Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick
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Unknown Ellington compositions never heard before! Harmony in Harlem Michael's Ellington jazz orchestra


Only in recent years have the works of Duke Ellington, perhaps the greatest and most prolific composer in the history jazz, been available in print. Recreated with reference to the recordings and the repository of Ellington's original manuscripts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, my transcriptions are the accurate and faithful reproductions of work by Duke Ellington and Billy Strahorn. Many of the compositions presented here are a little off the beaten track, often reflecting my personal taste alongside the more popular Duke Ellington tunes; it is my hope that these publications will encourage orchestras to bring to performance many of Ellington underrated masterpieces.

My transcriptions are engraved using the Sibelius professional music engraving software and printed on 120gsm paper. Optional written solos, fully transcribed from the recordings, are provided as appendices to the band parts. Detailed performance notes and a Notation Guide to the musical notation style can be provided on request, giving a broad outline of the notation style I employ and give some insight as to how one should intrepret the parts. Importantly, my transciptions are provided with very little phrasing and annotation, differing as little as possible from the original scores. This does require some interpretation and a good understanding of how to play big band jazz: but as Nigel Carter, former trumpeter with the BBC Big Band once said "Your band part is not for you to write on, it is for you to scribble all over!"

Such Sweet Thunder at the BBC Proms 2016

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland performend my transcription of Such Sweet Thunder at Prom 28 on Saturday 5th August 2016, in the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. The performance (Prom 28) was directed and conducted by Malcolm Edmonstone and Andrew Bain. The students put on an excellent show. A few of the band are or were students at the Guildhall School of Music and had performed (under Martin Hathaway) Such Sweet Thunder two years ago or had taken in part in one of the annual concerts the GSMD jazz orchestra puts on for the Duke Ellington Society UK. It was fantastic to see a few familiar faces in the ranks of NYJOS.

Anyone in the Royal Albert Hall on 5th August may have been wondering what relevance to Shakespeare (and the Shakespeare 400 celebrations) the suite might have, because sadly there were no programme notes of any sort to described the twelve movements and which Shakespearean characters they portray. Personally, I feel this rather remiss of the BBC, belitting Shakespeare, Ellington and Strayhorn. I find it bad enough that the BBC announcer saw fit to invite the audience to applaud any soloist in the middle of any piece - an excellent way of obliterating the following few bars of music and utterly destroying the integrity of any orchestration, reducing it to the status of an informal jam session.

To rectify the first matter I'm providing a link to the programme notes I wrote myself for the earlier performance of Such Sweet Thunder by my own band Harmony In Harlem: Such Sweet Thunder programme notes

Such Sweet Thunder transcriptions

Such Sweet Thunder was a highly-acclaimed album released in 1957, composed after the invitation to perform at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. The twelve movements by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn are dedicated to Shakespearean characters and amongst them are four sonnets which were composed in a musical form exactly corresponding to the structure of a 14-line sonnet.

My transcription of the 12-part suite Such Sweet Thunder is the only legitimately published source for the entire suite, licensed through Music Sales Ltd and available directly from me at the price of 400. The suite has already been orderd by a number of outstanding ensembles around the UK, including NYJO, GSMD, NYJOS and the RCM.

The detail, accuracy and authenticity of the transcriptions are the result of painstaking study of original manuscripts and the comparison of multiple recordings in order to circumvent errors and/or lack of clarity in the issued studio recordings from 1957. I even used video evidence from live performances in the 1960s to observe the slide and valve positions of Ellington's brass musicisns!

2014 and 2016 are important 450th and 400th anniversary years for the birth and death of William Shakespeare. After completing transcriptions of all twelve movements of the suite through painstaking study of the original manuscriptsion and recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra, I performed the suite four times with my own jazz orchestra Harmony In Harlem. The list of performances of the suite by various ensembles so far is as follows:

  • Harmony In Harlem - March 2014, premier at The Cut arts centre, Halesworth, Suffolk
  • Guildhall School of Music and Drama jazz orchestra - April 2014
  • Harmony In Harlem - September 2014, Royston Arts Festival
  • Harmony In Harlem - April 2015, St John's ARC, Harlow, Essex
  • Harmony In Harlem - June 2015, Mumford Theatre, Cambridge
  • National Youth Jazz Orchestra - Southwark Cathedral, July 2015
  • Zurich Jazz Orchestra - 14th April 2016, Zurich
  • Royal College of Music - Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, 30th April 2016
  • Echoes of Ellington - Plymouth 30th April 2015
  • Insostenible Big Band - July 2016, Malaga, Spain
  • National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland - 16th July, Isle of Skye4th & 5th August
  • National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland - 17th July, Glasgow
  • National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland - 4th August, Bradford-upon-Avon
  • National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland - 5th August, Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms

I welcome any enquries by e-mail from those interested in performing the entire Such Sweet Thunder suite!

Commissioning a transcription

I regret that this website has not been kept up-to-date. The catalogue of available transcriptions is far greater than that listed here. My work in recent years has been primarily for the repertoire of my own jazz orchestra Harmony In Harlem. The band website lists the repertoire available, and I can consider any request for transcriptions within that repertoire. Beyond that, please feel free to enquire about any Ellington title, however obscure. It may well be something I can provide.

Previous Customers

Many of these transcriptions have been performed by professional orchestras or other amateur organisations: Pete Long's Echoes of Ellington orchestra, the BBC, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Royal College of Music, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, the late William Russo of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.