Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick

Notation and Performance Guidelines

The Notation Guide is a document in Microsoft Word format that is included with each score and is replicated here on the website, but rearranged a little. The most up-to-date version of the Notation Guide can be freely downloaded here.

The Notation Guide outlines the system of notation used consistently throughout the transcriptions and discusses broad rules of interpretation. Bound with each score are also Performance Notes which are specific to that transcription. The Performance Notes discussing issues of notation, interpretation and performance for that piece: details which cannot be encompassed by the generic Notation Guide. The Performance Notes are not reproduced on this website.


All the transcriptions derive from original scores in Ellington's hand and/or surviving band parts, and are edited with reference to recorded performances. Unlike many modern, commercial big band charts, Ellington's hand-written scores (particularly the earlier ones) employ little annotation and do not conform to modern practice with regard to written note duration. Naturally, the parts were extracted - either by the hand of a copyist or a band member such as Juan Tizol - to be read only by his own orchestra. Sections of music may appear out of sequence or may have been added or removed, such changes often only being recorded in the minds of the musicians.

No consistent rules can be applied when interpreting Ellington's manuscripts. Furthermore, the many subtleties of jazz can never be notated accurately: prescriptive notation limits freedom of interpretation. The performer is advised to study this guide and Ellington's recordings. Within the Notation Guide there are guidelines for reading swing rhythms and percussive short notes within melodic and rhythmic figures, and for interpreting the durations of long notes in a variety of contexts. . Ellington seldom wrote accurate note durations. However, if all notes were played accurately - as though it were classic music - the result would likely be music that simply did not swing. Conversely, some modern jazz composes prefer to annotate scores in detail and write accurate note durations throughout. To avoid any confusion it is necessary to explain in some detail the system of notation used in these transcriptions.

Professionally jazz charts should avoid annotation on the basis that the competent jazz musician appreciates how the music should be interpreted without having to read a cluttered manuscript. I follow that approach, and try to add as little annotation as possible to Ellington's orchestrations. To accommodate a wider audience I offer two editions of each transcription using different styles of notation. The following pages of the Notation Guide are an aid to understanding how Ellington wrote, how I have adapted the music, and how the musician should interpret the result. Please study the Notation Guide carefully or view the Samples page to appreciate the differences between the two editions.

Standard Editions

This notation requires some interpretation of note duration and phrasing. A lot of Ellington's original writing is left unedited, unless significant changes are required beyond the expected level of interpretation. Dynamics, some phrasing and a few articulations have been added. These editions are targeted at orchestras with a moderate understanding of natural jazz phrasing. The notation provides clarity of rhythm but at the expense of some consistency of written note duration. It is hoped that most customers will be comfortable with the Standard Editions.

Original Editions

This notation replicates Ellington's original note durations. There is little or no annotation - only what is found on the orginal manuscripts - usually meaning the complete absence of dynamics and phrasing. It is envisaged that only the serious-minded will tackle the Original Editions, as considerable analysis and interpretation is required to understand the notation and perform the music in an appropriate style.