Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche”: Three Classic Recordings

The Mooche was one of Duke Ellington’s signature pieces. Composed in 1928 by Ellington and the jazz promoter Irving Mills, it is an example of the Duke’s characteristic “jungle style,” with its exotic, pseudo-African undercurrents. These are the jazz age sounds which filled Harlem’s Cotton Club in the late 1920s.

According to Ellington, the title, underscored by the infectiously languid rhythm, refers to “a certain lazy gait peculiar to some of the folk of Harlem.” Set in a cooly melancholy C minor, The Mooche evokes colorful characters who have fallen on hard times. The instruments take on an extraordinary vocal quality. As they engage in their lamenting conversation, we can sense the distinct persona and the soulful commentary behind each voice.

The earliest recordings feature the haunting muted trumpet of James “Bubber” Miley, who would pass away a few years later at the age of 29, the victim of alcoholism and tuberculosis. “Barney” Bigard is heard on the clarinet. Additionally, the first version, recorded on October 1, 1928, includes guitarist Lonnie Johnson, and the scat singing of the vaudeville performer, Gertrude “Baby” Cox.

This recording is from November 5, 1928:

The Mooche was further developed in this version from 1952:


  • Ellington: The Mooche Amazon
  • Ellington: The Mooche (1952 version) Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

Leave a Comment