Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick

Long Duration Notes

Referring back to the minims of Fig. 5(a) and Fig. 5(b), observe that is common to release longer notes before the end of the beat, especially those notes that terminate a phrase. There are generalised rules that apply to many rhythmic or percussive contexts throughout Ellington's music. Where longer notes are involved, Ellington seldom wrote short (e.g. quaver) rests between notes clearly intended to be separated. The result is clarity of rhythm but a need to interpret heavily. For the different treatment of long notes, The Notation Guide broadly classifies figures as being harmonic or rhythmic in function. Harmonic figures may comprise a series of long block chords, often legato, with little rhythmic function and with perhaps only the occasional off-beat interjection. Ellington often labelled these as organ passages, especially when applied to background block harmonies in the reed section. A Rhythmic or percussive figure may be a countermelody or a series of percussive interjections and is often treated quite differently.

Harmonic Backgrounds

Figure 6

Harmonic background figures will comprise a series of long block chords, played in a legato fashion, and mostly held to their full duration with the exception of the terminal note: this is always shortened. Isolated interjections are also released early: minims become dotted crotchets and semibreves become dotted or double-dotted minims. Fig. 6 shows the Standard Edition notation for a trumpet/clarinet background figure from Stay Awake. The Original Edition is written without the slurs, as it appears in Ellington's score. In bars 3 and 7, the terminal semibreves become dotted (or double-dotted) minims. In bar 4, the isolated interjection is released early. The Original Editions do not have phrase marks; the performer can find the phrasing for himself with or without reference to Ellington's recordings.

Rhythmic or Percussive Figures

Figure 7

Rhythmic figures are often more percussive. Most notes are shorter and accented. The shortening of long notes ensures their separation, and this is vital to a swing feel. A series of fully sustained notes has much less impact than those with short gaps before each attack. Fig. 7 depicts a trombone figure in the trombones in Sherman Shuffle. The Standard Edition notation is shown in Fig. 7(b), interpreted as in Fig. 7(c). The semibreve and minim are stopped early with the tongue. It is also common to shorten dotted crotchets such as the one here - refer to the alternatives of Fig. 5(b). Recapping on Ellington's early style, observe in Fig. 7(a) the final anticipated beat with a crotchet tied to it. This is preserved in the Original Editions but the Standard Edition notation does away with the crotchet to conform to more modern practice.

Figure 8

Brass versus Reeds

It can be observed that the reeds are often less percussive than the brass. In Sherman Shuffle for example, the reed section has a background figure similar to that of Fig. 7 behind Lawrence Brown's solo. This is shown in Fig. 8. There is no way to determine this from Ellington's manuscripts, so in the Standard Edition the figure is slurred to show that it is legato. If, however, a similar figure were being played by the combined brass and reeds it might well be played in a detached and more percussive fashion. There are no hard and fast rules.

Mixed figures

Figure 9

As an example of a figure with mixture of melodic and percussive elements, Fig.9 shows the top line of a harmonised brass figure from . Bars 3-4 are rhythmic and percussive, dictating shortened, accented notes. The first bar, however, is melodic and should be played in a broad style, exactly as written. Observe that the general rule of terminal note-shortening is as usual applied to the semibreve in bar 2. This can be shortened to a dotted minim or a double-dotted minim.

Readers of the Original Edition transcription should observe the tied G-natural in bar 1 of Fig. 8 is not a short note. was after Ellington mostly abandoned the system of tying redundant crotchets to anticipated percussive notes (see Fig. 4). In other words, the G-natural is intended to be played for its full written duration.