Category Archives: Jazz-Tunes

Discuss a jazz tune and present several recordings.

Moonlight in Vermont

Johnny Smith - Moonlight in Vermont

“Moonlight in Vermont” is a ballad written by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf in 1944. It was recorded by Margaret Whiting and the Billy Butterfield Orchestra and became immediately a big hit.

The lyrics of John Blackburn are also special, since they do not rhyme, but they describe perfectly a late fall-early winter landscape in Vermont (an area which has the perfect scenery for an American Christmas dream) and no wonder, that the song was also very popular with the American troops fighting in Europe during World War II.

The form is the very popular 32-bars AABA form with an additional 2 bars played as ending, sometimes after each chorus, sometimes only at the end of the tune. The original key was Db major, but the real book notates it in Eb, and the most popular cover version by Johnny Smith was played in C major.

The version of guitarist Jimmy Smith, released in 1952, became also the inspiration for many other guitar player and that is one of the reasons why my playlist has the focus on that instrument:

  1. Johnny Smith and Stan Getz: This instrumental version of the song is the most popular version and I think also the most interesting one. It shows Johnny Smith playing very closed voicings on the guitar sounding almost like a steel-guitar and Stan Getz adding a very cool and relaxed saxophone.
  2. Stan Getz has recorded another cool version of this tune together with Chet Baker on trumpet. The tempo of this version is quite similar to the version with Johnny Smith, but Chet Baker and Stan Getz play the melody well-composed and arranged in two voices.
  3. Nat King Cole recorded an instrumental version of this song in 1947. Very soft and easy played with a sparkling Nat King Cole on piano. Interesting enough I found no version where he sings.
  4. Billie Holiday recorded this song in 1957 with her orchestra, featuring Ben Webster on tenor saxophone and Barney Kessel on guitar. Also very easy and relaxed and I like her voice anyway very much.
  5. From Joe pass you can find two nice versions, one as soloist on his CD “Unforgettable” from 1992, released after his death in 1998, where Joe Pass plays the song on a nylon string guitar, not on his regular Gibson ES-175 Jazz guitar. The other version is a duet with Ella Fitzgerald on the album “Easy Living” from 1986.
  6. Finally I would like to present a version from country singer Willie Nelson. His version is from 1978 from the album “Stardust”. This album consists of pop and jazz standards that Nelson chose from his list of favorite songs. The album was 10 years in Billboard’s Country Charts and Nelson won a Grammy for the song “Georgia on My Mind” in 1979. The song starts simple and easy with guitar and vocals and has a very sweet harmonica solo part.

Listen to the songs in the playlist and if you know an interesting and unusual version of this song, please leave a comment.



“Epistrophy” is a standard composed by pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke in 1942. Both were at that time in the house band at Minton’s Playhouse, where the famous jam sessions took place that led to the development of Be-Bop.

Monk was well-known of his unorthodox style to play the piano (which you can see very well in video added in this blog) and his unique composition style. He wrote songs like “Round Midnight”, “Well, You Needn’t”, “Blue Monk” or “Straight, No Chaser”. All these songs are either blues tunes or very bluesy oriented and the melody is using many chromatic elements.

“Epistrophy” is no exception here. The tune is based on a 32-bar ABCB form (or AA’BA’ since the second 8 bars of the melody are similar to first eight bars, just one whole step higher played).

The style of the composition is like an invitation to very experimental and vanguard interpretation of the tune and I would like to introduce here some of these interpretations.

  1. Let’s start with Monk himself: There is a nice live recording with John Coltrane on saxophone and Monk on piano from November 29, 1957. This recording is itself famous since it was accidentally discovered and released in 2005.
  2. The next version I have for you is from the trumpet player Alex Sipiagin recorded in 2009 with a nice line-up (Chris Potter on saxophone and Dave Kikoski on piano). This is a very modern way to play the tune, also rhythmically very interesting.
  3. Another Coltrane-version (this time from Ravi Coltrane also from 2009) shows us how to play this tune in a faster tempo than what we have heard before. The excellent drummer on this recording is E.J. Strickland who was leading the drums workshop in Langnau in 2012.
  4. The next recording I chose is from Elliot Sharp (or E#) from 2006 and shows the experimental and vanguard side of Monks tune.
  5. Finally I have a Chaka Khan medley of famous Be-Bop tunes found on the 1982 album “Chaka Khan” where the following standards are put together into one funky (and Grammy awarded) medley: Hot House – East of Suez (Come On Sailor) – Epistrophy (I Wanna Play) – Yardbird Suite – Con Alma – Giant Steps.

I have again prepared a playlist, so you can listen yourself to the different interpretations.

Finally I found a video showing Monk playing his composition