Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick

The period 1940-1943 encompasses what is generally referred to as the Blanton-Webster years, when Ellington expanded the orchestra with a second tenor saxophone, the great Ben Webster, only a few months after the innovative bassist Jimmy Blanton came on the scene towards the end of 1939. For many people whose tastes lean towards the swing era, this period is seen as the peak of Ellington's career.

The other important change in Ellington's life at this juncture was of course the addition of Billy Strayhorn, who became his co-composer and alter ego for almost 30 years to follow. After his introduction in 1939, Strayhorn began composing rampantly for the Ellington orchestra, contributing a great number of classic works including Take The A Train, Chelsea Bridge and Blue Goose, although at the time of writing most of the transcriptions from this period are solely owing to Ellington himself.

For the purpose of categorising the transcriptions in a meaningful manner, I have viewed this period as finishing when Ellington extended the orchestra further to five trumpets with the exit of Wallace Jones and the addition of Shelton Hemphill and Taft Jordan, coinciding with the replacement of valve trombonist Juan Tizol. Compositions prior to 1943 have three trumpets, until the arrival of Harold "Shorty Baker in September 1942. The later works have four trumpets, but all of the transcriptions in this group are scored for five reeds.