UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)


In 1964, Strayhorn fell seriously ill and was in fact diagnosed with cancer. He dedicated this tune to his doctor. This composition shows a late Strayhorn with a fresh approach. He was clearly influenced by bebop and cool jazz in this last period of his work, and with UMMG, reminiscing of bebop tunes like Gillespie’s Woody’n You from 1942, Strayhorn presented a state-of-the-art interpretation to the fashionable scene.

The significance of UMMG lies in the chord movement A7#9/Db – Dbmaj, which occurs in bar 5 of “A” (repeated) and then as a four-bar tag in the end of the last “A”, often played as vamp in the very ending. A7#9/Db is the first inversion of a tritone-related double dominant, or V7 of V. “It is in fact a double-diminished seventh chord in its second inversion, built on the raised fourth step G – a chord that achieves its power from its multiple chromatic leading notes” (van de Leur, p.143). It does not resolve in the dominant Ab7, but directly in Db. The melody goes along with this motion: it jumps down a tritone interval to Bbb on the downbeat (the first downbeat of the theme), giving a special emphasis to this chord, and then resolves to a Bb on the Db chord, synchronous to the harmonic rhythm.

Generally, the piece is constructed mostly out of minor II-V changes, i.e. half-diminished subdominants and altered dominants, which sometimes resolve in a major tonic anyway. Almost all melody notes are tensions or upper-structure material. Only in bar 6 (repeated), there is a Db arpeggio. The “A” section is an almost perfect diatonic cadence of IIIm7b5-VI7b9-IIm7-V7-I, except for the delay of the tonic through the upper-chromatic double dominant. The bridge sequences a four-bar phrase over IIm7b5-V7b9 to Fmaj, and a IIm7b5-V7b9 to Gbm.


Upper Manhattan Medical Groupis rhythmically quite advanced, and also the melody is energetic in its constant up and down-movements and jumps. In addition to that, the harmonic agility through a multitude of chords and the melody that does not imply a clear tonality make UMMG a very complex, almost edgy composition.