra w/Dorsey sides. It seemed to me the various writers were intent upon criticizing Frank’s predecessor, the very popular Jack Leonard, while praising the revolutionary Sinatra style. One even went so far as to say that in the band’s chant for the Sy Oliver-arranged “Blue Skies” it sounded as if the guys were “laughing with” Frank, whereas they had been “laughing at” Jack on the many records that employed this vocal device. Though he was undeniably not as versatile as Sinatra, Jack, one of my favourite singers, was a marvelous vocalist. He displayed fine technique, had a pleasing, distinctive voice and, importantly, delivered his choruses with what comes across as real feeling, earnestness and humility. It seems that these qualities are missing from most pop music of the past several decades. … In the liner notes for the Jazz Hour label CD of ’36-41 Dorsey band broadcast performances, archivist Ed Burke speaks of talking with Jack about Bunny — at the time of “I’m in a Dancing Mood,” soon briefly to join the TD orchestra as a soloist, in order to finance his own bandleading venture: “I talked to Jack Leonard about Bunny and the band, and he said that Bunny was usually very quiet but always comical. Once they were rooming together when the band was on the road, and Jack, being very slight of build, was getting ready for bed. After taking off his pants, Bunny saw his thin legs and asked, ‘Man, do you really walk on those?’ Jack said that all of the men including T.D. admired him, and thought that he was in a class by himself.” Bunny’s incredulous observation on Jack’s skinny legs cracked me up, and I have to give credit to the handsome vocalist for telling that somewhat unflattering story, which I’ve never encountered elsewhere.

    I have a CD of ’36-’37 TD broadcasts that includes a 12/14/36 performance of “I’m in a Dancing Mood,” in a truncated arrangement, with a vocal by The Three Esquires, not just Jack. It seems that Tommy regularly added or substituted the trio to vocal choruses on the air.

    Finally, the ubiquitousness in the early ’30s of Jack Pearl’s “Vass you dere, Sharlie?” is suggested by its appearance in Warner Brothers’ ’33 THE PICTURE SNATCHER, in which James Cagney utters the line, complete with faux German accent, to conclude the film. When I first caught the movie, I had no idea of the reference — my mother had to explain it.

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