Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick

Percussive Short Notes

Figure 3

The crotchet (quarter note) is normally a percussive short note with a duration lying between one third and two-thirds of a beat, depending on the tempo and style. Accents such as ^ are not employed to indicate short, accented notes as the overuse of these results in a cluttered manuscript. A general rule 'crotchets short, quavers long' usually applies. Crotchets are only played full-duration when marked with a tenuto or when under a phrase mark, slur or legato passage. An exception is the last note of a slurred or legato phrase, usually released earlier than its written duration indicates.

Off-beat percussive notes, such as the 2nd note in Fig. 3, are written as crotchets unless sensible rhythmic division of the bar dictates the use of a quaver. An off-beat note may linger a little into the beat it anticipates, especially at the end of a phrase, unless a more clipped style is demanded. Fig. 3(a) illustrates the interpretation at fast tempos or in a broad style. At slow/medium tempos, especially in more accented passages, both quavers and crotchets may be clipped shorter, as in Fig. 3(b).

Figure 4

Adapting Early Ellington

An important difference between the Standard Edition and Original Edition transcriptions lies in the use of crotchets tied to off-beat quavers in Ellington's earlier writings. With a written duration of one and a half beats such figures may actually indicated short notes but they cannot be distinguished from identical written patterns which indicated notes to be held for their full duration! This notation is little understood today, so the crotchets are removed from the Standard Edition transcriptions, as indicated in Fig. 4, to provide consistency and to allow distinction between short notes and full-duration notes at all times.

Ellington used two tied quavers for short notes off the beat as in Fig. 4(b), but this again prevents distinction between full-duration or short notes. Because placing tenuto marks over pairs of tied quavers would not be ideal, in the Standard Editions pairs of tied quavers will indicate a full-duration note, and short notes are written as crotchets or single quavers. In the Original Editions, quavers or crotchets tied to off-beat quavers may indicate either long or short notes. Again it is expected that a conductor come to his own conclusions with or without reference to the recordings.

Alternative Interpretations

Figure 5

The transcriptions do not explicitly differentiate between a clipped or broader style. Given that occasionally Ellington's performance style differed between multiple recordings of the same piece and that excessive annotation would be restrictive, it is expected that a conductor come to his own conclusions, with or without reference to the recordings. As a further aid, Fig. 5(a) and Fig. 5(b) show further examples of board and clipped styles. The second, clipped interpretation of the classic rhythm of Fig. 5(a) would be the preferred choice in a loud, percussive ensemble figure. A background figure in the saxophones, say, would be less percussive: the broader interpretation would be more likely.

Some figures contain mixtures of short and broad notes. Fig. 5(c) begins with the classic 3-note rhythm which could have either a broad or clipped style, but the first note of the 2nd bar is most likely to be broad, it being the last accented beat of the phrase and being followed by a "throw-away" off-beat note. In an Original Edition transcription the tied note in the middle of the 1st bar could either be short or long - the performers must agree on this between themselves, with or without reference to Ellington's recordings. If such a rhythm appears in a Standard Edition score it indicates a long note with no gap before the fourth beat.

Observe also that is common to release longer notes before the end of the beat, for example the minims of Fig. 5(a) and Fig. 5(b). This creates a gap before whatever follows, which is important to a percussive swing feel. This is discussed in the next page.