Friday, November 18, 2016

Moondance from Van Morrison

"Moondance" is a popular song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and is the title song on his 1970 album Moondance.

Morrison did not release the song as a single until November 1977, seven and a half years after the album was released. It reached the Billboard Hot 100, charting at #92. The single's B-side, "Cold Wind in August", had been released in the same year, on his latest album at the time, A Period of Transition.

"Moondance" is the most frequently played song by Van Morrison in concert, as it is the only song known to have been played over a thousand times.

Composition and Recording

"Moondance" was recorded at the Mastertone Studio in New York City in August 1969, with Lewis Merenstein. as producer.

The song is played mostly acoustic, anchored by a walking bass line (played on electric bass by John Klingberg), with accompaniment by piano, guitar, saxophones, and flute with the instruments played with a soft jazz swing. It's a song about autumn, the composer's favorite season. Towards the end of the song, Morrison imitates a saxophone. The song also features a piano solo, played by Jeff Labes, which is immediately followed by an alto saxophone solo by Jack Schroer. The song ends with a trill on the Flute during the cadenza that fades out.

Music journalist Erik Hage wrote that the significance of the song "lies in its direct jazz approach", expanding that observation with "Astral Weeks had suggestions of jazz, but this song would take the genre head on. It would become Van Morrison's most successful and definitive jazz composition."

Schroer's solo is commented on in Saxophone Scales and Arpeggios, as a reason why saxophonists should learn scales. The scale used in Schroer's "Moondance" solo is Aeolian A (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or could simply be considered as a C Major scale and is played primarily over a D minor to A minor vamp that resolves via a sharp V (#5=F7) to natural V (5=E7#9) dominant chord.

Morrison commented on writing the song: "With 'Moondance' I wrote the melody first. I played the melody on a soprano sax and I knew I had a song so I wrote lyrics to go with the melody. That's the way I wrote that one. I don't really have any words to particularly describe the song, sophisticated is probably the word I'm looking for. For me, 'Moondance' is a sophisticated song. Frank Sinatra wouldn't be out of place singing that."

Critical Response

The Allmusic reviewer describes "Moondance" as "one of those rare songs that manages to implant itself on the collective consciousness of popular music, passing into the hallowed territory of a standard, a classic."

Biographer John Collis praised the song for being more commercially accessible for most radio stations than a lot of his earlier work. He calls "Moondance" "an important song in the development of Morrison's career, since it indicated to radio station programmers a previously unsuspected versatility. Stations that would never have considered playing, say 'Slim Slow Slider' found that the smooth, jazzy sophistication of 'Moondance' was more to their taste."

"Moondance" was listed as #226 on the Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 feature, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.


  • Van Morrison - vocals, guitar
  • John Klingberg - bass guitar
  • Jeff Labes - piano
  • Gary Mallaber - drums
  • John Platania - guitar
  • Jack Schroer - alto saxophone
  • Collin Tilton - tenor saxophone, flute

Afterword by the Blog Author

Moondance is a masterpiece of melodic jazz, a definitive autobiographic statement of monogamy and male sexuality demonstrated heartfeltedly by the composer.

The tricky, diaphanous melodic line is never fully there; instead, the listener completes and finishes the melody (rather like George Shearing’s definitive 1949 performance of Harry Warren’s September in the Rain).

Pianist Jeff Labes does critically important jazz piano work to gird Moondance, rather in the manner that Russ Freeman supported Chet Baker on the My Funny Valentine album in the 1950s.  Yet with Moondance we have the added baby boomer demanded authenticity of Morrison as a singer-songwriter.

Moondance is jewel of “classic” jazz.

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