Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick

The Scores and Parts

Each transcription comprises a full transposing score and a set of parts. The instrumentation for each transcription is described on this website. The band parts are laser-printed on sturdy paper of 120gsm density. Each score is presented in a plastic-covered comb-bound booklet and has performance notes and a Notation Guide supplement printed with it. No portion of the score or orchestral parts may be copied in any form, but the textual supplements may be copied and distributed amongst the orchestra.

Rhythm Section Parts

Piano introductions and solos are transcribed as accurately as possible within the limits imposed by the quality of the recordings and the transcriber’s ear. Transcriptions of Ellington's backing figures may give an indication as to style. Beyond that, piano parts give chord progressions and occasional cues. The pianist may wish to develop his own interpretation using the transcription as a framework.

Bass parts may include written passages which should be deviated from only with discretion. Sometimes I provide a separate chord sheet as well as a fully transcribed part. Ellington's original bass parts were written as think-bass lines of notes on the first and third beats, mostly indicating mostly the harmonic roots, without chord symbols.

Guitar parts are provided only if present originally (in recordings before Fred Guy left in 1949). The parts are simple chord sheets with rhythmic figures added when appropriate. Ellington’s guitar parts only featured the underlying harmonies without consideration of the transient harmonies in the ensemble. An unamplified guitar is advisable.

For percussion parts I have avoided writing too much. Percussionists may wish to reproduce the 'military' swing style of Sonny Greer in order to perform earlier Ellington works in a period style. Greer feathered the bass drum on every beat, working on the hi-hat with plenty of articulation, and with less use of ride cymbals than is common today. His up-tempo swing is typified by rim knocks on two and four, or one-handed crush rolls or snare hits anticipating the fourth beat of alternate bars, and an individual style of crashes and splashes. Brushes were often used in up-tempo numbers.


For all solos other than marathon improvisations, I present transcriptions of recorded solos as appendices to the band parts. Written solos are thus separated from the body of the music to allow whatever was originally written to be presented in situ to the musician.

Broadly speaking, solos belong to one of three categories:

  • fully improvised solos over the harmonic framework
  • thematic statements with or without embellishment
  • a feature solo throughout the majority of the composition
For fully improvised solos the original band parts often contained just the word solo (or Boston) over a blank staff. Thematic solos usually had the written melody for the musician to refer to, with or without chord symbols. In both these cases I always provide the chord symbols in situ and in the latter case the original written melody is presented unaltered. The musician then has the opportunity to study both the melody and the fully transcribed solo. Feature solos (e.g. Frustration) usually had a part stating the melody with or without chords, and other indications for improvised sections. For such pieces I provide two entirely separate parts for the feature instrument: the first replicating the original written part (but with chords, cues and other detail added where necessary), the second part a full transcription from a recording by the Ellington Orchestra.

Transcribed solos for multiple instruments may derive from different recordings of the pieces, the choice stemming from personal taste and ease of transcription. The solo transcriptions are not annotated in meticulous detail: it is better to refer to the recordings to understand the phrasing and style of the soloist.

Section Leading

An interesting feature of Ellington's scores is how he often chose different musicians to lead their section in different circumstances, changing the colour of the section. An example is the trumpets in . The third trumpet, Rex Stewart, leads the muted background figure instead of Wallace Jones, who later leads the entire brass ensemble. Similarly the lead sax would swap between Otto Hardwick and Johnny Hodges according to the colour and style of the figures in question. In other instances the reordering was solely for practical reasons: when he wanted a bass F in a trombone he had to assign the note to Lawrence Brown because Juan Tizol was using a valve trombone which was not capable of reaching a low F. Throughout the transcriptions I maintain the integrity of the original parts without indications of lead changes. The musicians can no doubt learn these or choose to reassign the parts as appropriate.