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Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

Michael S. Brockman

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the


requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Musical Arts

University of Washington

2011

Program Authorized to Offer Degree:


School of Music

UMI Number: 3472081

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Abstract

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

Michael S. Brockman

Chair of the Supervisory Committee:


Professor David L. Kappy
School of Music

This dissertation provides a view into Duke Ellington's unique skills as an orchestrator, briefly
illuminating how he developed those skills, and identifying several key writing techniques that
comprise the core of his style. Important non-musical factors in his emergence as a composer and
bandleader are discussed, beginning with a brief history of Ellington and his early ensembles,
followed by a description of the professional music environment of the 1920s that encouraged
many writers for small bands to evolve into composers and arrangers for the large ensembles of
the 1930s big band era. Following this are explanations of some early jazz piano techniques that
served as the foundation for Ellington's personal orchestration style, and a discussion of several
musical devices Ellington used to create modern sounds for his bands (including parallelism,
quartal harmony, and dominant 7 sharp-nine chords). A new concept developed by the author,
called "multifocalism," is introduced. This term describes a group of orchestration techniques that
Ellington used to prevent a listener's attention from being fully drawn to a single musical
element. Finally, there are brief profiles of several unique performers in the Ellington Orchestra,
and a discussion of the important role each played in shaping the Ellington sound.

This text includes excerpts and analyses of several key portions of Ellington's seminal 1935 work,
Reminiscing in Tempo. Also presented and discussed are excerpts from many other landmark
Ellington pieces, transcribed by the dissertation's author from original recordings of the Duke
Ellington orchestra. These include Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue (rec. 1957), Come Sunday
(rec. 1958), East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (rec. 1927), Ko-Ko (rec. 1940), Jack the Bear (rec. 1940),
Concerto for Cootie (rec. 1940), Dusk (rec, 1940), Harlem Airshaft (rec. 1940), and In a
Mellotone (rec. 1940), plus the Billy Strayhorn composition Chelsea Bridge (rec. 1941).

Table of Contents
Introduction
...
Recordings Referred to in Examples

1
3

Chapter 1: A Brief History of Duke Ellington

Chapter 2: The Advent of Big Band Arranging


Enter the Arrangers
Homophony
Closed-Position Harmonization
,
Judicious Use of Harmonization
..
. ...
Call-and-Response: A natural solution
A Simple Set of Guidelines for Expansion Emerges
Passing Chord Harmonization
.....
The Result - Classic Style Big Band Orchestration
Chapter 3: Basic Principles of Early Jazz Piano
Basic Jazz Piano Voicing and Harmonization
Stride and Ragtime Piano chords
Four-Note Chords
Omitting the Root and Including the 6th or 7th
Adding the 9th
The 3rd Becoming the 7th for Smooth Voice Leading
Harmonization Beneath the Melody
Closed-Position Voicings
Block Voicings
Extended Block Voicings
Passing Chord Harmonization
Tritone Substitution for the Dominant 7 Chord
Adding Upper Chord Extensions
Using Upper Extensions in Four-part Harmony
Five-Part Harmony

Chapter 4: Quartal Harmony and Quartal Voicings


Quartal Harmony that Enunciates a Specific Chord Quality
Typical Quartal Voicings for Jazz Piano
Multiple Options for Enunciating a Specific Chord Quality
Multiple Chord Qualities for a Given Quartal Voicing
Parallel Chromatic Motion of Quartal Voicings

8
12
13
...13
.... 15
16
16
17
18
20
23
24
25
26
26
27
28
29
29
29
30
33
34
35
36
38
39
42
43
45
,46

Chapter 5: Other Favorite Techniques and Devices


49
Triads and chords moving chromatically over fixed, underlying harmony. .
49
Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings
.

....... 53
Four-part Drop-2 with the Lead Doubled at the Octave
54
Five-part Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4
55
Transposition of gestures by a minor third
56
Chapter 6: Sharp-Nine Chords and Derivative Configurations
Sharp-nine chords in Drop-2 voicings
Sharp-nine chords in three-note voicings
Sharp-nine harmony with alternate bass notes

58
61
61
.63

Chapter 7: Ellington's Multifocalism


...
.
67
Ambiguity of Lead
70
Ellington vs. Classic-Style Arranging
70
Avoid doubling the melody or lead voice
71
Create transparency using Drop-2 or Drop-2-and-4 voicings
76
With four-part harmonization
76
Withfive-partharmonization
78
Place the melody or lead in the middle of the orchestra's sound
81
Use the high range of low instruments
84
Reverse traditional roles by placing the melody low and accompaniment high
87
Counterpoint and Multiple Simultaneous Elements.....
..........88
The New Orleans Aesthetic: Counterpoint
...88
Ellington Retained Counterpoint
89
Ellington's Multiple Simultaneous Elements.....
90
Examples of Multiple Simultaneous Elements
90
Adding "Dirt" to a Chord
94
Ellington-Style Call-and-Response
..98
A Note About the Blues Vernacular
102
Using AH Methods of Multifocalism in Combination
102
Chapter 8: Tailoring to Musical Personalities
The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal
How Ellington Created the Sound of His Orchestra
Life at the Cotton Club: 1927-1931
After the Cotton Club
The Blanton- Webster Band

104
106
103
Ill
115
117

Reference..........

121

ii

Acknowledgement
Though the following dissertation is an individual work, I could never have completed it, or the
doctoral degree associated with it, without the help, support, guidance and efforts of a lot of people.
First, I would like to thank Professor Arthur Grossman for his patience, guidance, and
encouragement during my many years of study and research at the University of Washington. His
enthusiasm for and interest in all the projects I have undertaken since coming to Seattle have been
major driving forces through my entire graduate career and teaching career. My research interests
have included musical acoustics, intonation, instrument design, and history, plus physics, foreign
languages, and copyright law. Professor Grossman cheerfully allowed me to engage him in lengthy
discussions about all of these (and more!), proving to be a wealth of knowledge and experience
upon which I could always draw. My study of woodwind performance with Professor Grossman
has opened up new worlds for me, and has permanently changed my playing in ways that have
brought me many rewards, and many professional engagements with leading ensembles in our city.
His experience has brought him great wisdom, and I shall forever be grateful to him for sharing that
wisdom with me. His astute edits and suggestions for improving this dissertation have made it a far
better document
I would like to thank all the members of my graduate Committee, especially my Committee
Chairman, Professor David Kappy, who has bravely advocated on my behalf whenever and
wherever possible. He has repeatedly proven his friendship and support for me, and without this, I
would surely have lost heart. Professor William McColl has long been an inspiration to me, and as a
fellow woodwind player, he has taught me the great value of versatility on one's instrument. His
love of all things with reeds is infectious, and has led me to explore many new things that would
have otherwise remained mysterious. Dr. Shannon Dudley is a great friend and has provided
invaluable suggestions for additional sources of information about African and African-American
musical practices. I am grateful to all of these gentlemen for their guidance over many years.
I would also like to thank members of the entire University of Washington School of Music faculty
for supporting me in my pursuit of a doctoral degree, and to our graduate advisor, Brenda Banks,
for steering me through the very difficult process of fulfilling all degree requirements. I also thank
the entire staff of the School of Music for their cheerful support, and especially Claire Peterson, who should know by now that the UW School of Music thrives in large part because of her
organized work.
I thank both Dr. Richard Karpen, Director of the UW School of Music, and his predecessor, Dr.
Robin McCabe, for their encouragement and advice, and their consistent support of all I do.
For their excellent work editing this document, I thank Lisa Gordanier, my daughter Sophia
Brockman, and my wife Betsy Brockman. I also thank Clarence Acox, my partner in leading the
Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, for sharing his love of classic jazz with me during the past 23
years.
I especially thank my mother, Peg Brockman, who taught me to love the music of Ella Fitzgerald,
and my father, Cal Brockman, who taught me to use tools of every kind. Most especially, I thank
Betsy, my wife of thirty-one years. Watching and listening to her sing the music of J.S. Bach taught
me early in life to revere the music of the Baroque. Her loving support of me as a
musician/performer/scholar/teacher/inventor has been my greatest motivation in life. She knows
what it is to be a musician, and her constant help and encouragement have made everything
possible for me.

iii

Dedication

To my wife Betsy, daughter Sophia, and son Max well...the loves of my life.

1
Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

Introduction
One mark of good art is when the observer or listener discovers many interesting facets of a work
that were not apparent on the first, the second, or even the third exposure to it. The music of
Duke Ellington is enduring and entertaining because his pieces not only delight the listener upon
the first exposure, but stand up well to repeated listening. The returning listener almost always
finds something not previously discerned.
This is a fundamental difference between the works of Duke Ellington and those of most of his
contemporaries who composed jazz for large ensembles. Much of the music from the jazz bands
of the swing era and war years, though appealing to popular music audiences of that time, leaves
one feeling that the content of this music is fully absorbed after a single listening. Many of the
once-popular works from the big band era do not endure because, despite repeated listening, we
do not discover yet new layers of musical elements as we do with the works of Ellington.
This text provides a view into Ellington's unique skills as an orchestrator, and sheds light on how
these skills developed. The text represents a combination of information from many sources
including histories, biographies, books on jazz arranging, and common knowledge this is shared
among working jazz musicians. Included in this text are this author's observations and analysis of
Ellington's compositions, the result of having transcribed numerous scores, note-by-note, from
vintage recordings of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and having prepared those scores for public
performances and recordings by jazz ensembles that the author plays in and directs.
The following topics are discussed as background, because they played a special part in the
development of Ellington's early orchestration style:

How Ellington found himself at the head of a vibrant group of jazz musicians, and the
special skills (both musical and non-musical) he brought to that role (Chapter 1, "A Brief
History of Duke Ellington")

How jazz writers for many small bands active in the 1920s (including the young
Ellington) evolved into the composers and arrangers for large ensembles of the 1930s big
band era (Chapter 2, "The Advent of Big Band Arranging")1

How early jazz piano techniques of the 1920s and 1930s served as the basis for
Ellington's personal orchestration style (Chapter 3, "Basic Principles of Early Jazz
Piano")

Following the above introduction to the basics of Ellington's orchestration style, there is a
discussion of Ellington's unique inventiveness (his ability to create new phrases and ideas that
draw our attention and create interest) and an illumination of several hallmarks of Ellington's
writing style:

The use of quartal harmony, and the modem quality that it brought to his writing
(Chapter 4, "Quartal Harmony and Quartal Voicings")

The use of special orchestration techniques and devices that were not typical for piano
playing (Chapter 5, "Other Favorite Techniques and Devices")

The use of Dominant 7 sharp-nine chords (Chapter 6, "Sharp-Nine Chords and Derivative
Configurations")

The use of "multifocalism" for deliberately preventing the listener's attention to be fully
drawn to, or focused on, a single musical element (Chapter 7, "Ellington's
Multifocalism")

The exploitation of the talents of individual musicians to create a unique sound for his
orchestra (Chapter 8, "Tailoring to Musical Personalities").

This text includes many short examples created by the author to quickly illustrate devices and
techniques used by Ellington and others in jazz writing. These short examples are generally
followed by excerpts from Ellington scores that show the application of the technique or device.
Except when a specific Ellington score is named as the source, all examples are the author's.

Throughout this text, the term "writer" is used to include composers and arrangers in the jazz idiom, as

the creation of music for a jazz ensemble typically includes both of these activities. Similarly, "writing" is
used to include both arranging and composing.

3
Throughout this entire document, all excerpts from Ellington scores have been carefully
transcribed by the author from original vintage recordings (see the list of recordings, below).
This text includes analysis of several key portions of the score for one of the most important and
seminal works in Ellington's entire creative output, Reminiscing in Tempo. This landmark piece,
written and recorded in 1935, was Ellington's first departure from the restrictive boundaries
imposed on him by market forces to create music for popular consumption. Thirteen minutes in
length, the piece had to be released as a collection of four individual record sides (with almost no
potential for commercial success, given the popular swing-dance atmosphere of the era). It was an
early masterpiece that is a statement by a burgeoning composer telling the world, "I am a creator
of fine music with artistic merit, and my music defies categorization as jazz."
Recordings Referred to in Examples
Below is a list of classic works referred to in this text and recorded by the Duke Ellington
Orchestra in various embodiments. Most are found on the three-album set, " Duke Ellington: The
Blanton-Webster Band." This is one of the finest collections of recordings made by the band at a
peak period in its history.
In each of these pieces (and in nearly all Ellington pieces), listening is an adventure. These
recordings do not allow for inactive listening, because we are consistently challenged to grasp the
many special musical elements that take place during the course of each piece.

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue (rec. in 1957 on "Live at Newport")

Come Sunday (instrumental version) (rec. in 1958 on "Black, Brown and Beige")

Reminiscing in Tempo (rec. in 1935 for Brunswick records)

East St Louis Toodle-Oo (rec. in December, 1927 for Victor records)

Ko-Ko (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

Jack the Bear (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

Concerto for Cootie (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

Dusk (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

Harlem Airshaft (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

In a Mellotone (rec. in 1940 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

Chelsea Bridge (rec. in 1941 on "Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band")

4
Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington
Chapter 1

A Brief History of Duke Ellington


Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29,1899, in Washington, D.C. into a nurturing and
loving family that had a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, surrounded by a neighborhood with a
rich cultural and social life. His parents were people of refined tastes who gave their son training
in both painting and music. Ellington's mother, Daisy, was herself a pianist, and young Edward
had his first formal piano lessons with the neighborhood teacher, a Mrs. Marietta Clinkscales (in
later life, Ellington whimsically commented that one of the first things she taught him was never
to share the stage with Oscar Peterson!). As Ellington came into his teens, he also began learning
piano at the elbow of many local billiard room pianists. At age fifteen, he wrote his first
compositions, "Soda Fountain Rag" for solo piano and a somewhat bawdy song titled, "What
You Gonna Do When The Bed Breaks Down?'
In comparison to other jazz greats, Ellington's maturation as a musician was very slow. In 1915,
the sixteen-year-old Ellington had managed to learn only a handful of simple ragtime pieces,
which he played for his high school friends at parties and social gatherings. His first professional
work was as a substitute for older, established pianists on jobs they could not or would not take.
Ellington recalled, "I knew three or four numbers. I played them slow, fast, medium." It is
interesting to compare Ellington's modest musical beginnings to those of Louis Armstrong, born
in 1900 (roughly a year after Ellington). By age fifteen, Armstrong was already recognized as a
prodigious talent by the music veterans of New Orleans, finding himself in demand as a
professional in the early jazz bands of the Crescent City's Storyville district.
Ellington admits to having gained, at the time, only rudimentary skills as a musician. In fact,
throughout his youth he anticipated that he would pursue a career in painting and commercial
drawing. Music was not a passion for the young Ellington, but instead a somewhat reluctantly

Collier, Duke Ellington, pp. 24

5
held hobby, reinforced during his teenage years by bis own observation that there always seemed
to be a pretty girl sitting near the bass end of the keyboard.

Among Ellington's childhood friends were drummer Sonny Greer, trumpeter Arthur Whetsol and
saxophonist Otto Hardwick. In 1917, these friends organized a four-piece dance orchestra that
played fox-trots and rag pieces for high society social gatherings throughout Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, the instrumentation of the quartet did not include a bass; young Ellington had
learned to play ragtime and stride piano early in his training, and was accustomed to providing
the bass note and chords all by himself. This proved to be an important aspect of his development
as a writer, as will be discussed later.

Demand for social music was high in the city during the years of World War I, and by 1919,
Ellington found it necessary to send out as many as five separate dance bands in one night (all
under his own name, of course) to play at various engagements. Ellington was an effective
manager and promoter, and these skills held him in good stead throughout his life. Due to his
refined demeanor and polished manners, Ellington's musician friends devised for him the
nickname "Duke."

In 1923, Joe "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band recorded in Chicago, and the band's young
trumpet star, "Satchmo" Armstrong quickly became the toast of the jazz world. In that same year,
Ellington, Greer, Hardwick, and Whetsol traveled to New York City, intending to make their
mark in the "Big Apple." The four found some dance-band work, but within a few months were
destitute and hungry, only by luck raising train fare back to Washington, D.C. After spending a
few weeks at home, they got their first break: an offer for a steady job in a New York cabaret
This eventually led them to six months of steady work (beginning in September of 1923) at the
Hollywood Club near Times Square in Manhattan, as part of Elmer Snowden's Washington Black
Sox Orchestra. After about three months, the name of the group was shortened to The
Washingtonians. Because of a disagreement over finances, banjoist Snowden was forced out of
the band and Duke Ellington was elected as the new leader.

In late 1923, a momentous change was made to the group: the replacement of trumpeter Arthur
Whetsol with the tremendous soloist James "Bubber" Miley, whose growling plunger mute style
helped transform the band from a polite dance orchestra into a jazz band. Ellington and the band
continued to play at the Hollywood Club until January 1925 when, after numerous suspicious

6
kitchen fires (these were typically set so that insurance money might provide fresh upholstery for
a club), the club closed. It reopened in March 1925 as the Kentucky Club.
Capitalizing on the group's very polished manners and entertaining arrangements by Ellington,
The Washingtonians played regularly at the Kentucky Club from 1925 until April 1927, adding
trombonist Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (Miley's equal with the plunger), while gaining regional
fame through regular radio shows that were broadcast directly from the club on New York radio
station WHN-1050 AM.
The band's first big break came in December 1927, when they successfully auditioned for a
residency as the house band at Harlem's famous Cotton Club. Ellington needed to increase the
size of the band to ten or eleven musicians to fit the boisterous atmosphere and demands of the
club for more volume. During this long engagement at the Cotton Club (which lasted until
February 1931), Ellington filled his orchestra with the players whose personal musical styles
came to define the Ellington sound: Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Barney
Bigard, Sonny Greer, Wellman Braud, and Juan Tizol.
At age twenty-eight, Ellington had finally hit his stride as both a composer and bandleader.
Nationwide broadcasts skyrocketed the band to fame during the early 1930s and during their
engagement at the Cotton Club, which lasted more than three years, the band made around 200
recordings. Whenever their busy schedule at the Cotton Club allowed, the band's new manager,
Irving Mills, booked them on tours and feature concerts around the country, plus appearances in
full-length Hollywood films.
When the Ellington Orchestra finally left the Cotton Club in 1931, they embarked on a national
tour, with engagements lasting a week or more in cities throughout the country, including
Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburg, and Philadelphia. In
1933, they traveled to London for their first overseas appearance.
A new pattern of travel and performance became the norm as the band continued to build everlarger audiences and greater fame throughout the nation and around the globe. They circulated
continually around the United States, sometimes making cross-country treks in a specially
appointed railroad coach, playing back-to-back engagements on opposite coasts, with only a few
travel days between them. Toward the end of the decade, the band returned for additional seasons

7
at the Cotton Club, but their touring and recording schedule continued to expand. The band
worked non-stop throughout the 1930s and 40s, achieving great international acclaim, and
becoming one of the most popular and successful music organizations in history.
The 1950s brought diminished popularity for big bands, but the Ellington Orchestra's thrilling
appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival (with a famous rendition of Diminuendo and
Crescendo in Blue) marked a re-birth for the band. After this, the world again regarded them as a
current and vital jazz group. With revived popularity, the band spent the next two decades touring
ceaselessly, playing concerts around the globe.
Ellington worked tirelessly until his death on May 24,1974. During its existence, the Duke
Ellington Orchestra logged over ten million miles of travel to play thousands of different
engagements, reaching an international audience numbering in the tens of millions. They
performed over 2,000 original works, and made over 10,000 recordings.

8
Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington
Chapter 2

The Advent of Big Band Arranging


"Fletcher was a big inspiration to me. His was the band I always wanted mine to sound like..."
- Duke Ellington in Music is My Mistress

America was blessed during the period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s with the creation of
a new type of musical ensemble: a large jazz band of eleven to eighteen musicians playing a
variety of reed and brass instruments, one or two chording instruments, a bass instrument, and
drums. These large jazz ensembles did not suddenly appear on the American music scene; rather,
they evolved out of the small and medium-sized groups playing New Orleans jazz (and various
regional derivatives of it), ragtime, and other popular music of the early 1920s and the previous
two decades. Evolution occurred as much from an economic need to increase the size (and with it,
the sonic volume) of jazz ensembles, as from any artistic desire on the part of composers and
arrangers to stretch or expand their compositional palettes. American bands needed to fill with
sound the ever-larger dance clubs and halls that were focusing on the new popular dance music;
jazz. The six-piece jazz bands of the 1920s could not do that, and so they gave way to the big
bands of the 1930s.
The expanding number of instruments used in a jazz ensemble did not increase the contrapuntal,
polyphonic complexity of the music. Almost all jazz, even that of today's most modern
practitioners, "tops out" in complexity with three simultaneous ideas played by the melodic
instruments (accompanied, of course, by underlying chords and a steady pulse provided by a
rhythm section). This level of complexity was established well before 1920 in the music of late18th and early-19th-century New Orleans jazz bands.1 New Orleans jazz featured three
simultaneous polyphonic lines of music (typically a cornet/trumpet melody, trombone responses,

Syncopating dance orchestras, large ensembles playing polyphonic music (such as the bands of James
Reese Europe), and ragtime ensembles can all be considered early predecessors of the jazz band. Though
lacking the central element of improvisation, these other musical genres all maintained the same Africanbased tradition of complex polyphony as did New Orleans music.

9
and clarinet obbligato, with rhythm accompaniment). Increasing this level of complexity was
never a goal for the big band musicians of the 1930s. Their goal was volume.
By around 1925, small jazz groups throughout the U.S. consisting of six or seven instruments
found themselves competing with one another to add more players. Club and dance hall managers
favored bands containing four of five horns over those with only three.2 A band with six horns
and four rhythm players was considered cutting edge and ready for important venues in New
York, Chicago, and other big cities.
Ellington relates the following entertaining story in his autobiography, Music is My Mistress,
regarding the pressure bands faced for adding personnel:
"The next big step was when we went to the Cotton Club on December 4,1927. We had to
audition for this job, but it called for a band of at least eleven pieces, and we had only been using
six at the Kentucky Club. At the time, I was playing a vaudeville show for Clarence Robinson at
Gibson's Standard Theater on South Street in Philadelphia. The audition [in New York] was set
for noon, but by the time I had scraped up eleven men it was two or three o'clock. We played for
them and got the job. The reason for that was that the boss, Harry Block, didn't get there till late
either, and didn't hear the others! That's a classic example of being at the right place at the right
time with the right thing before the right people." (Ellington, Music is My Mistress, pp. 75)

The term "horn" is used generically in this work to mean a saxophone, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, or any
wind instrument used in a jazz band.

10
Figure 2.1 is a 1925 photo of The Washingtonians, comprising six players3 (Ellington is seated at
the far right):

Figure 2.2 is a 1927 photo of Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra, after the band
personnel had settled to ten players (Ellington is seated at the far left):

When faced with the need to increase personnel, it was quite easy for early jazz bandleaders to
expand from three horns to six. Experienced musicians know that it is a relatively simple matter
to assign two instruments to play in unison (or in octaves) a melodic line previously played by

Personnel details for this and other photos of the Ellington bands are included in Chapter 8, "Tailoring to
Musical Personalities".

11
only one instrument. Intonation problems between the two can be solved with modest effort,
especially if those instruments are similar (for example, two trumpets or two saxophones). Thus,
a band with an established repertoire of three-horn arrangements could readily become a six-horn
band by adding three players who simply doubled the existing parts. Adjustments might be
necessary, such as when more than two horns found themselves playing in unison. For example,
if there had previously been a clarinet and trumpet playing in unison in the original arrangement
for small band, it would result in four horns attempting to play in unison within a six-horn band.
In such cases, someone would need to rest, play in a different octave, join with others in the band
on a separate musical line, or perhaps devise a totally new counterline. All of these changes
initiated the process of jazz bands becoming more orchestral in their sound and organization.
Expanding from three to six horns could be done without the need to re-create any existing
arrangements, and resulted in a nicely enhanced ensemble sound. The six-horn band, however,
proved to be too small, and as the 1920s progressed, pressure continued for jazz bands to again
increase in size. This presented a problem: it is one thing to add yet more horns, but another to
keep them from musically getting in one other's way during performance.
Assigning four or five horns to play a single part in unison often results in too heavy a sound.
Two trumpets in unison have synergy and resonance; four trumpets in unison may be
overpowering. The ensembles that successfully crossed the six-horn threshold survived by finding
ways to write arrangements for seven, eight, and nine horns. If they did not, they perished.
Gunther Schuller provides early evidence that even the most established jazz bands of the early
1920s were vacillating and transitioning throughout the decade between the small group
polyphonic style and the newer orchestral style of jazz. In 1926, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton
and his band, the Red Hot Peppers, experimented with adding a clarinet trio for their highly
successful recording of Dead Man Blues. Schuller claims this marked the "invention" of the
clarinet trioat least in jazz performances. However, Morton quickly retreated to his standard
New Orleans style seven-piece configuration for his very next pair of superb recordings,
Grandpa's Spells and Blackbottom Stomp. Released late in 1926, these seven-piece recordings
became two of the most enduring pieces ever recorded by the band. Schuller also reports that
Morton reluctantly "succumbed" to a "more modern" instrumentation that included three brass
players and four saxophones for his July 1929 Victor recordings of Burnin' the Iceberg,
Courthouse Bump, Down My Way, New Orleans Bump, Pretty Lil, Sweet Anita Mine, Tank Town
Bump and Try Me Out. All of these represent very clumsy attempts to incorporate a large group

12
of winds. Redeeming moments occur only when the bulk of the ensemble rests, and a soloist
plays in the "hot" jazz style normally associated with Morton's small groups. With the possible
exception of Burnin' the Iceberg and Pretty Lil, these recordings were among the weakest that the
Morton bands made.4

Enter the Arrangers


As is often the case, necessity became "the mother of invention" and the techniques of jazz
ensemble orchestration developed organically due to the needs of the 1920s marketplace. Fletcher
Henderson and the chief arranger for his band, Don Redman, plus a number of bandleaders and
jazz writers (most centered in New York City during the early 1920s) began arranging for
ensembles of eleven players and more.

The following Figure 2.3 is a photo of the 11-piece Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (New York
City, ca. 1924) which recorded the classic piece Copenhagen in October of that year, comprising
three trumpets, three reeds, one trombone, tuba, banjo, piano and drum set:

Famous personnel in the band included Louis Armstrong (back row center), Coleman Hawkins
(front row, second from the left), and Don Redman (front row, fourth from the left).

Schuller, Early Jazz, pp. 164-166

13
Interestingly, Duke Ellington did not increase his band to eleven players until 1927, three years
after the above Henderson Orchestra photo was taken. By keeping his group smaller, Ellington
avoided the trouble of learning to arrange for large groups of instruments until he was forced to
do so in order to meet the Cotton Club's demands for a large ensemble.
Henderson and Redman used as their model the writing styles of society band and dance
orchestral arrangers such as Ferde Grofe, Bill Chalis, and Paul Whiteman (Chalis and Grofe were
among the primary arrangers for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra). By observing the practices of
Grofe, Chalis, Whiteman and others, Henderson and Redman were also absorbing the
orchestration techniques of classical composers such Ravel, Hoist, Debussy, and even
Stravinsky.5 In the early 20th-century, cross-pollination took place in which classical and popular
dance music arrangers borrowed unusual tonalities from jazz. At the same time, writers for jazz
bands were adopting and freely applying a technique that was well known to their orchestral
counterpartsa very well tested musical tradition called homophony.

Homophony
Homophony is musical device that occurs when two or more instruments (or voices) sound
separate pitches, but always in the same rhythm and in musical lines that are roughly parallel to
one another. In its simplest form, we use homophony when singing a familiar folk song, such as
"Home on the Range," with one voice singing the main melody, and a second voice singing along
in harmony that is a third interval above or below.
Homophony can be expanded to multiple voices moving together in harmony. This solved many
problems for early jazz arrangers faced with too many horns playing a limited number of
combined musical ideas. Where four horns playing a single melodic line in unison was too heavy
or forceful, four homs playing in homophony sounded sonorous and full. Homophony divides
multiple players into many individual parts, giving each player a role far more important to the
overall sound than simply doubling an existing part in unison or octaves.
Closed-Position Harmonization
Another arranging technique that was applied to early jazz ensemble writing (and that works
hand-in-hand with homophony) came from piano technique: closed-position harmonization.
5

Schuller, Early Jazz, pp. 191-2

When applying harmomzation to a melody, standard practice for pianists is to play the melody in
a high enough range that harmonization can fit in the octave immediately below the melody. For
a group of three or four horns, closed-position harmony means assigning one player the melody
notes while the remaining two or three horns are arrayed in chord tones below the melody. The
combination of each melody note with the harmonizing voices below it creates a complete chord.
Writing in closed-position harmonization lets a group of three or four horns play together in
homophonic style, enunciating the melody line plus its accompanying chord or triad.6 When
viewed one beat or one melody note at a time, the vertical arrangement or voicing of all the parts
(including the melody and the harmonizing parts) fits within the space of a single octave. The
following Figure 2.4 shows typical closed-position harmonization with the melody notes in the
highest part and the harmonizing parts arrayed beneath it

Figure 2.4 Closed-position harmonization


.

(Bdim7)

4 Reeds

Bass/Piano

CMa6

=t=F

In the above example, the accompanying chord for the first measure is G dominant 7, and melody
notes in that measure are harmonized to match that chord. The accompanying chord for the
second measure is C major 6, and all melody notes except one are harmonized to match that
chord. The melody note F in the second measure is not a chord tone of C major 6, and it is
harmonized using passing chord harmonization (explained later in this chapter).
Arranging a piece of music for several horns using the combination of closed-position
harmonization with homophony leaves the piece essentially unchanged. An advantage to this
style of writing is that instruments arranged in closed-position harmony can move with very
nearly as much facility as a unison line. However, closed-position voicing has the additional
quality of being sonically "opaque." From the listener's point-of-view, one cannot "hear through"
6

In much of western music (and certainly in most popular music styles) a chord's tonality extends over
several beats or an entire measure as accompaniment to the melody. The melody is played over that chord,
and the "chord of the moment" is heard as a supportive sound for the melody during those beats.

15
the multiple voices of a chord played in closed-position. The individual voices are not generally
perceived. Instead, the top-most note in the closed-position voicing (again, this is usually the
original melody note or lead part) is heard with a sense of reinforcement from the other chord
tones sounding below it.
A voicing that spreads out the notes of a chord so they reach beyond the space of an octave is
referred to as an "open" voicing. An open voicing has the effect of being more transparentthat
is, the listener can "hear through" the chord and can discern the various individual parts/voices of
the chordeven when all instruments are playing together in homophony.
In general, the early arrangers learned that the more closed a voicing is, the less the listener
notices individual instruments in the ensemble. This means that closed-position voicings can help
make a large group of horns sound small, or a small group of horns sound large, all because the
causal listener can't tell how many horns are actually playing.
A melody line harmonized in three or four-part closed-position demands no more of a listener's
attention than the same melody line played in unison or octaves. If that same harmonized melody
is set against a counter line or accompanying part, it sounds much the same as when the melody is
played in unison or octaves.

Judicious Use of Harmonization


Homophonic, closed-position harmonization conveniently opened many new instrumentation
choices for jazz arrangers and bandleaders in the early 1920s and 1930s. This is not to say that
these writers could blithely apply harmonization in wholesale fashion to a previously existing
arrangement without caution. Arrangers applying harmonization to music that was originally
composed for two or three single instruments with their own separate lines, soon discovered
though experience an arranging practice that has since become a well-accepted rule regarding
simultaneous harmonization: when one group of horns is moving in a harmonized line, other
sections or groups of horns should either rest or remain in unison and octaves. Put another way,
one should apply harmonization to only one musical element when there are multiple active
elements playing.
The purpose of the "simultaneous harmonization rule" may be self-evident, but warrants
clarification: the chance of an ill-sounding conflict occurring is very high when one harmonized

16
line moves in contrary motion to another. A unison (or solo) line set in contrary motion against a
harmonized line will cause relatively few conflicts.

Call-and-Response: A natural solution


The prevalence of call-and-response7 in all types of jazz aids greatly in the adherence to the above
"simultaneous harmonization" rule. Obviously, with call-and-response one group of instruments
is waiting or resting while another plays. Arrangers are free to harmonize both groups of
instruments at will. This substantially reduces the number of situations where arrangers need to
be cautious about applying harmonization.

A Simple Set of Guidelines for Expansion Emerges


The result of applying the aforementioned writing techniques and rules (homophonic
harmonization, closed-position voicings, avoiding simultaneous harmonization, etc.) was that any
band that had a popular hit played by three horns in the 1920s could modify that piece to be
played by a band with between nine and thirteen horns using the following basic guidelines:
1. Assign one of the original parts (usually a melody part) to three or four trumpets.
Harmonize or leave as unison/octaves as desired.
2. Assign another of the original parts (usually melody parts, counter-lines, or parts
requiring extra dexterity) to three, four or five reeds (usually saxophones in various sizes,
and occasionally clarinets). Harmonize or leave as unison/octaves as desired.
3. Give the third of the original parts (usually not the melody) to two, three or four
trombones. Harmonize or leave as unison/octaves as desired.
4. Remember: if one of those three groups or sections of instruments plays in harmonized
voicings, then neither of the remaining two sections should be harmonized, except when
the first harmonized section rests or reverts back to unison/octaves.

Call-and-response, as a musical device, became central to the jazz music style very early in its history. It
is also very prevalent in most African musical cultures, and is assumed to have "arrived" in the Americas as
a musical practice among Africans coming here. The device is heavily used in all Afro-American musical
genres, including salsa, blues, gospel, reggae, Negro spirituals, and much more.

The above guidelines are m no a formal set of rules. They are merely deduced from observation
and transcription of musical scores of early jazz bands, and remain in common use among jazz
writers today.

Passing Chord Harmonization


Composers and arrangers of the 1930s needed to overcome one final hurdle in their pursuit of
perfection for jazz big band writing: passing chord harmonization.
The very chromatic nature of jazz creates frequent melody notes that are in direct dissonance with
their underlying chord (or the "chord of the moment") as played by the rhythm section. The
majority of melody notes are pitches that are actual chord tones (e.g., a root, 3rd, 5th, 6th or 7th)
or upper extensions of that chord (an appropriate 9th, 11th or 13th). Since melody notes on these
pitches can fit nicely with the chord of the moment, they can all be harmonized using other chord
tones, making the harmonization of the melody easily match the underlying chord. However,
melody notes that are not chord tones (especially chromatic passing tones) must be harmonized
using a passing chord, and this is a chord other than the chord of the moment The following
Figure 2.5 shows a harmonized melody in which three melody notes (indicated with a triangle
marker) do not conform to the underlying chord, and are harmonized with a passing chord:
Figure 2.5 A harmonized melody with passing chords

4 Reeds

Bass/Piano

vi

G7

*m

CMa6
/

In the above example, melody notes A# and D# in the first measure do not conform to G
dominant 7, and are harmonized as passing chords. The melody note F in the second measure
does not conform to C major 6, and is also harmonized as a passing chord.
A more detailed explanation of passing chord harmonization is provided in Chapter 3 ("Basic
Principles of Early Jazz Piano").

The Result - Classic Style Big Band Orchestration


All the devices described above combined to create what I refer to as "classic style big band
orchestration." It places the melody at the top of the stack of notes in each chord, so that the
listener's ear can quickly zero in on the notes played by the highest instruments, allowing the
listener to easily hear the melody. The lead brass player (trumpet 1) or the lead reed player
(saxophone 1, or in older styles, the clarinet) are typically responsible for playing the melody in a
prominent range (such as an alto sax playing above its written B above the staff, or trumpet above
its written A above the staff). All other players follow along in harmony below that lead line to
form chords.
The chord tones employed below the lead are selected from the remaining three notes that
complete a 7th chord. Often, the choice of chord tones can include the 9th in place of the root (to
create a little morerichnessin sound) or even chord extensions such as the 11th or 13th to create
yet morerichnessof chord. Regardless of the simplicity orrichnessof the chord voiced below the
lead, the lead voice is left as the prominent tone to which the listener's ear is drawn. A detailed
discussion of chord extensions in jazz harmony is included in Chapter 3 ("Basic Principles of
Early Jazz Piano").
In most cases when using the classic style, some lower instrument (usually the lead trombone)
will play in parallel octaves with the lead trumpet or lead saxophone, to reinforce the melodic
line, and to de-emphasize the presence of the harmonizing parts. If yet more winds are to fill in
below the lead trombone, they will also play harmonizing notes, typically using the same pitches
played by the other reeds and trumpets that are harmonizing below their section's lead players,
but in a lower octave.

Conclusion
All the basic jazz writing practices that evolved in the formative period of 1925-1935 remain
today as the foundation of large and small jazz ensemble writing. The wide use of classic style
big band orchestration has made American audiences (and all other jazz audiences throughout the
world) very accustomed to the sound of unrestricted, unabashed and unapologetic use of
something rejected in most other forms of western music: parallel motion with little or no
consideration for voice leading. The choice of notes for each voice in a chord is more often
governed by the vertical harmony on an individual beat, rather than how well a voice leads to or

19
from the notes on other beats. Writers trained in the western classical tradition are often shocked
at the constant occurrence of parallel 4ths and 5ths that is especially prevalent in jazz when
closed-position homophony is used. In fact, early jazz writers learned that the same "opacity" that
prevents the listener from hearing individual parts in a harmonized line also prevents the listener
from perceiving any "unseemly" parallel motion. If the listener can't hear it, then it's no longer a
problemand what they can't hear won't hurt them. Put another way in a famous quote by Duke
Ellington, "If it sounds good, it is good."
Ellington, along with all his contemporaries, quickly learned through experience how to apply the
combined sounds of homophony and closed-position voicing (and how not to apply them). With
experience came confidence. Once a writer mastered harmonization, he/she could add many more
horns (or for that matter, strings). By 1938, a new standard had been accomplished where all big
bands of any stature had a reed section of at least five players (usually two alto saxophones, two
tenor saxophones and one baritone saxophone, with most doubling on clarinet or flute as needed);
three or four trombones (if a fourth trombone was used, it was often a bass trombone); four
trumpets (occasionally doubling on flugelhorns); plus a rhythm section of bass, drums, piano and
optionally, guitar. There were certainly variations, but this basic configuration of five reeds, eight
brass, and four rhythm became (and remains today) the standard instrumentation for the "great
American jazz orchestra."

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington


Chapter 3

Basic Principles of Early Jazz Piano

As described in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"), the basic techniques of jazz
ensemble orchestration developed gradually between the early 1920s and the late 1930s. This was
a result of early jazz ensembles expanding from a three-horn "front line" with an accompanying
rhythm section of drums, a bass instrument (either string bass or tuba), and a chording instrument
(typically piano, banjo or guitar), into an ensemble of five reed instruments (typically a mixture
of saxophones and clarinets), six or more brass (usually a mixture of trombones and trumpets),
and a rhythm section of bass, drums, piano, and sometimes guitar. The jazz writers of these two
decades were devising and discovering new writing techniques as a means of marshaling many
instruments, creating their methods as they went along, and as ensembles grew in size.
Because Ellington's primary instrument was piano, much of his early approach to orchestration
was based on basic jazz piano technique. This was true of marry writers in the early jazz world.
The voicings and harmonizations found in his orchestrations can be viewed as the outgrowth of
what is considered typical treatment by jazz pianists. In many cases, techniques that were
modern or current for pianists during any given period in jazz history are the exact devices
Ellington applied to writing for his jazz orchestra in that same period. And, because his formative
years as a composer and orchestrator were the period of 1923-1939, most of what is recognized as
the "Ellington sound" in orchestration is equivalent to the piano techniques that were modern
during those sixteen years.
This is borne out by Ellington's seminal 1935 work, Reminiscing in Tempo (several key portions
of the score are transcribed and analyzed in this work). Written for fifteen instruments (four
reeds, three trumpets, three trombones, guitar, piano, percussion, and a pair of double basses),
Reminiscing in Tempo nses voicings and textures that are arranged such that the music for a given
section of the orchestra (for example, the reed section) can be played by one hand at the piano.
Using two hands, a competent pianist can play the music of two independent sections of the
orchestra simultaneously.

21
Separation of sections was a natural result of Ellington transferring his piano technique to the full
jazz orchestra. As an orchestrator, he could play a passage on the piano and imagine how it would
sound when assigned to a group of like instruments. Thus, he almost always wrote for the reeds
(in his band this meant saxophones and clarinets) separate from the brass. The trumpet section
and trombone section were very often separated into two distinct groups as well. Even when
writing for the full brass section as a unit, he usually divided them into what could be played with
the left hand at the piano {trombone parts) and the right hand (trumpet parts).
Making use of the homogeneity of instruments in each section, Ellington could write music that
pitted separate sections of the orchestra against each another, yet be assured of a clear distinction
between them. For example, the sound of what the trumpet section was playing would be audibly
separate from what the reeds were playing, by virtue of the difference in timbre between those
two sections.1 This aided him in writing music with multiple musical elements occurring
simultaneously, which emerges as an important part of his writing style as discussed later in
Chapter 7 ("Ellington's Multifocalism").2
Of course, there are also many examples of "cross-section" writing to be found in Ellington's
music. However, for the most part Ellington chose to keep sections separated, and then use other
devices for creating Taiiety and color in his scores (such as extensive use of brass mutes, or
exploiting the extreme high and low ranges of his players). Mixing brass and reed instruments
together was most often reserved for times when the full ensemble played in tutti.
The treatment of the orchestra in Reminiscing in Tempo is typical of most Ellington works. That
is, Ellington's ensemble writing can be very satisfactorily performed at the piano in most cases,
and one can easily imagine that he composed his scores while sitting at the piano. Further, many

In his astute article, The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal in African-American Music, composer and scholar of
African-American vernacular music Oily Wilson identifies the use of multiple, disparate timbres in an
ensemble as a central characteristic of most musical traditions derived from the African diaspora. A robust
mix of many instruments (or human voices) sounding in complex, polyphonic counterpoint is made
sensible to the listener when each instrument (or each group of like instruments) has a distinct tonal quality.
This practice is apparent in African drum ensemble music, New Orleans jazz, and Ellington's big band
writing. Further discussion is included in Chapter 8, "Tailoring to Musical Personalities").
2

The term "multifocalism" is introduced in Chapter 7, and describes a group of musical techniques and
methods used to deliberately deny the listener's natural tendency to focus on a single musical element
Writing music with multiple simultaneous elements is one of these techniques.

of the distinctive voicing and harmonization techniques that have become familiar parts of
Ellington's orchestrations can be considered pianistic in origin.
Pianistic techniques are not unique to Ellington's writing by any meansin fact, nearly all writers
continue to nse them to this daybut Duke freely applied pianistic sounds to his large ensemble
scores without apology, and often with no embellishment or variance from normal piano
techniques. Where many other writers found the need to "dress up" or fill out the sound beyond
what could be executed by a piano performer (who is limited to ten fingers and to intervals that
can be reached by the human hand), Ellington drew plenty of satisfaction from the naturally
limited sounds of piano-based orchestration. Other writers (such as Quincy Jones, Gerald Wilson,
and Thad Jones) subsequently took up the practice of stacking ensemble chord tones higher or
lower on the keyboard, beyond what a normal pianist's hands conid reach at one time. They also
inserted additional notes between existing chord tones (notes that a pianist could not easily play)
in order to augment ensemble voicings. This creates stacks of notes that cannot be played using
only two hands and ten fingers. During the writing process, such a chord could normally be
executed on the piano only by using the sustain pedal to hear all notes at one time.
Rather than building chords and voicings beyond what two hands could produce on the keyboard,
Ellington chose to stick with pianistic voicings, and to augment/enhance the sound of his music
through layering multiple, simultaneous elements as described in Chapter 7 ("Ellington's
Multifocalism").
The remainder of this chapter is devoted to clarifying several basic principles of jazz piano
voicing and harmonization that will be helpful in further discussion of Ellington's orchestration
practices.
Chapter 4 ("Quartai Harmony and Quartai Voicings") discusses harmonies based on intervals of a
fourth, a technique pioneered by early French impressionist composer Eric Satie and his
contemporaries in the late 1800s. It was a popular and modern sound in the American jazz world
of the early 1930s, and Ellington made great use of i t
Chapter 5 ("Other Favorite Techniques and Devices") discusses orchestration techniques that did
not necessarily originate with piano playing.

Rpsir \i$t?. Piano Voicing and Harmonization


The art of playing jazz piano has evolved over the past century with incredible speed into one of
the truly remarkable feats of human creativity. From its early beginnings in ragtime music, jazz
piano technique has incorporated new sounds and styles with every passing year, absorbing and
reflecting every musical advancement within the jazz art form.
The following discussion of jazz piano voicing and harmonization techniques is intended to
categorize several of the piano skills that Ellington used as a performer in his formative years,
and which he applied directly to his composing and arranging for the jazz orchestra. Fourteen
basic techniques are included here:
1. Stride and Ragtime Piano Chord Voicings
2. Four-Note Chords
3. Omitting the Root and Including the 6th or 7th
4. Adding the 9th
5. The 3rd Becoming the 7th for Smooth Voice Leading
6. Harmonization Beneath the Melody
7. Closed-Position Voicings
8. Block Voicings
9. Extended Block Voicings
10. Passing Chord Harmonization
11. Tritone Substitution for the Dominant 7 Chord
12. Adding Upper Chord Extensions
13. Using Upper Extensions in Four-part Harmony
14. Five-Part Harmony

24
1. Stride and Ragtime Piano Chord Voicings
The left-hand technique of playing stride piano and ragtime piano3 requires constant bouncing of
the left hand back-and-forth between a bass note (typically played on beats one and three of a 4/4
measure using the fifth finger of the left hand, often doubled with the thumb playing an octave
higher) and a selection of chord tones (played on beats two and four) that can be reached with the
remaining fingers while leaving some separation from the original bass notes. Figure 3.2 is an
excerpt from The Harlem Strut, recorded in 1921 by early stride piano master, James P. Johnson:
Figure 3.2 An early stride piano piece

The Harlem Strut

Music by
James P. Johnson

As played by James P. Johnson

Presto J = 230

fmii

f_

JJ.

wm
m
f
tJfc

\>%JE\ JE

f^M

In the above example, we see (beginning in measure 5, following the introduction) that the chords
Johnson used on beats two and four were typical for stride or ragtime methods: they consisted
primarily of only three notes for major and minor chords (normally the root, 3rd and 5th in one
inversion or another) and four notes (root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) for dominant or diminished chords.
As mentioned in Chapter 1 ("A Brief History of Duke Ellington"), Ellington began bis musical
career playing ragtime and stride piano, and as a youngster he emulated great stride players such
as Willie "The Lion" Smith, James P. Johnson and Thomas "Fats" Waller. He learned very early
in his career to provide the bass notes and chords by himself at the piano using his left hand, and

The differences between the left-hand techniques of stride piano and ragtime piano are subtle enough that
differentiating between them is not necessary in this discussion.

25
instrumentation for Ellington's first working bands (including the earliest manifestations of The
Washingtonians) did not include a bass instrument. Both his writing and playing reflected the
practice of using three-note chords, with exceptions for dominant 7 and diminished 7 chords.
Ragtime and stride piano styles saw a decline in popularity by the middle 1920s, and jazz pianists
increasingly found themselves part of an ensemble that included a bass instrument Thus, in the
more modern practices of the late 1920s, the pianist's left hand was completely freed from
playing the bass notes, and could thus be devoted to playing increasingly sophisticated chords.

2. Four-Note Chords
As ragtime piano styles gave way to jazz, the chords played by pianists came to consistently
utilize at least four tones. This small change helps us to define the shift from ragtime to jazz in the
early 1920s. The sound of four-note chords throughout a piece of music is also what differentiates
most jazz music from European classical or "art" music. The basic sound of classical harmony is
the triaddefined as a stack of three tones. Augmented and diminished triads are, of course, very
common, and as 20th century art music evolved, triads became less bound by tertian construction
based on intervals of the 3rd, so that even a cluster of three semi-tones together could constitute a
triad. However, the essential sound of jazz harmony contains the root, 3rd and 5th of a chord, plus
an "added" tone. The added tone is typically the 6th or 7th of the chord.
For Ellington and many other early jazz musicians, the favorite added tone was the 6th rather than
the 7th. An unaltered 6th can be added to a major, minor, or diminished triad without affecting
the primary quality of the triad, and without implying any intended movement to another chord.
The natural 6th adds color and interest to a chord, helps draw attention from the chord root, and
enhances the plain sound of a triad. A natural 6th, being equivalent to a diminished 7th, is of
course, a very common added tone for a diminished triad.
Conversely, the addition of a minor (lowered) 7th to a major, minor, or diminished triad creates a
sound of intended movement to another chord. For example, D minor 7 typically leads to a G
dominant 7 and thence to C major; Bb dominant 7 implies resolution to Eb major; E halfdiminished implies movement to A dominant 7(b9), and thence to D minor. Unless such
movement to another chord was intended, a lowered 7th was not used as the added tone. The 6th
was preferred.

The addition of a major 7th to a major, minor, or diminished triad creates a tense interval that was
considered jolting to most listeners in the first half of the twentieth century. However, it became
very common as an added tone in the latter half of the century, and especially when a very
modern sound was sought
In any case, the fastest way to make a piece of music sound like jazz was (and is) to take any
triads that can be readily discerned by the listener, and modify them so they contain an added 6th
or 7th.

3. Omitting the Root and Including the 6th or 7th


With the freeing of the jazz pianist's left hand from playing chord roots, as took place in the
1920s (the assumption being that the root of a chord was provided by an accompanying bass
instrument), left-hand voicings naturally came to be stacks of notes that omitted the root. Thus,
the left-hand chord voicings of Ellington and many other early jazz pianists often consisted of
only three notes: the 3rd, the 5th, and the 6th (or 7th) of the chord. This fit well with the threenote chord techniques inherited from stride and ragtime. Thus, a C dominant 7 chord simply
became (from bottom to top) E-G-Bb, or some inversion of those three notes (e.g., G, Bb, E). C
major 6 was played (bottom to top) E-G-A, or some inversion of those three notes.

4. Adding the 9th


In the yet more modern practices of the middle and late 1930s, chords played in the left hand
came to include the 9th. Addition of a 9th generally does not alter or interrupt the quality of the
original chord. Thus, left-hand chords voicings on the piano during this period generally came to
consist once again of four notes that did not include the root: the 3rd, the 5th, the 6th (or 7th), and
the 9th of the chord.4 Thus, a basic voicing for C dominant 7 chord would be (from bottom to top)

The 9th is technically an "upper extension" of a chord. In some chords it can be raised or lowered to

become a sharp 9th or flat 9th. A complete discussion of upper chord extensions and their alterations is
included later in this chapter.

27
E, G, Bb, and D. As usual, chords comprising a 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th can be played in a variety of
inversions, as shown in Figure 3.3:
Figure 3.3 9th chords in various inversions
CMa 9

rra

cg-#

r& ft

k fr'f

For dominant 7 chords, the option of altering the 9th to either a flat 9th or a sharp 9th is always
available for additional tension in the chord. This provides a more compelling resolution to an
intended target chord, as shown in Figure 3.4:
Figure 3.4 Dominant 7 chords with altered 9ths
7(Vfl)

- > FMa 9
HE

C 7 ( I J L ^ FMa9

5. The 3rd Becoming the 7th for Smooth Voice Leading


In a series of three or four note left-hand piano chords, it is typical that the bottom note of one
chord "voicing is equal to orrery near the bottom note of the next chord. The pianist can take
advantage of this fact by leaving the bottom note unchanged (or moved very little) between one
chord and the next, providing smooth voice leading between the chords. This is especially true
when building chord voicings with the 3rd or 7th as the bottommost note. For example, a C minor
7 chord voiced (from bottom to top) as Eb-G-Bb would commonly move to an F dominant 7
chord voiced (from bottom to top) Eb-F-A. This provides smooth voicing by anchoring both
chords with the same Eb. Thus, the 3rd of one chord becomes the 7th of the next, as shown in the
following Figure 3.5:

Figure 3.5 3rds becoming 7ths in chord progressions

Cmi7

F7

B^Ma7

Cmi7 F 7

B^Ma7

|Z^2=^
"

In the above examples, any Eb that is the 3rd of a C minor 7 chord remains unchanged, and
serves as the 7th of the F dominant chord that follows. An Eb that is the 7th of an F dominant
chord moves with very smooth voice leading (by only a half step) to become the 3rd of the next
chord (Bb major). Similarly, any A-natural that is the 3rd of an F dominant chord remains
unchanged, and serves as the 7th of the Bb major chord that follows. These principles can be
applied to four-note chords even when 9ths are used in place of roots, as shown in Figure 3.6:
Figure 3.6 3rds moving smoothly to 7ths, and 7ths to 3rds

Cmi9

F9

B ''Ma9

^m

Crt9

vw

F9

B^Ma7

Cm 9

F 7(l,9) B^Ma9

$m

6. Harmonization Beneath the Melody


As discussed in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging''), a melodic line can be
harmonized with one or more notes arrayed in stacks beneath each note of the melody. Each
melody note combines with the notes in its stack to form a complete chord. As the melody moves
from one note to the next, a new stack of harmonizing notes is placed beneath the next melody
note. This process is carried out for all notes in a melodic line until each has harmony beneath it
This is an effective means of reinforcing the melody without simply doubling it an octave higher
or lower. Moving together in homophonic style, the combined voices enunciate the melody line
plus its accompanying chord or triad.

7. Closed-Position Voicings
For a pianist, the melody and its harmonization must very often be played with only one hand.
This usually means that all of these notes must fit within the space of a single octave, and that all
notes in the harmonization move roughly in parallel with the melody.
When viewed one beat or one melody note at a time, the vertical arrangement or voicing of all the
parts (including the melody and the harmonizing parts) fits within the space of a single octave.
This technique is referred to as harmonization with closed-position voicings. If the closedposition harmonization employs three chord tones beneath each melody note, it is called closedposition 4-part harmonization.

8. Block Voicings
In addition to harmonizing a melody with closed-position voicings, jazz pianists will frequently
double the melodic line at the octave to give it special prominence. This means that in addition to
the harmonizing chord tones arrayed beneath the melody line, a duplicate instance of the melodic
line follows along an octave below the original melody. This is referred to as block voicing.
Figure 3.7 shows a simple melody played over a G dominant 9 chord leading to a C major 9
chord, harmonized in four-part closed-position voicings, and the same melody harmonized with
four-part block voicing:
Figure 3.7 Harmonization of a melody in four-part closed-position and block voicing
CMa9

in ^

4-part closed position

g:

CMa9

JflfK"
Block voicing

9. Extended Block Voicings


To give a melody a great deal of reinforcement, and to do so with great dynamic volume, a pianist
will frequently apply both hands to harmonize the melody, The most common method for this is
when the pianist's right hand plays the melody with closed-position four-part harmonization, and

then doubles all of that exactly an octave lower using the left hand. The result is referred to as
extended block voicing. Figure 3.8 shows a simple melody harmonized in this way:
Figure 3.8 Harmonization of a melody in four-part extended block voicing
C-Ma9

4<*JJ3*f
^S m

All three voicings just described (closed-position, block voicing, and extended block) are
commonly used by jazz pianists, and are equally common for jazz ensemble orchestration. In
particular, arrangers use extended block voicing extensively to write for large jazz ensembles
playing in tutti. The combination of eight or more wind instruments playing in harmony and
reinforced with octave doubling throughout is extremely powerful and resonant.

10. Passing Chord Harmonization


As discussed in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"), a melody is usually
accompanied by a series of underlying chords. Within a given measure, there are typically only
one or two accompanying chords. Each chord is referred to as the "chord of the moment" during
the beats when it is sounding.
As a melody plays, some notes in the melody are equivalent to tones in the chord of the momentthat is, some melody notes are chord members, while other melody notes are not part of the
chord, and are considered "passing tones." The very chromatic nature of jazz means there are
frequent melody notes that are in direct dissonance with the underlying chord of the moment.
When harmonizing the melody notes that are chord members, simply placing beneath them the
remaining three or four pitches of the chord of the moment will provide satisfactory enunciation
of the chord during that melody note. However, for each passing tone, some other group of
pitches, forming a "passing chord" must be selected. In this way, the harmonization of the entire
melody alternates back and forth between the chord of the moment and various passing chords.

31
Figure 3.9 shows a harmonized melody that contains notes that fit well into the chord of the
moment (G dominant 7) as well as melody notes (indicated with a triangle marker) that do not fit
the chord of the moment, and must be considered passing tones:
Figure 3.9 Harmonization of a melody containing passing tones
G7

ll

I flj} ' ^ i$ I f

In the above example, notes that fit the chord of the moment are harmonized as G dominant 7
(including 9ths) to enunciate that chord. The first passing tone (A#) is harmonized as an F#
dominant 9 chord. The second passing tone is harmonized as a D# diminished 7 chord. The third
passing tone (F#) is harmonized as a D dominant 7 chord.
There arefiveprimary choices for passing-chord harmonization:

Passing Diminished

Chromatic Approach

Dominant Approach

Parallel Approach

Diatonic Passing Chords

The two most widely used passing chords are the passing diminished and chromatic approach.
All of these "harmonization devices" are easily applied and generally provide satisfactory results.
A description of all five passing-chord harmonizations follows.
Passing Diminished
For passing diminished, a non-chordal melody note is harmonized using one of the three
diminished triads, or the four diminished-seventh chords that would normally contain that melody
note. For example, the note F is part of three different diminished triads (F dim, B dim, and D
dim), and four different diminished-seventh chords (F dim7, Ab dim7, B dim7, and D dim7, or
their enharmonic equivalents). The F melody note can be harmonized with notes that create any
of those triads/chords beneath it. Figure 3.10 shows a simple melodic line (E-F-G) played in a
measure that has C dominant 7 as its underlying chord of the moment:

Figure 3.10. Passing diminished harmonization of a passing tone

c7

^ 1-p.Mf
Because diminished chords have the capability of resolving in any direction, they have the effect
of fitting smoothly into the sound of the underlying chord without disruption. Thus, the
temporary superimposition of a passing diminished chord onto the chord of the moment has a
relatively pleasing sound.
Chromatic Approach
Chromatic approach can only be applied to a non-chordal melody note when it moves
chromatically to a melody note that is part of the chord of the moment Whatever chromatic
movement the melody makes is matched with parallel motion from all other voices in the
harmonization. This means that the exact arrangement of chord tones harmonizing a target
melody note is used as well for the non-chordal melody note preceding itbut transposed up or
down by a half-step.
Like passing diminished harmonization, chromatic approach harmonization is easy to apply to a
non-chordal melody note. Chromatic approach creates a sound that is more modern than passing
diminished, because it results in a more striking superimposition of additional chords over the
chord of the moment
Dominant Approach
The dominant 7 chord whose root is a perfect 5th above the root of the chord of the moment can
be used to harmonize a passing note in the melody. This only works if the passing note is a tone
of the dominant 7 chord, and the target note following the passing note is harmonized using the
chord of the moment. This creates a momentary V-I cadence as the melody moves from a passing
note to the target note.
Alternatively, the tritone substitution for the dominant can also be used as a passing chord. The
tritone substitute dominant 7 chord can only be used if the passing note is a chord tone in that
substitute chord. Further explanation of tritone substitute dominant chords is included later in
this chapter.

33
Parallel Approach
Similar to chromatic approach, parallel approach calls for a non-chordal melody note and each
harmonizing note sounding with it to move in parallel (up or down) by exactly the same interval
to its next note. In other words, if the non-chordal melody note moves by a whole step to arrive at
the next melody note following it, then all notes in the harmonization move by a whole step to
their next notes. If the non-chordal melody note moves by a minor third, or leaps by a perfect fifth
to the next melody note, then all parts do the same.
Like chromatic approach harmonization, parallel approach creates a sound that is more modern
than passing diminished, because it results in a more striking superimposition of additional chords
over the chord of the moment.
Diatonic Passing Chords
Any chord that is diatonic to the key associated with the chord of the moment can be used to
harmonize a passing note in the melody. This can only work if the passing note is a chord tone of
the some diatonic chord in that key, and the target note following the passing note is harmonized
using the chord of the moment For example, if the chord of the moment is C major 7, then any
chord that is diatonic to the key of C major can potentially be used as a passing chord. If the
chord of the moment is F dominant 7 (which belongs to the key of Bb major), then any chord that
is diatonic to the key of Bb can potentially be used as a passing chord.
In the first example (where the chord of the moment is C major 7), the most common choice for a
diatonic passing chord would be D minor 7. This momentarily creates the sound of chord motion
consisting of II minor moving to I major as the melody moves from a passing note to the target
note.

11. Tritone Substitution for the Dominant 7 chord


Wherever a dominant 7 chord occurs, there is an option for replacing that chord with the
dominant 7 chord whose root is an augmented 4th higher or lower than the root of the original
chord. This replacement chord is referred to as the tritone substitution for the dominant or the
tritone substitute dominant 7. For example, a typical sequence of chords such as D minor 7
moying to G dominant 7, resolving to C major can greatly enhanced by replacing the G dominant
7 with Db dominant 7. This creates a chord progression analyzed as IImi7 - MI7 -1 ma. This

chord substitution has been widely used by most jazz musicians and composers since the early
1930s.

12. Adding Upper Chord Extensions


To accentuate the harmonicrichnessof any chord, a jazz pianist (or writer) can add the 9th, 11th,
and 13th extensions of the chord. Chord extensions can be mixed and combined in numerous
ways, and can be altered up or down by half-steps as needed to add interest to any chords in a
musical piece. During the 1930s, the use of upper extensions became an increasingly common
practice for jazz players and writers, and Ellington used these sounds throughout his career.
Figure 3.11 shows a variety of 7th chords with various combinations of 9th, 11th and 13th
extensions added to them.
Figure 3.11. Seventh chords with added upper extensions
CMa9 Cm9

C7(t9)

C7(*9)

Crri11

C7(lt1)

C 9(13)

C7fi93) C9<li3i>

In the above examples, note that some chord extensions have been altered up or down by halfsteps, either to create more harmonic interest or simply to make the extensions compatible with
the sound of the original chord. Table 3.a shows a variety of standard, four-voice jazz chords (all
comprising a root, 3rd, 5th and an added 6th or 7th) and the available options for adding upper
extensions to them, plus comments about, and a symbol for, the resulting chord:

Table 3.a - Jazz Chords and their Available Extensions


7th Chord

Example

Available

Comments

Resulting Chord

All extensions may be used in any

Cma9 (#11,13)

Extensions
Major 7

Cma7

9, #11,13

combination. #11 creates Lydian sound.


Major 6

Cma6

9, #11

Both may be used in any combination. Using

Cma6(9#ll)

the 7th is optional.


Minor 7

Cmi7

9,11,13

All extensions may be used in any

Cmi 13 or

combination.

Cmi9 (11,13)

35
Minor 6

Cmi6

9,11

Both may be used in any combination. Using

Cmi6(9,ll)

the 7th is optional.


Dominant 7

C7

Adds the unaltered 9th.

C9

Dominant 7

C7

b9

Lowered 9th creates sound of a dim7 chord

C7(b9)

in top four voices.


Dominant 7

C7

#9

Raised 9th creates blues 3rd tension.

C7 (#9)

Dominant 7

C7

b9,#9

Both altered 9ths can co-exist in Dom7

C7 (b9 #9)

chords.
Dominant 7

C7

#11

Natural 11th not useful, as it turns the Dom7

C7(#ll)

into a Sus4. #11 can coexist with a natural


5th in Dom7 chords.
Dominant 7

C7

13

The unaltered 13th can coexist with a natural

C7(13)

5th and b7 in Dom7 chords.


Dominant 7

C7

bl3

The lowered 13th can coexist with a natural

C7 (bl3)

5th and b7 in Dom7 chords.


Dominant 7

C7

b9, #9, b5, #5

With all altered extensions used, the natural

C7alt

Note:

5th is omitted.

or

(#ll=b5)

C7 (b9 #9 b5 #5)

(bl3=#5)
Half-

C0

Diminished

or

9,11,13

Combinations using #11 and bl3 are also

C07 (9,11,13)

possible.

or
Cmi7b5 (9,11,13)

Cmi7b5
Augmented 7

Caug7 or

9, #11

Uses the whole-tone scale as its basis.

Caug9(#ll)

b9,#9,#ll

Uses the altered scale as its basis. Essentially

Caug7(b9#9#ll)

C+7
Augmented 7

Caug7or

the same as C7 alt (above)

C+7
Diminished 7

Co7

9,11, bl3

Uses the diminished scale as its basis.

Co7(9,ll,bl3)
or
Cdim7(9,ll,bl3)

13. Using Upper Extensions in Four-part Harmony


When playing four-part harmony (especially when using only one hand to play a complete chord
on the piano), adding a 9th, 11th or 13th requires the replacement of some other chord tone.
Typically, the addition of a 9th to a four-note chord means omission of the root (since the chord
root is normally played by the string bass, it will not be missed very much in the voicing). The
addition of an 11th or 13th would traditionally mean omission of the 5th in the voicing (again, the
5th is normally included in the string bass part; similarly, it will not be missed in the voicing).

The 13th may, on occasion, be considered a replacement for the 7th in the original chord voicing.
This would change, for example, a major 7 chord so it effectively becomes a major 6 chord.
The 3rd of the original chord is traditionally the last choice of chord tones to be omitted from a
four-note voicing, as this tone is crucial to establishing the major or minor quality of the original
chord. However, the addition of an 11th (especially an unaltered or natural 11th) can mean
replacing the 3rd, in which case the chord takes on the quality of a suspended chord (sus4).

14. Five-part Harmony


A five-note chord can potentially contain a large amount of harmonic information. If we consider
the usual practice of omitting the root from piano chords, a 5-note chord typically comprises the
3rd and 7th, possibly the 5th, and two or even three extensions. Thus, a single hand on the piano
can effectively enunciate the full harmonic richness of almost any chord with all its potential
extensions. Figure 3.12 contains examples of highly sophisticated piano chords, each of which
can be played with one hand:
Figure 3.12. Five-note piano chords played with a single hand
Q7(9,|11,13)

rfr

CMa 9 ( * 1 1 ' 1 3 )

I ll&

Cm9(l3)

* :

9-xf>

Cmi9(l1'13)

S ^

Q7(!-9,il1>13)

Note that for the above examples, the root and very often the 5th of the chord are left out. This is
because of the assumption that these tones will be played by a bass instrument.
Since the above examples of five-note chords constitute closed voicings (that is, all notes within
the space of an octave), the notes in the chord are placed very close togetherin some cases
almost forming a "tone cluster." Closed-position, five-note chords often sound so dense that
individual pitches are difficult to discern. Since there is no single voice in the chord that is
doubled, no particular note sticks out as the primary point of focus. The value of this is discussed
in Chapter 7 ("Ellington's Multifocalism").
While four-note chords and four-part harmonization were a standard part of jazz piano technique
in the early 1930s, the addition of upper extensions created new possibilities that required more

37
advanced playing technique for pianists. These include stretching a single hand to reach five
separate notes spread out across the interval of a 9th or 10th. For example, a simple C dominant 7
chord (C-E-G-Bb) with an added 9th extension above it is a difficult reach with a single hand of
normal size. With the 9th augmented, the reach becomes very difficult. Another requirement
created by adding chord extensions was the need for pianists to strike two chord tones
simultaneously using a single finger. For example, a root-position C major 9 chord (spelled from
bottom top, C-E-G-B-D) with an added 13th extension can be played with the left hand only if the
13th is placed in the lower portion of the chord (next to the 7th) and if the index finger is used to
play both A and B simultaneously. The 5th can be omitted or included from the voicing, but in
either case the index finger must strike two notes.

Conclusion
All of the techniques described in this chapter were quite simply part of the "bag of tricks'' for
jazz pianists of the 1930s. Quite naturally, they became part of Ellington's orchestration technique
as well. The next two chapters ("Quartal Harmony and Quartal Voicings" and "Other Favorite
Techniques and Devices") describe techniques that were considered more advanced methods for
jazz writers (and jazz pianists) during the 1930s.

38
Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington
Chapter 4

Quartal Harmony and Quartal Voicings


A favorite device that emerged in the 1930s among jazz pianists is "quartal" harmony, which uses
the interval of a fourth between chord tones (as opposed to "tertian" harmony, which uses major
and minor thirds between chord tones). Many classical composers, especially the French
impressionists Erik Satie (1866-1925), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), and Maurice Ravel (18751937), but also German composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), and Russian composer
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) frequently used quartal harmony in their works.
According to music theorist and historian Larry Solomon, Erik Satie's 1891 composition he Fits
des Etoiles, for the first time in history, made systematic use of chords comprised of stacked
fourths moving in parallel motion.1 Figure 4.1 shows an excerpt of the piece's opening gestures:
Figure 4.1. Eric Satie's Le Fits des Etoiles

Piano

Fourth intervals used by composers and pianists are predominantly perfect fourths, though
augmented or diminished fourths can also be used as desired. Another famous example of the use
of quartal harmony appeared in Scriabin's famous "Mystic Chord" from his 1911 Piano Sonata
no. 6. As shown in Figure 4.2, the chord is a stack of fourths, some perfect and others augmented
or diminished:

Larry Solomon's website at http://solomonsmusic.net/Satie.htm.

Figure 4.2. Scnabm's "Mystic Chord"

XL
O-

I O

t3E

Since musicians around the globe had, by the 1930s, excellent access to printed scores, recordings
and radio broadcasts of classical, jazz and avant-garde music of the period, there is little reason to
doubt that that all of these musical genres were involved in cross-pollination.2 In the 1930s,
Ellington and other jazz pianists with modern aspirations used quartal harmony in their work as
well.
Quartal Harmony that Enunciates a Specific Chord Quality
Western musical tradition evolved using stacks of notes in tertian order to form chords, and our
sense of a chord's tonality (whether it is major, minor, diminished or augmented in quality,
whether it contains a major or minor 7th, etc.) is reflected in this, as well as in the names we give
to chords (C major, G dominant 7, B diminished, etc.). Quartal harmony can be used to enunciate
the same major, minor, diminished and augmented tonalities; but the order in which specific
pitches occur in a stack of notes, or the choice of which specific pitches are included in the stack,
differs from those found in tertian chords.
Figure 4.3 shows a sequence of chords constructed using tertian harmony, then shows essentially
the same chord sequence using quartal harmony:
Figure 4.3 Tertian harmony vs. quartal harmony
Bn^E9

*w

Ami 9 A 1 * 9

9 W

W
#

GMa 9

va

B,rf ( * 13> E 9 ( 1 3 )

Ami ( 9 1 3 ) A

96

GMa ( 9 1 3 )

3E

--

Jzzz

Many early jazz musicians (such as Don Redman and Fletcher Henderson) enjoyed excellent formal
training in traditional music schools and universities. Just as modem-day jazz musicians share new ideas
and techniques with colleagues on the bandstand, we can assume that musicians in the 1930s did the same.

40
In the example above, the quartal voicings include 13th extensions for each chord. In some cases
the 5 th of the chord is omitted, and in other cases the 7* is omitted. Despite this, the harmonic
function of each chord in the series remains the same in both the tertian example and the quartal
example.
Any stack of notes, regardless of the intervals separating them, can be considered a chord. A
stack of notes that is only a cluster of semitones (for example, B#-C#-D) does very little to create
a sound that can be heard as having a major or minor tonality. As such, it does not have much
compatibility with music containing traditional harmomes made up of primarily major and minor
chords. For example, Figure 4.4 shows a C major triad plus a cluster of notes (B#-C#-D) that
creates dissonance, disrupting the quality of the original C major triad:
Figure 4.4 A dissonant cluster combined with a simple triad

Tfs^
9^ff
A stack of notes spaced a fourth apart, however, can create a sound that is very compatible with
traditional tertian chords. For example, Figure 4.5 shows the notes D-G-C (stacked from low to
high) that sound very consonant when combined with a C major triad:
Figure 4.5 A stack of 4ths combined with a simple triad

HE

TF"

3E^E
In the above example, the stack of 4ths is built upward from the 9th of the triad. The presence of a
D serves to add extra color to the chord and does nothing to disrupt the quality of the underlying
C major triad.

41
In a similar fashion, playing the fourths stack E-A-D over a C major triad (that is, building
upward from the 3rd of the triad) produces a combined chord with an added major 6th and major
9th. In Figure 4.6, this stack of fourths does nothing to disrupt the quality of the original C major
triad:
Figure 4.6 A stack of 4ths built from the third of a triad

3T

gE^ff
With this principle in mind, jazz pianists (and composers) in the 1930s began replacing their old
chord voicings (based on tertian harmony) with new ones based on quartal harmony. This was
sometimes a matter of simply inserting a stack of fourths above a "regular" chord (as shown in
the two examples above). So long as the tones used in "fourths chords" were carefully selected so
that the resulting tonality matched the original chord being replaced, quartal harmony provided a
pianist*s playing (or a composer's writing) with a new, more interesting sound that did not
substantially alter the structure of a piece of music.
Figure 4.7 shows an excerpt from Ellington's 1935 composition, Reminiscing in Tempo (measures
201-4, or 9:28 into the recording) in which he mixes a prominent quartal voicing (played by the
trumpet section) with tertian harmony played by the rest of the orchestra.

42
Figure 4.7 Mixed quartal and tertian harmony in Reminiscing in Tempo

Reminiscing in Tempo

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. M. Brockman

Measures 201-204

Clarinets
-cr

a 3 ^ "*

*== * = 5== 5 q = 5 = *== 5 = 5


^b
:=

Trumpets
J

Trombones

TT~

-*-

-0-

-m- -4- -m-

33#

dim.

ZSSZ

ZBZ

dan.
A Ma6

Guitar

*t - / / / / = / / / /

dim.

String Bass

mfc
dim.

Of course, composers and pianists could also elect to omif tertian harmony, creating chords based
only on stacks of fourths. Techniques for this are discussed in the remainder of this chapter.

Typical Quartal Voicings for Jazz Piano


With the root of a chord provided by an accompanying bass instrument, a jazz pianist will most
typically build a quartal voicing as a stack of perfect fourths upward, beginning from the 3rd or
the 7th of the original tertian chord. These stacks effectively provide the major or minor quality
for a chord. For a chord with a major quality, the pianist can play a stack of notes comprising
(from bottom to top) the major 3rd, major 6th, and major 9th. The pianist may also choose to play
a stack comprising the major 7th, major 10th (equal to the major 3rd), and major 13th. Figure 4.8
shows these two options for chords with a major quality:

Figure 4.8 Two stacks of 4ths useful for major chords


CMa 6(9)
V
fL
fm
"y

r
**
**
M

6V
X!

>

CMa7(t3)

XT

>

For a chord with a minor quality, the pianist can chose from three stacks of 4ths that will
effectively enunciate the quality of the chord. Figure 4.9 shows three options for chords with a
minor quality:
Figure 4.9 Stacks of 4ths useful for minor chords
.6(9)

c 7 ( 1 3 )

QOr

-O-

IE
p-

3 E

Cmi 7 ( l l )

3E

9--&-

JEE:

TF

HE

zsn

The above example shows a stack comprising (from bottom to top) the minor 3rd, major 6th, and
major 9th; a stack comprising minor 7th, and minor 10th (equal to the minor 3rd), and major 6th;
and a stack comprising the 4th, minor 7th, and minor 10th.

Multiple Options for Enunciating a Specific Chord Quality


Aside from the deliberate use of a stack that enunciates the major or minor quality of a chord,
quartal harmonization allows for many other starting points for building a fourths voicing. Table
4.a, below, shows several stacks of fourths (built bottom to top) that would be compatible with
the sound of a C major chord. Next to each group of notes is a chord symbol for the resulting
sound, expressed in normal jazz chord nomenclature (i.e., defined in terms of tertian harmony),
plus comments about the sound created.

44
Table 4.a - Stacks of 4ths compatible with a C major chord
Notes in stack (bottom to top)

Chord Symbol

Comments

D,G,C

Cma9

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


Cma7.

E,A,D

Cma6(9)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


Cma7.

F#, B, E

Cma7(#ll)

Use of the #11, a very pleasing upper extension, creates a


Lydian sound.

G, C, F#

Cma(#ll)

Use of the #11 creates a Lydian sound.

A,D,G

Cma6(9)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


Cma7.

B,E,A

Cma7(13)

C, F#, B

Cma7(#ll)

Use of the #11 creates a Lydian sound.

In a similar way, the sound of C minor chord can be compatible with the following groups of
notes, all stacks of fourths built bottom to top:
Table 4.b - Stacks of 4ths compatible with a C minor chord
Notes in stack (bottom to top)

Chord Symbol

Comments

D-G-C

Cmi9

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


Cmi7.

Eb-A-D

Cmi6(9)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


Cmi7.

F-Bb-Eb

Cmi7(ll)

Inclusion of a 4th or 11th does not disrupt the quality of


the minor chord.

G-C-F

Cmill

Inclusion of a 4th or 11th does not disrupt the quality of


the minor chord.

A-D-G

Cmi6(9)

Also compatible with C major.

Bb-Eb-A

Cmi7(13)

Note tense sound of an augmented 4th between Eb and A.

C-F-Bb

Cmi7(ll)

Inclusion of a 4th or 11th does not disrupt the quality of


the minor chord.

In a similar way, the sound of a C dominant 7 chord can be compatible with the following groups
of notes, all stacks of fourths built bottom to top:

45
Table 4.c - Stacks of 4ths compatible with a C dominant 7 chord
Notes in stack (bottom to top)

Chord Symbol

Comments

D-G-C

C9

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


C7.

E-Bb-D#

C7(#9)

Note tense sound of an augmented 4th (technically a


diminished 5th) between E and Bb.

G-C-F#

C7(#ll)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


C7.

Ab-Db-Gb

C7(b9,b5,bl3)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


C7, especially C7 AIL

Ab-D-G

C9(bl3)

Note tense sound of an augmented 4th between Ab and D.

A-D-G

C9(13)

Though no 7th is included, the voicing is compatible with


C7.

Bb-Eb-Ab

C7(#9,bl3)

Stack of perfect 4ths; very compatible with C7 Alt.

Multiple Chord Qualities for a Given Quartal Voicing


Each stack of fourths (including some that contain augmented or diminished fourth intervals) is
compatible with a surprisingly large number of possible chordsmany more than a triad of notes
in tertian configuration. For example, the tertian triad E-G-B can be considered compatible with
only the following group of traditional chords:
Emi, Cma7, Ami9, Fma9(#l 1), Dmi9(l 1,13), Eb7(#5, b9)
Of course, any of the above named chords can be enhanced with upper extensions or added tones
to create additional forms of the same chord (for example, Cma7 can become Cma9 or Cmal3),
but the above six chords represent the essential list of chords with which E-G-B can fit.
Conversely, the fourths stack of B-E-A can be considered compatible with any of the following
chords:
Cma7, Bsus7, Ami9, Gma9(13), F#mi7(ll), Fma7 #11, Esus4, Eb7#5(b9,#ll), Dma9(13),
D9(13), Dmi9(13), Db7(#9,#5) and yet others.
In a similar way, a stack of fourths originally chosen for a dominant 7 chord and containing an
augmented fourth interval can also be compatible with many other chords. For example, the stack

46
of fourths Bb-E-A (originally chosen to enunciate a C7 chord) can be considered compatible with
any of the following chords:
C7, Bb ma7(#ll), A7(b9), Gmi9(13), F#7(#9), Emi7(b5,ll), Eb7(b9,#ll), D9(bl3),
Db7(#9,#5,13), and others.

Parallel Chromatic Motion of Quartal Voicings


By combining the "3rd becomes 7th" principal (described earlier) with the principles of "Multiple
Options for Enunciating a Specific Chord Quality using Quartal Harmonization," quartal voicings
can be used to create very smooth voice leadings for almost any chord progression. For example,
the chord progression D7, G7, C7, F7 (equivalent to the chords on the bridge of the jazz standard,
"I Got Rhythm") can be played with the following sequence of fourths voicings:
Figure 4.10 The bridge of / Got Rhythm with quartal voicings moving chromatically
i703)

D7(|9)
3EE

Jn:

te
HE

.7(49)

:7(13)

HE

9 O

B^Ma 6

3E

ut

ro-

-o~

3E
I E

*o-

Note that in the above example, each note in every stack of fourths moves downward
chromatically to a note in the next stack, and the bottom note in each stack is situated on either
the 3rd or the 7th of the chord it is enunciating. When applied to chords whose roots are a perfect
fifth apart, fourths voicings tend to alternate in this way between having the 3rd or the 7th as the
bottom notes of the stack.
For this reason, quartal voicings are commonly used by pianists when playing the blues. A
pianist can select a single voicing for the tonic chord of a blues progression, and then very
deliberately move that voicing upward or downward in chromatic parallel motion, achieving
excellent results on each chord of the blues progression, as shown in Figure 4.11:

47
Figure 4.11 Twelve-bar blues with quartal voicings moving chromatically
Q7(l9)

p7(13)

Q7(|9)

p7<13)

Q7(i9)

3L

3fc

3fc

it

DrriO)

Q7(13)

-7(19)

Since a single quartal voicing can be used to enunciate nine or more different chords, almost any
sort of root movement, no matter how irregular, can be accommodated with quartal voicings that
have smooth voice leading. As shown in Figure 4.12, root movement by intervals of a fifth are
not at all required for smooth voiee leading using quartal voicings:
Figure 4.12 Smooth voice leading of quartal voicings in non-standard chord progressions
DMa 9(l3) A b (ll)G M a 6<9) G ! ' 9(H3) F 7 (tl)B m i 9(13) B^Ma^A 7 !}! ALa 9(13) D7(t!) D W ^ )
/T\

s
t?

mrs: 1a :

TT

v^-

In the above example, note the final four chords in the progression. Despite active chromatic root
movement in the bass clef, the voicings in the treble clef remain nearly static. This is an example
of how parallel chromatic movement can be more easily applied to quartal voicings than it can to
tertian voicings. It is generally more difficult to move tertian stacks of notes chromatically with
smooth voice leading, and to hear them accurately enunciate a series of chords. The pianist or
arranger using quartal voicings can choose from a wider variety of sounds with relatively little
concern about creating inconsistencies with underlying harmonies.

Conclusion
Ellington had eclectic interests in music, and undoubtedly became aware of quartal harmony very
early in his career through listening to other pianists and observing the work of many composers
who preceded him. Quartal harmony became an important device in bis playing and writing quite
early in bis musical life, and examples of it can be found in numerous recordings and scores. By

48
1935, when he created the score for Reminiscing in Tempo, he was already comfortable moving
back and forth freely between tertian and quartal harmonies, combining them simultaneously in
his orchestrations.

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington


Chapter 5

Other Favorite Techniques and Devices


"If it sounds good, it is good."
- Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington derived many of his favorite orchestration techniques from sources other than his
piano playing, such the music of classical and Broadway composers. These techniques produced
some of the more striking and unusual sounds in Ellington's scores. Three of his frequently used
techniques are discussed here:
1. Triads and chords moving chromatically over fixed, underlying harmony
2. Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings1
3. Transposition of gestures by a minor third

1. Triads and chords moving chromatically over fixed, underlying harmony


Ellington enjoyed writing a stack of notes played by several horns, then moving that stack in
strict parallel motion chromatically up or down over several beats, or even over long stretches of
his scores. He normally did this without adjusting the underlying chord being played in the
rhythm section or in other sections of the orchestra.
Figure 5.1 shows an excerpt from Reminiscing in Tempo, measures 43-4 (or 1:49 into the 1935
recording), in which the reed section plays a series of chromatically ascending, harmonized
sixteenth notes:

Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings are discussed in many jazz arranging texts, including Rayburn
Wright's Inside the Score and Russell Garcia's The Professional Arranger and Composer.

50
Figure 5.1 Chromatically ascending chords

Reminiscing in Tempo
Measures 43-44, chromatic reeds

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

4 Reeds

Bass/Piano

In the above example, the first sixteenth note is harmonized as a Bb major 6 chord. All players
then move chromatically to form B major 6, C major 6, C# major 6, etc., until they arrive together
at a "target" chord of Gb major 6. All of this is executed over a Db dominant 7 chord in the
rhythm section.
The musical justification of the technique shown in the above example is that all parts move in
one smooth mass to arrive deliberately at the Gb major 6 chord. There is no functional reason
why the figure began with Bb major 6. Rather, Ellington started with the Gb target chord, and
then worked backwards from i t He simply inserted the required number of major 6 chords to fill
in the two beats of the measure.
Ellington was inclined to use lots of parallel motion, and did so without attention to any harmonic
problems it created with underlying chords. Figure 5.2 contains an excerpt from Reminiscing in
Tempo, measures 55-6 (or 2:24 into the recording) in which the trumpet section plays a series of
harmonized eighth notes moving up and down chromatically and leaping octaves, all with parallel
motion.

51
Figure 5.2 Ascending, descending, and leaping chromatic motion

Reminiscing in Tempo
Measures 57-59, chromatic trumpets

3 Trumpets

Bass/Piano

\LmjA ipp
vy

Csus/F

/ /

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

B"

G^Ma6
/

In the above example, the first note in the trumpets is harmonized as a second inversion Db major
triad. All notes following are harmonized with the exact same configuration of pitches, moving
chromatically up or down. Ellington uses the technique again in measures 61-3, this time with the
trumpets playing augmented triads in parallel motion, with striking effect.
At times, Ellington wrote parallel chords for the full ensemble, producing intense parallelism,
often in large and complex chords. Figure 5.3 shows measure five of Concerto for Cootie, in
which the entire orchestra (including the string bass) moves chromatically downward through a
series of dominant 7 chords (most containing upper 9th, 11th and 13th extensions).

Figure 5.3 Chromatic parallelism in Concerto for Cootie

Concerto for Cootie

Concert Score

Measures 5-7, chromatic tutti

Duke Ellington
Transcr. Michael Brockman

ftp f

Bb Clarinet

Alto Sax 1

^EEE

Alto Sax 2

Tenor Sax

Baritone Sax

j J J JlJ J J I J,

>J

^ u ^i

J ^^J
S

l>r P ^

J | J'J J )1
" J ' frM ^ g

p " ' 1^ J 1

JHJ

JI

Trumpet 1

Trumpet 2

Trumpet 3

Trombone 1

Trombone 2

Trombone 3

Double Bass

:= *

Ltk

": 1

t>^-u
BI.91,)A9

Condensed

b#

3E3E*

felEEE

25*

kG*='G^pl'll

r.V f i,f- j
gg I**3B
E

f #fr ifr

13

E9

PPP?

Eff*f.#'Pf E

"

Et9(tl1> D 9ftl3) D |, 9( , )cS ,t,3, B 9

J 1 i LJ

I*,,)..
B^A7<^>A9*"G,

Gl9<;3

m^mm
B^Efm

g . .*=t-.nJg ..r .f ,..f hrN-iw


*f

>

=*=

a
3 e

IS

At the bottom of the above example is a condensed version of the score excerpt, including an
analysis of each chord stack in the ensemble. There is no fixed, underlying harmony in this
segment (as there was in examples prior to this one), though Ellington certainly employed the
same technique of choosing a target chord (Gb dominant 7) and working backward.

2. Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings


Drop-2 voicings and Drop-2-and-4 voicings are a common technique used by many jazz writers
as a quick and reliable method for opening up the dense sound of a four-part, closed-position
voicing. Beginning with a stack of four notes (the lead or melody note at the top with harmony
notes in closed position beneath it), and then applying a Drop-2 voicing takes the voice that is
second from the top of the stack and transposes it down one octave. Applying a Drop-2-and-4
voicing takes both the second and fourth notes in the stack and transposes them down one octave.
Figure 5.4 shows a lead/melody note (shown as a solid note head) with three harmonizing pitches
beneath it, forming a four-part C dominant 7 chord in closed-position voicing, followed by the
same chord in Drop-2 voicing and Drop-2-and-4 voicing:
Figure 5.4 Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings

c7

c7

SE

c7
9-6

"S"

Closed 4-part

Drop-2 voicing

Drop-2&4 voicing

Drop-2 voicings and Drop-2-and-4 voicings create an "aural transparency" in an otherwise dense
chord so that individual instruments can be heard, and the listener can perceive individual musical
lines. When applying a Drop-2 voicing or Drop-2-and-4 voicing to a chord played by four
individual instruments (such as the saxophone section in a jazz orchestra), the notes sounding
beneath the lead/melody note are typically reassigned so the instruments continue to play the
same high, medium, or low role in every stack of chord tones. Thus, in the example shown above,
the second saxophone plays "D" in the closed-position chord, but moves to "Bb" for both the
Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 chords. The third saxophone plays "Bb" in the closed-position chord,
but moves to "G" for the Drop-2 chord and to "D" for the Drop-2-and-4 chord. The melody note
remains in the lead saxophone, and the lowest pitched instrument in the section always plays the

54
bottom-most note. This same re-shuffling of pitch assignment would take place for other sections
of the orchestra as well. Figure 5.5 is an excerpt from Reminiscing in Tempo (measures 210-11)
in which the saxophones play a series of four-part chords in Drop-2 voicing:
Figure 5.5 Drop-2 voicing in Reminiscing in Tempo

Reminiscing in Tempo
Concert Score

Measures 210-211, saxophone chords in Drop-2 voicing


Duke Ellington
Trans. M. Brockman

m
i

4 Saxophones

3S

String Basses

^F=^^^
FMa6

st

fc

SEE*

G7

^7

Because of the aural transparency of Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings, the listener's attention is
drawn away from the main melody or lead line. The importance of this technique in Ellington's
style is discussed further in Chapter 7 ("Ellington's Multifocalism").

Four-part Drop-2 with the Lead Doubled at the Octave


A very useful voicing that brings focus to the melody/lead line in a passage is 4-Part Drop-2 with
the lead doubled by an additional voice playing one octave lower. This can be played by five
separate instruments, and can also be achieved using a single hand at the piano. This voicing style
is sometimes referred to as Drop-2 Block, or simply Drop-2 Double Lead.
When played by a five-piece saxophone section, this voicing typically places the additional
instance of the melody (doubled an octave lower) in the second tenor saxophone part. Figure 5.6
contains an excerpt of the reed soli in Come Sunday (from Ellington's 1945 Black, Brown and
Beige suite), showing the five reeds with Drop-2 Double Lead treatment:

55
Figure 5.6 Come Sunday 4-part reed soli in Drop-2 voicing
from Black, Brown and Beige

Come Sunday

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
trans. Brockman

Reed Soli

m
m g^fct

Clarinet

i=i= s

sst
ppi

Alto Sax

fp3 fepg
m^i

Tenor Sax

I>J

fat^fe

_j_

^ ^

Tenor Sax

Bari Sax
w/Hi Hat

J 15 J J l <*>

/ / / / J_/ / /

Drums

5^/ / /

/>.

Bass

LrTr

i ^ ^

r^ P

Five-part Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4


Ellington especially favored the use of Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings in combination with
five-note chords. Doing so reduces the focus on the melody/lead line as effectively as possible.
As discussed in Chapter 3 ("Basic Principles of Early Jazz Piano"), a five-part voicing requires
that an additional chord tone be added into the stack of notes beneath a lead/melody note, with no
pitches doubled. When a chord contains a 9th and omits the root, the additional fifth chord tone
must be an 11th or 13th. A five-part Drop-2 or Drop-2-and-4 voicing retains all of these pitches,
and there is no doubling of the melody anywhere.
Figure 5.7 contains an excerpt from Ellington's 1957 version of Diminuendo & Crescendo in
Blue, showing five reeds playing five-part chords in Drop-2 voicing:

56
Figure 5.7 Five-part Drop-2 voicing

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue


Concert Score

Measures 89-93, saxophone chords


Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

pk

A!>7aug

ph

Dt7jj

The use of five-part Drop-2 and Drop-2-and-4 voicings to draw the listener's focus away from the
melody is discussed further in Chapter 7 ("Ellington's Multifocalism").

3. Transposition of gestures by a minor third


Jazz musicians have long understood the usefulness of creating a gesture or melodic fragment,
and then repeating it with all notes of the gesture transposed up or down by a minor third. Figure
5.8 shows an excerpt from measures 180-85 (or 8:34 into the recording) of Reminiscing in
Tempo, in which melodic and harmomc material is repeated with pitches transposed a minor third
higher, then transposed up again by a minor third for the subsequent repetition:

Figure 5.8 Transposing melodies and harmonies up or down by minor thirds

Reminiscing in Tempo
Concert Score

E=E

Clar.

TO
Tpts.

M
*fc

Tbns.

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Measures 180-185

^3

m=suu

si

S
-o

M
:z

ItaCtfe

3E

a2

Basses

3^E
CM 7 /E

=>ff
B t9(13)

E^MJ/G

D 1,9

risus(7)

/B E9(13)

The first and second measures in the above example are duplicated exactly in the third and fourth
measures (albeit transposed up a minor third), with the exception of one repeated Ab in the
clarinet melody. The fifth and sixth measures are a nearly exact duplication as well, except for
one chord tone in the lowest trombone and the clarinet melody transposed down a major 6th
(technically a diminished 7th) instead of up a minor 3rd. The clarinet melody is also altered
slightly at the end.

Conclusion
Techniques that Ellington drew from his piano playing remained central to his writing style
throughout his career. However, the additional techniques that were not piano-derived and which
could be executed only by an orchestra of many individuals became more important to Ellington
as the orchestra replaced the piano as his primary outlet for creative expression.

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington


Chapter 6

Sharp-Nine Chords and Derivative


Configurations
The sound of a dominant 7 chord containing a sharp-nine extension is somewhat unusual and
dissonant, even by today's standards. For listeners in the early 1930s it was a very modern, even
jarring sound. It became one of Ellington's favorite devices. Figure 6.1 shows a four-note chord in
the treble staff that, when combined with the C in the bass staff, creates a C dominant 7 sharpnine chord.
Figure 6.1 C dominant 7 sharp-nine chord
Q7(t9)
_#

<k

nl?

h*

*!;!
8

te

, -tte

-W^:j

s.

The unusual chord in the treble staff could be considered an E diminished triad with an added
high note (D#) forming the interval of a major 7th above the E. This type of chord could be
considered an outgrowth of omitting the roots of diminished chords in piano voicings, and
building them upward from their 3rds (that is, playing the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a diminished
scale). For example, when applied to a C# diminished scale, the resulting stack of notes is
(bottom to top) E-G-Bb-D#, as appears in the above example.
This type of chord could also simply have been the manifestation of four-note dominant 7 chord
voicings that omit the root and include a 9th (albeit a 9th that is altered to create additional
tension).
Whatever its origin, this configuration of tonesessentially a diminished triad with an added
major 7thyields a distinctive and jarring sound that Ellington used frequently from the early

1930s onward. Figure 6.2 shows a pair of chords (Ab7#9 and G7#9) played by the reeds in
measures 139-40 of Ellington's 1935 masterwork, Reminiscing in Tempo.

Figure 6.2 Reed section dominant 7 sharp-nine chords in Reminiscing in Tempo


Al>7(9)

Reeds

String Bass

Q7(|9)

m tia
%

This same configuration (a diminished triad with a major 7th) occurs in a less obvious way when
Ellington voices a dominant 7 chord with a diminished triad stacked on top of it to introduce the
sound of a flatted ninth. For example, Figure 6.3 shows measures 43-4 of his 1942 work,
Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue, containing an initial G dominant 7 flat-nine chord in the brass
section that is spelled (bottom to top) D-F-Ab (in the trombones) and Ab-B-D-G (in the
trumpets).

60
Figure 6.3 Dominant 7 chords in the brass section
Concert Score

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue


Measures 43-44

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman
,_.
(F 7 b9 >

(Gb7 b9)

(G7b9)

fc

Trumpet 1

(G7b9#9)
,A

Trumpet 2

Trumpet 3

Trumpet 4
>

p-

Trombone 1

Trombone 2

Trombone 3

IEEEIE

yf

m
m

Bass

I
G

Piano

(|

t=

*f E

^ = p

7=?

\ /

In the above example, the imtial trumpet section voicing (Ab or G#-B-D-G) comprises the exact
four notes that we might expect for an E dominant 7 sharp-nine chord (a diminished triad built on
G# with a major 7th). However, this trumpet voicing is played over a G root in the string bass.
The function of the voicing is less dissonant in the harmony it creates as part of a G dominant 7.
Yet, even over a G in the bass, this stack of notes has the same jarring effect to our ears. In the
next measure, Ellington moves all brass players chromatically downward through three half-steps
(except the lead trumpet, which remains stationary for one half-note, and then ascends). As the

61
stack of notes moves downward in parallel motion, the entire section arrives at the position to
form the classic stack of notes for a G dominant 7 sharp-nine chord: the trombones and two
lowest trumpets play B-D-F, and the lead trumpet plays a high Bb (trumpet 2 plays a flatted 9th,
adding even more tension to the sound).

Sharp-nine chords in Drop-2 voicings


Dominant 7 sharp-nine chords sound very striking when notes of the chord are spread out using a
Drop-2 voicing. Figure 6.4 shows an excerpt from Reminiscing in Tempo (measures 35-37) in
which the reeds play Db dominant 7 sharp-nine and C dominant 7 sharp-nine chords in Drop-2
voicing.
Figure 6.4 Dominant 7 sharp-nine chords in Drop-2
nl>7(i9)

Reeds

String Bass

p7(*9)

i,i>-p>.

\-4

=i

Sharp-nine chords in three-note voicings


Another very effective voicing for dominant 7 sharp-nine chords reduces the sound of the chord
to its bare essence by omitting the 5th as well as the root. This leaves only the 3rd, 7th, and sharp
9th of the chord. Figure 6.5 shows a chord voicing in the treble staff containing only three
pitches: E-Bb-D#.

Figure 6.5 Three-note voicings for dominant 7 sharp-nine


7(#9)

When the chord shown above in the treble staff is combined with the C in the bass staff, the
resulting sound is a C dominant 7 sharp-nine chord. Since the intervals between voices in the
treble staff chord can be considered to be fourths (perfect or augmented), this type of voicing
could be considered an outgrowth of quartal harmony as described in Chapter 4, "Quartal
Harmony and Quartal Voicings".
The introductory theme of Reminiscing in Tempoand what is truly the "seed of thought" from
which the entire piece was generated consists of a sequence of three-note arpeggios outlining
dominant 7 sharp-nine chords. Figure 6.6 shows this thematic material, introduced as arpeggios,
in measures 1-8:
Figure 6.6 Introduction of Reminiscing in Tempo

Reminiscing in Tempo
Measures 1-2 (repeated for 3-8)
etc.

M
6(9)
FlVIa'

l7(|9)

S 7(|9)

G 1>7(#9)

The thematic material in the above example is not considered the main melodic theme for the
work, yet it recurs throughout the piece in many manifestations and serves as the harmonic
structure unifying the entire work.

The three-note arpeggios in measures 1-8, when combined with the string bass notes, form the
following series of chords that is repeated every two measures: Fma6 (with a 9th included),
Ab7#9, G7#9, Gb7#9. Thus, beginning with the second half of measure 1, the progression of
chords includes three dominant 7 sharp-nine chords moving down by half steps. This pattern is
repeated for the length of the example.
This introductory theme is stated throughout the thirteen-minute work in a variety of ways. These
include ascending and descending arpeggios comprised of the 3rd, 5th, 7th and sharp 9th, or as a
series of chord stacks written as sustained half notes.

Sharp-nine harmony with alternate bass notes


Like quartal harmony, sharp-nine harmony is so flexible that a single stack of notes can mean
many different things. For example, the stack of notes (bottom to top) E-G-Bb-D# would
typically be thought of as a C dominant 7 sharp-nine chord, with no root in the voicing. However,
as shown in Figure 6.7, this same stack of four notes can also sound excellent over many other
bass notes.
Figure 6.7 A sharp-nine sounding stack with three alternate bass notes
r7(|9)

(=l(l>9,omit7)

\n
*

QI>9(I9,13)

V~P
m\

7(9,811)

Ellington appears to have had this flexibility firmly in mind when he created Reminiscing in
Tempo. In measures 9-16, Ellington continues the same sequence of chords used in measures 1-8
(now as a 4-note arpeggio including the 3rd, 5th, 7th and sharp 9th). The latter three arpeggios
appear to be dominant 7 sharp-nine chords moving downward chromatically. However, he
places the final arpeggio over a different root to produce a different chord progression. As shown
in Figure 6.8, the original Fma6, Ab7#9, G7#9, Gb7#9 progression is changed to Fma6, Ab7#9,
G7#9,C7b9(13).

Figure 6.8 Four-note arpeggios using the sound of sharp mnths

Reminiscing in Tempo
Measures 9-11 (repeated for 12-16)

In many places throughout the remainder of the piece, Ellington repeats the same sequence of
chords. They are played as arpeggios or as stacks of notes that appear to be chromatically
descending dominant 7 sharp-nine chords, but Ellington places some chords over different roots
to produce different chord progressions, such as:
Fma6, D7(b9,13), G7(#9), C7(b9,13)producing typical I-VI-II-V root movement
Fma6, D7(b9,13), G7(#9), Gb7(#9)
Fma6, D7(b9,13), Db7(b9,13), C7(b9,13)
Multiple appearances of this chromatic sequence of arpeggios or stacks of notes (comprising the
same diminished triad with a major 7th) occur in the piece with little alteration. For the purpose
of the current discussion, the above illustrations are all provided in the same basic key. In the
course of Reminiscing, Ellington modulates to several different keys, but utilizes the same chord
relationships.
Figure 6.9 shows an excerpt from Reminiscing (measures 49-52) that uses the same sound of
chromatically descending dominant 7 sharp-nine chords played as sustained half notes by the
reeds in a Drop-2 voicing, and with bass notes that alter the functions of some chords:

65
Figure 6.9 Sustained sharp-nine sounds in Drop-2 voicings

Reminiscing in Tempo
Measures 49-50 (repeated for 51-52)

Despite these variations, the essence of the introductory theme is still very apparent. Figure 7.0
shows an excerpt from Reminiscing (measures 190-91) containing a striking example of the three
chromatically descending dominant 7 sharp-nine chords, played by a combination of reeds, brass,
and basses:
Figure 6.10 Combined arpeggios and orchestra chords in Reminiscing in Tempo

Q7(9)

*t

2 Clarinets
Alto Sax
Trumpet 2

Trombones 2&3

String Basses

fei

ag

B1*7(19)

B7(*9)

IP^Wf

P^^

&

\$-

9-

^s

(unis. double stops)

The example above is a short portion of a marvelously inventive, ten-measure section of


Reminiscing in Tempo (measures 188-97, or 8:55 in the recording) in which both treatments of
the introductory theme occur simultaneously (as stacks of half notes and as arpeggios). Over the
course of these ten measures, Ellington gradually moves from chordal accompaniment containing
simple five-part harmony to highly complex dominant 7 chords with multiple, altered extensions.

66
At the same time, he substitutes alternate bass notes, all the while maintaining the strict repetition
of the original arpeggiated figure in the clarinets.

Conclusion
Ellington's very deliberate use of sharp-nine chords is a strong example of the way in which he
adopted a modern sound as soon as it came into popular use among progressive jazz musicians
during the 1930s. It remained an important device in both his piano playing and his writing
throughout his entire career.

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

Chapter 7

Ellington's Multifocal ism


Ellington's music is unique because it is consistently infused with techniques that I group under the
term multifocalism. The term describes musical methods used to deliberately deny the listener's
natural tendency to focus on a single musical element.1

Ellington is not the first composer whose music has many points of interest occurring at one time.
Within classical music, there are many interesting examples of this, such as Stravinksy's Les Noces,
Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder, or Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The following Figure 7.1 shows an
excerpt from first Chorus of the 5/. Matthew Passion, in which there are two separate choirs singing
in dialogue with each other, two separate orchestras accompanying them (but not doubling the
singers), and a third choir of treble voices that enters with a traditional chorale written on a fully
separate theme.

As of this writing, "multifocalism" appears to be an unused term. A similar term, multifocality, is used in
medicine to describe multiple points where formation of disease occurs. In optics, multifocality is used to
describe the ability demonstrated in some aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates to focus multiple wavelengths of
light when viewing objects that are equidistant from the lens of the eye.

Figure 7.1 Multiple simultaneous points of interest in Bach's St. Matthew Passion

^ ^

^ ^ ^ ^

^ ^

^ ^ ^

Multiple overlapping elements are familiar in classical music. However, Ellington's work stands out
in jazz writing for its preponderance of simultaneous musical ideas, plus its use of several effective
orchestration devices that make it nearly impossible for a listener to attend to the main melody, or to
absorb all the vital elements of the music in a single listening.
Whether or not Ellington would have described his own music as containing multiple points of focus,
he consistently applied the aesthetic throughout his career to create interest in his pieces. I am
convinced that Ellington did this in a deliberate and conscious way, almost as if by formula, and not
merely as an intuitive method.2

Through study and transcription of Ellington scores, I have found that he created multifocalism in his
music using four primary methods:

I. Ambiguity of Lead - Ellington was masterful at finding ways to obscure the melody or lead line in
the orchestra so that the listener's attention is drawn elsewhere. Even when only a single musical idea
was stated (such as a harmonized melody with accompaniment), he still found ways to draw attention
away from the main notes of melody and focus the ear on the harmony supporting it.

II. Counterpoint and Multiple Simultaneous Elements - In almost every measure of an Ellington
score, there are multiple elements occurring simultaneously (two, three or four musical lines, plus
occasional injections of other sounds that draw the listener's attention).3 This takes full advantage of
what is for most listeners the upper limit (in this writer's experience) of their ability to follow
multiple, separate musical ideas (three is fairly standard, four is quite difficult for most listeners).

It is interesting that Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's writing and arranging companion, also used what can be
considered multifocalism. One wonders if this was per instruction from his boss, or merely due to the two men
having shared musical tastes.

Multiple simultaneous elements vs. improvised solos: An obvious exception to any claim that Ellington
employed multiple simultaneous elements on a near-constant basis may be found when a soloist in the band was
asked to improvise. In these instances, Ellington adopted the standard jazz aesthetic of letting the listener's
attention be absorbed fully by the soloist and his/her interaction with the accompanying rhythm section.)

70
III. Adding "Dirt" to a Chord - Ellington frequently added upper extensions to his chords (9ths, 1 lths,
13ths), placing them in such a way that they created half-step dissonance and/or clusters of notes in
the middle of the chord voicing.
IV. Ellington-Style Call-and-Response - A classic device used everywhere in jazz, Ellington
employed call-and-response in unique ways whenever multiple simultaneous elements were
impractical. See Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging") for a discussion of how call-andresponse helps writers to avoid the pitfalls of "simultaneous harmonization." Ellington refined calland-response to a fine art, and used it liberally whenever he needed to draw the listener's attention
away from the more obvious elements in his music.
These four methods are discussed in detail below, with illustrative examples of each excerpted
from various Ellington scores.

I. Ambiguity of Lead
As discussed earlier in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"), jazz bands in the early
1930s were playing in ever-larger dance halls. This created a need for the jazz ensembles to become
larger, and to employ more wind players (often four or more reed players and six or more brass
players). There evolved from this trend a classic style of orchestrating for large jazz ensembles that
can be described as homophony with harmonization below melody linesthat is, harmonization of
melodic phrases using chord tones that are stacked below the melody notes, with all voices moving
together rhythmically, and essentially in parallel. This became one of the great hallmarks of jazz
orchestration. Its use allowed the jazz band to expand from three wind players (such as we see in the
New Orleans or Dixieland band) to fifteen or more winds, without their musically colliding with each
other during performance.
Ellington vs. Classic-Style Arranging
Classic jazz orchestration places the melody at the top of the stack of anything an ensemble plays, so
the listener's ear can quickly zero-in on the line played by the highest instrument. It is usually the lead
brass player or the lead reed player that is responsible for the melody, with all other players following
along in harmony beneath that lead line to form a chord with each melodic note. Even with 9th, 11th

71
and 13th extensions adding to the richness of a chord, the lead voice is left as the prominent tone to
which the listener's ear is drawn.

The effect of classic orchestration is often compounded by the lead instrument playing melodic
material in its most prominent range. In most cases, a lower instrument will play in parallel octaves
with the lead, reinforcing the melodic line yet further and de-emphasizing the presence of any other
voices playing harmony. This focuses the listener's attention where it "ought" to be: the melody or
lead line in the phrase.

Ellington generally avoided the classic jazz orchestration style. Instead, he used techniques that
obscured the melody or lead line. To the listener, Ellington's melody notes are surrounded on all
sides by other instruments whose notes seem equally important The ear often follows those other
parts, and fails to focus on the primary melody notes. I refer to this as creating ambiguity of lead.

Ellington employed five main methods to achieve ambiguity of lead:


1. Avoid doubling the melody or lead voice
2. Create transparency using drop-2 or drop-2-and-4 voicings
3. Place the melody or lead in the middle of the orchestra's sound
4. Use the high range of low instruments
5. Reverse traditional roles by placing the melody low and accompaniment high

1. Avoid doubling the melody or lead voice

ff the melody or lead voice was placed at the top of the ensemble, then Ellington avoided doubling it
with reinforcement one octave below. For example, when five wind instruments are playing together
(one on the melody notes and four others harmonizing with the melody), Ellington gave separate
harmony pitches to the four accompanying voices so that none of them doubled the melody in unison
or in octaves. Figure 7.2 shows a simple melodic line (E-F-G) harmonized for five instruments in a
classic block-voicing style (five voices in closed four-part harmony with the melody doubled 8vb),
compared with the same melodic line harmonized as Ellington would have preferred (that is, five
voices in five-part harmony):

Figure 7.2 Block voicing vs. five-part harmony

C9

Al>o7(9)

A 1 * 07

Q9(13)

(passing)

(passing)
*

>g fit gfc

Closed 4-part harmony


(with octave doubling of melody)

Closed 5-part harmony

When an ensemble has more than five wind instruments, the classic extended-block voicing is
traditionally used to double the melody and the three harmony notes already used in the chord.
However, as Ellington discovered, it is possible to add different harmony notes and avoid reinforcing
the melody. Figure 7.3 shows a side-by-side comparison of the same simple melodic line (E-F-G)
harmonized for eight instruments using classic extended-block voicing, compared with the same
melody voiced as Ellington would have preferred, using seven-part harmony with no doubling of the
melody:

Figure 7.3 Harmonization for eight instruments without doubling the melody

c9

c9

^Q(13)

C9(|11)

k7
(passing)
A

AHJS

C9(11)

{passing)
*

f=|EE3Ei=r=

m ^i-Mf
4-part Extended Block

tf

itf <M

fe Kf
7-part harmony
(with no doubling of melody)

Figure 7.4 contains an excerpt from Ellington's 1957 version of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue
(measures 43-4), showing chords played by the seven-piece brass section. In this example, little or no
doubling of the lead occurs:

73
Figure 7.4 Harmonization for seven-piece brass without doubling the lead/melody

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brochnan
.A

Measures 43-44

Trumpet 1

2^

E=IE

Trumpet 2

^t.

ay

71

Trumpet 3
$

Trumpet 4
T*=

Trombone 1

r-

1=1

Trombone 2

^Ff

Trombone 3

Bass

>

i>

In the above example, there is deliberate doubling of all but one note of the 4th trumpet part by the 1st
trombone (playing in unison). This seems to be a purposeful attempt to draw the listener's attention
away from the melody being played by the lead trumpet, giving some prominence to the harmony
notes of the 4th trumpet/1st trombone.

Figure 7.5 shows another instance in which Ellington avoids the duplication of the lead melody. It
contains a slightly earlier-occurring excerpt (measures 31-42) from the score of Diminuendo and
Crescendo in Blue:
Figure 7.5 Brass harmonization with little doubling anywhere

c~,*~

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue


2
DuteEBimgWn
Trams Bnxtxutm

fe

gin

^ i

as m*

Trampet2

Tnnnpet3

TrmDpet4

Us

4'

i^lMU^p

pi

^ ^

3sP

^ i

3S ^ ^

PP

1 1

'i^y^jii'jjj ' ' j j j u ^ ' J i ' ^

nn i l=p mm
^
C

mm *m ms mm

we

JWJJjjI'jJp

*PF

ta

m% S P

mm w

US

m mS=3

i H i in

*?=

nm

ta

Wf

Pip

^ E

G'

In the above example, Ellington very nearly avoids any doubling of notes anywhere within the brass
section. Each brass player is virtually alone on bis part.

The above example also illuminates a central reason why Ellington's brass writing often sounds
different from that of other writers: he typically wrote for only seven brass instruments (four trumpets
and three trombones) and the treatment shown is typical of many Ellington scores. Seven brass
instruments playing seven separate pitches have a balance, clarity, and absence of weight that many
writers lose by doubling some notes (especially the lead trumpet note) at the octave. Seven-brass
instrumentation allows room for a stack of chord tones in which no one need double the lead trumpet.
Given that a jazz chord can easily contain seven individual pitches (the root, 3rd, 5th, 6th or 7th, 9th,
11th, and 13th), a chord can be constructed using seven brass instruments in which each player fills a
specific, individual role.

Had Ellington added a fourth trombone into the above example, it would have meant asking one of
the trombones to double a trumpet, or would have required fitting some additional chord tone or
extension into the lower octave of the voicing. In such situations there is often no room to gracefully
add a low note into the voicing without crowding those notes together. Doing so frequently results in
the low "rumbling" effect where the interval between the bottom notes of the chord is not large
enough for individual pitches to be heard. Another advantage to using three trombones is that it
becomes quite easy to recreate a standard left-hand piano voicing used by jazz players. For these and
many reasons, Ellington stuck with three trombones for his entire career (beginning in 1932 with the
addition of Lawrence Brown, as discussed in Chapter 8, "Tailoring to Musical Personalities").
Like Ellington, Billy Strayhom also avoided doubling the lead. Figure 7.6 contains an excerpt
(measures 26-30) from Strayhorn's 1941 composition Chelsea Bridge, showing a five-part reed soli
that is a brilliant example of intense harmony in which no part doubles the lead clarinet:
Figure 7.6 Reed soli in five-part harmony

Chelsea Bridge

Concert Score

Reed Soli
comp. Billy Strayhorn
trans. Brockman

a.
Alto

Alto

Ten

Ban

lVt

'LH^

$^ > T n

Ws^s uL

P>

iTnrU

r i -TO^J.

*'

* *SJ7\ .TO
,UfT f f f f r f frY'
7

,ro

=i
j ' Jij
*LJ

JJ J>,J J

=I

2. Create transparency using Drop-2 or Drop-2-and-4 voicings

In classic closed-position voicings (including closed four-part, block, and extended block voicings),
sonic "opacity" prevents the listener from discerning any of the individual harmonizing voices in the
chord (for a full explanation, see Chapter 2, "The Advent of Big Band Arranging"). In function,
closed-position voicing causes a melody line at the top of an ensemble to be the only element in the
music to which the listener can attend. All other notes sound as part of a compact mass. By using
drop-2 and/or drop-2-and-4 voicings, the instruments in the ensemble are spread out, providing a
sonic transparency that lets the listener follow something other than the topmost melody line.
Ellington used these techniques in many situations and a variety of ways.
With four-part harmonization
Drop-2 and drop-2-and-4 voicings can be applied to a simple four-part harmonization very
effectively. Figure 7.7 shows the same simple melodic line (E-F-G) set in four-part harmonization
using a standard closed-position voicing, and compares it to the same four-part harmonization with
the drop-2 voicing and drop-2-and-4 voicing applied to each harmonized stack:

Figure 7.7 Four-part in Closed, Drop-2, and Drop-2-and-4 voicings

C9

A^ 07

C9

C9

(passing)

(passing)

Closed 4-part harmony

c9

A^ 07

'33

9-

4-part Drop-2

>!>o7

C (passing)
'" v
**

vm

w-~&

4-part Drop-2-and-4

In the above drop-2 example, the bottom notes in the ensemble immediately emerge as an audible
alternative melody to which the listener can attend. In the drop-2-and-4 example, there is so much
transparency in the ensemble that any of the parts can draw the listener's ear. Indeed, the topmost
melody line seems to almost disappear with a lack of importance.

Figure 7.8 contains an excerpt from Reminiscing in Tempo, a four-measure interlude (m. 206-9) in
which the reed section plays a variety of four-part chords in drop-2 voicings, all over pedal C in the
string bass.

Figure 7.8 Reed section in four-part harmony using drop-2 voicing

Reminiscing in Tempo

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. M. Brockman

Saxophone Interlude - Measures 206-209


(D7)

(Ddim7)

(BbMa6)

f w^w

Tenor Sax

f*
Baritone Sax

?H

(D7)

(Ddim7)

(BbMa6)

(C7sus)

m
f

m
'i a
P^
R.

Alto Sax 1

Alto Sax 2

(C7sus)

m
,n,n^
Solo

Trumpet

String Bass

f.j ,n,n,7\ v,mm\ mn,n\

Drop-2 and drop-2-and-4 voicing can also be applied to chords in block voicing (where the melody
line is doubled at the octave). Figure 7.9 shows the same simple melodic line (E-F-G) harmonized in
closed four-part block (five voices in four-part harmony with the melody doubled 8vb), and the same
harmonization using drop-2 voicing and drop-2-and-4 voicings.
Figure 7.9 Harmonized melody with octave doubling in Block, Drop-2, and Drop-2-and-4 voicings

c9

C9

A l.07

C9

(passing)

(passing)

4 iH

A^07 c 9

Closed 4-part Block

1=t

Drop-2 voicing

C9

A 1 ' 07 C 9
(passing)

ea:

W^

Drop-2&4 voicing

The drop-2 and drop-2-and-4 voicmgs shown above make all lower voices of the chords more
audible. Nevertheless, the melody retains its prominence in all three of the above examples because it
is reinforced with octave doubling.
With five-part harmonization

As discussed in Chapter 3 ("Basic Principles of Early Jazz Piano"), a five-note chord can potentially
contain a great deal of harmonic information, ff we consider the usual practice of omitting the root
where possible, the 5-note chord normally comprises the 3rd and 7th, possibly the 5th, and two or
even three extensions. Since no single voice in the chord is doubled, no particular part sticks out as
the primary point of focus.

If set in closed voicing (that is, all notes within the space of an octave), a five-note chord is almost a
"tone cluster", sounding so tightly woven that individual pitches are difficult to discern. A drop-2
voicing lets individual voices be heardespecially the note that falls at the bottom of the voicing as a
result of applying the drop-2 assignment. This is because the lowest note in a drop-2 voicing is
usually separated from the pitch above it by the interval of a 4th or 5th. Four chords containing five
notes in closed position are shown in Figure 7.10, each followed immediately by the same chord in
drop-2 voicing:

Figure 7.10 Five-part chords in Closed and Drop-2 voicings


CM

.7(111)

8*3E *

Bt rra.9(13)

,I>9(13)

p7(9,13)

:kzg

VW \
t

^QT

*'3E=6'Z

TO

The transparency of drop-2 and drop-2-and-4 can be combined with five-part harmonization to yield
startling results. Figure 7.11 shows the same simple melodic line (E-F-G) harmonized in classic
closed four-part block voicing (five voices in four-part harmony with the melody doubled 8vb), and
then harmonized as Ellington might have donethat is, as five separate parts, with either a drop-2
voicing or a drop-2-and-4 voicing applied to each harmonized stack:

Figure 7.11 Combined effects of five-part harmonization and Drop-2 or Drop-2-and-4 voicings

C9

A 1 " 57 C 9
(passing)

C 9 AAto7(h3)
C 9(13)
p
(passing)

\*^\==fcl

Closed 4-part Block

5-part Drop-2

Q9

^l07(h3) Q9(13)
(passing)

** '13

5-part Drop-2&4

In the above example, the combined effects of five-part harmonization and drop-2 voicing bring
immediate focus to the bottom notes in the ensemble. In the drop-2-and-4 example, there is so much
transparency in the ensemble that any of the parts can draw the listener's ear. The added interest
created by each stack comprising five different harmony notes makes the sequence of notes in any of
the harmony parts very interesting to follow. Those harmony parts have far more character than the
lead melody, which seems to disappear with a lack of importance.

Comparing the classic four-part block example on the left with the five-part drop-2 example or the
drop-2-and-4 example shown above, it is astounding to realize that all three methods developed at the
same time, out of the same early jazz tradition. Ellington was using all of these by the time he wrote
his 1935 masterpiece, Reminiscing in Tempo.

Excellent examples of five-part chords in both drop-2 and drop-2-and-4 voicings can also be found
throughout Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. Figure 7.12 contains an excerpt from this piece
(measures 89-94) in which the reeds play five-part chords in drop-2 voicings while a solo trumpet
plays a simple call-and-response figure against them:

Figure 7.12 Saxophones in five-part Drop-2

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue

Concert Score

Measures 89-94
Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

tfc

Alto Sax 1

St

Alto Sax 2

Tenor Sax 1

fig

Tenor Sax 2

Baritone Sax

^ ^ 5

stfe

y ^t.S>,

*f

j . y $>

J- 7

waft wan

* 1>W'

' ~

J- V J" J

J--F

^>

**

*' ' u

fT

rf- 7 V4
wan

wan

waft

waft

Trumpet

String Bass

pwh

////i//// !////[////

1////I//S

The following Figure 7.13 contains an excerpt (measures 77-82) from the very striking saxophone
soli in Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue, comprised entirely of five-part chords in drop-2-and-4
voicings:

Figure 7.13 Saxophones in five-part Drop-2-and-4


Concert Score

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue


Saxophone Soli - Measures 77-82

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Alto Sax 1

Alto Sax 2

^\\

J- ^JJ-jJiJ 1 f ^ U j lj_J]*l*l- f^JjJ-^nlnJJ.JTj

4^

J- ^J> J i ^

fv\\

/ / 1 /I////I / / / /!////!/ / / /!/

Tenor Sax 1

(L r-*: \

J]i\r fiCi.
}P^

Ml* m

r-_.b

EEs3

ijji^

^ * ** 'J J M

Tenor Sax 2

Baritone Sax

String Bass

/^

The five-part reed 50/1* of Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge (an excerpt of which is shown in Figure 7.6,
earlier in this chapter) is also an excellent example of five-part Drop-2-and-4 voicing. Strayhorn not
only chose interesting notes to harmonize the lead melody, he exposed all of those notes to the
listener's ear by spreading them apart.

A five-note chord in a drop-2 or drop-2-and-4 voicing results in a very sophisticated sound with lots
of inherent harmonic interest and with all five notes in balance, so the ear can be directed to any pitch
in the chord. Most arrangers of the 1930s would have arranged the above saxophone soli using
standard four-part block voicing in which the melody/lead line is doubled at the octave. Ellington
(and his junior partner, Strayhorn) followed other, less obvious paths for harmonization and voicing,
resulting in multifocalism.

3. Place the melody or lead in the middle of the orchestra's sound

Placing the melody or lead part in a middle-range instrument, and then harmonizing above it (as well
as below it), is another effective way in which Ellington obscured the melody.

Figure 7.14 shows the same simple melodic line (E-F-G) placed m the voice that is fourth from the
top of each stack of notes (the melody is indicated with diamond-shaped note-heads) with harmonized
parts placed above and below the melody:
Figure 7.14 Lead melody part in middle of orchestra

C9

C9

jZg:

mH f
4-part Extended Block
Melody in Middle
(doubled 8vb)

gg=

EF:

t# \H *f
4-part harmony
Melody in Middle
(7 voices - no double of melody)

In the above figure, the six instruments accompanying the melody are arrayed above and below it in
four-part harmony. The example at the left includes the bottommost voice in the ensemble doubling
the melody one octave lower. This creates an effect similar to block voicing by reinforcing the
melody to give it prominence. The example at the right has no doubling of the melody, leaving the
fourth voice from the top playing the main melody by itself. In this case, the melody will be mostly
bidden unless the player of that part can project well over the accompanying parts.

Placing the melody in the mid-range voice (such as the third or fourth part from the top of the reed
section) became a favorite technique for Ellington. This was to a large extent because, beginning in
1927, the lowest reed chair in the orchestra was filled by the venerable baritone saxophonist, Harry
Carney. Carney's flexibility and virtuosity gave Ellington great incentive to write melodies in the
mid-range of the orchestra, at or near the top of the baritone saxophone range, where Carney had a
remarkable ability to project his sound over the entire orchestra at any volume.4

Until the addition of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster in 1940, the Ellington reed section consisted of Otto
Hardwick (saxophones), Barney Bigard (clarinet & saxophones), Johnny Hodges (alto saxophone), and Carney
on baritone. The remarkable "doubling" skills of these four players on multiple sizes of saxophone, clarinets,
and other instruments, created the impression of a reed section that was much larger. See Chapter 8 ("Tailoring
to Musical Personalities").

83

An excellent example of Ellington's placing the lead in the middle of the orchestra is shown in Figure
7.15, containing an excerpt from his 1940 composition Dusk, in which the baritone saxophone serves
as the prominent melodic instrument:
Figure 7.15 Baritone saxophone lead

Dusk

Concert Score

Reed section response - Measures 43-44


De Ellington
Trans. Brockman

r E-rr

2EE

Clarinet

K^

h n HT31 j J j> ii

Alto Sax 2

Bari Sax

i*

mM mm

Alto Sax 1

Tenor Sax

=5

String Bass

y^

3P

|j> J H

p r l t l ^ i p r fr

SE

Trombones

F^Pi

* J

-=?-

The above example shows how Ellington, with characteristic rejection of the classic style,
deliberately placed the melody/lead line in the middle of the orchestra (the baritone sax) allowing the
higher instruments to provide harmony. The clarinet reinforces the baritone melody in octaves only
during the few notes following its high trill.

4. Use the high range of low instruments


When any instrument is asked to play in its middle or comfortable range, its sound will typically
blend in ensemble with other mstruments above and below it However, asking an instrument to play
in its extreme upper register usually produces a timbre that is very prominent. When a low or bass
instrument plays in its high range, for example, it will be heard easily over other instruments playing
in that same range and volume. When trumpets are playing comfortably in their middle-low register
(near the bottom of the treble staff), a trombone playing in the treble clef will be more prominent,
since it is playing at its extreme upper range (that is, two or more ledger lines above the bass staff).
Because of this, a high melody can be assigned to a low or bass instrument, and that melody will be
heard by the listener despite the presence of other instruments playing above and below it (so long as
those other instruments are not also in their extreme upper ranges).

When Ellington assigned a melodic role to baritone saxophonist Harry Carney (as described in the
previous discussion of Dusk) he was taking advantage of the baritone saxophone's distinctive timbre
at the top of its range. This became a hallmark of the Ellington sound, and Carney was asked
repeatedly to serve as the melodic lead on many Ellington pieces. He can be heard in this role on most
every Ellington album ever recorded, beginning in 1927 and continuing until the composer's death in
1974. Even when the entire Ellington ensemble played in tutti, Carney could continue to serve as the
lead voice, provided his part was written in a high enough range.

While this is not an example of obscuring the melody like other techniques in multifocalism, it does
cause the listener to be confused about which instruments are carrying the melody. Figure 7.16 shows
an excerpt from Ellington's 1940 composition Jack the Bear in which Carney plays the lead melody
for the entire orchestra:

Figure 7.16 Baritone saxophone lead for the entire orchestra

Jack the Bear

Concert Score

Measures 14-18

Clarinet

Soprano Sax

Alto Sax

mm m
spjjp

in

tirh* i

wP

^
ffij

ife

Trombone 1

,ffftf i,y

Trombone 2

^ ^

Trombone 3

HMf

Drums

fp
*MHN
^

y / / /

t|E^

i ^-*- 33

f J r r ir r r T
Solo

Rano

^F^f
Si

,4 in 3

m mm

Trumpet 3

Bass

ifp

Ban Sax

Trumpet 2

pi

yj'JLT =sm

Tenor Sax

Trumpet 1

Dufe Ellington
Trans. Brockman

i r r r r irr

/ /

JJ

E? / / /

PP^

^EEf=f=?

Wf,' ff r r , r r ritf'V
>Jf-Jf-fr^

pPf

^ r - ii

$%f

In the above example, there are three other members of the orchestra (clarinet, trumpet 2, and
trombone) playing at least a portion of the melody line in unison or octaves with the baritone
saxophone. Without listening to the original recording, the reader may not readily understand why

Carney's part sounds more prominent than any other in the ensemble. It is the high tessitura of the
part played on the baritone saxophone that brings Carney into prominence for this recording, despite
the fact that others play in unison with him.
Even with several like instruments playing in unison with him, Carney's baritone sounds as the lead
voice if placed in a high enough register. The following Figure 7.17 contains an excerpt from the
1940 classic, In a Mellotone, in which all five saxophones play in perfect unison:

Figure 7.17 Unison saxophones with baritone lead

In A Mellotone

Transposed Score

Measures 8-12
Unis.

Alto Sax 1

Alto Sax 2

Tenor Sax 1

*i "?j]jjf

Unis.

Tenor Sax 2

t n

TJ]%

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

m
WS

^m
m

iiipp

its

=s^

igU

Urns.
Baritone Sax

Trombones

String Bass

In the above example, altos play in their low range, tenors in their low-mid-range, and baritone in its
mid-high range. Listening to Ellington's 1940 Blanton-Webster Band recording of In a Mellotone, we
hear Carney serving as the lead voice in the saxophone section, despite the other four playing at full
volume.

Aside from the genius of Carney's baritone saxophone playing, the effectiveness of this arranging
technique created heightened awareness of the entire orchestra and its variety of instruments. While
Jack the Bear and Concerto for Cootie were created as solo features for bassist Jimmy Blanton and

trumpeter Cootie Williams, respectively, the pieces were brilliant excursions for the enure band as
well.
Ellington was frequently able to place melodies in the middle of the orchestra, thanks not only to
Harry Carney, but also to trombonists Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, and Sam Nanton (the addition of
these players to the band is discussed in Chapter 8, "Tailoring to Musical Personalities"). Each of
these players had remarkable versatility. Each could serve as a section player or soloist at any time,
and with great control in the high register of the trombone, could deliver a very robust lead melody.

5. Reverse traditional roles by placing the melody low a n d accompaniment high

Aside from the two previously discussed techniques (placement of melodies in high ranges of low
instruments and placement of melodies in the middle of the orchestra's sound), Ellington also enjoyed
completely reversing the roles of high and low instruments by placing a melody at the bottom of the
orchestra, and the accompaniment far above i t This throws off the listener's normal expectations. It
places into question which musical line is actually the melody and which others serve as
accompaniment. The listener is fooled into initially giving his/her attention to the highest parts, and is
perhaps unaware that the actual melody for the piece is at the bottom of the ensemble. Figure 7.18
shows an excerpt from Dusk in which the clarinet plays the main melody at the very bottom of its
range while the muted trumpet and trombone provide harmony high above it:

Figure 7.18 Reversal of roles between high and low instruments

Dusk

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Final four measures


B"Ma6

Trumpet
(muted)

^ > L[!fV I'

ftl>7(9)

B^Ma6 F * 7 E^
*"\>r
*

1 Y

F 7 B1,
^

3
3

Trombone
(muted)

^\ J13J

i-

/T\

Clarinet

IPi^^Tip^Ti

88

The technique shown in the above example is the same one Ellington used to create his 1931 hit from
the band's Cotton Club era, Mood Indigo. Both pieces achieve ambiguity of lead by exchanging or
mixing up roles for the instruments: the quiet, low clarinet provides the melody, the trombone plays
in an uncharacteristically high range, and the high trumpet provides very high harmony.

II. Counterpoint and Multiple Simultaneous Elements


The use of multiple simultaneous elements has long occurred in various art forms, including painting
and photography, as well as literary or theater works in which multiple dialogues or stories take place
at the same time. In music, there are countless examples of polyphony (where two or more musical
ideas or parts occur simultaneously), and counterpoint (a subset of polyphony that denotes careful
alignment between contrasting parts, so that all parts sound harmonious together and combine to
create a meaningful whole). The great masters of the European Renaissance perfected polyphony
and counterpoint, and these are also vital parts of the traditional music in most cultures of subSaharan Africa and its derivatives around the globe.

The New Orleans Aesthetic: Counterpoint

There is an outstanding tradition in the tapestry of American musical art that makes prominent use of
counterpoint: New Orleans jazz. 5 This revered and highly evolved style is filled with very active and
near-constant counterpoint created by three independent musical lines layered one on top of the other.
There is usually a cornet (or trumpet) playing melodic lead lines, a trombone providing slower paced
counterpoint below the cornet, and a clarinet producing higher paced obbligato lines above the
trumpet. All of this is accompanied by a rhythm section of at least three players (typically pianodrums-bass, or piano-drums-tuba, or banjo-drums-bass, or any such mixture). The bass line, though
primarily comprising only root/5th/root/5th movement on each chord of the piece, could technically

Multiple simultaneous elements as a pervasive part of New Orleans jazz, and indeed, of almost every AfricanAmerican musical form, has been the subject of numerous fascinating Ethnomusicological studies, especially
those of Oily Wilson, Frank Tirro, and (the legendary) Eileen Southern. A brief discussion of Wilson's article,
The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal in African-American Music adds interest to Chapter 8 ("Tailoring to Musical
Personalities").

89
be considered a fourth line of counterpoint The contrapuntal lines forming New Orleans jazz are
essentially improvised; they are not constructed with the careful crafting and interwoven texture
associated with such great masters of counterpoint as Palestrina. Rather, the three or four
simultaneous lines in New Orleans jazz are independent and highly contrasting, yet complementary of
one another.

The aesthetic of highly active counterpoint was perpetuated in American music when New Orleans
jazz spread during the early twentieth century throughout the United States by radio broadcasts,
distribution of popular records, and the migration of musicians. This spawned the creation of new jazz
styles in Chicago, Memphis, New York, SL Louis, and the entire nation, as American popular music
evolved from ragtime to fox-trots, and dance styles increasingly embraced the sounds of jazz.

Ellington Retained Counterpoint


As discussed in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"), contrapuntal styles such as New
Orleans jazz and Chicago jazz could be played by small ensembles with limited numbers of horns.
However, large jazz ensembles in general shied away from these styles. By the 1930s, most jazz
writers had abandoned the contrapuntal, multi-layered style of New Orleans jazz and its derivatives
as the ensembles they wrote for grew in size.

Fletcher Henderson is an example of a big band leader and composer who moved away from
counterpoint in the 1930s. Ellington stated clearly in his autobiography, Music is My Mistress, that
Henderson and his big band were a major inspiration. Indeed, Henderson can be considered the greatgrandfather of all jazz band orchestrators. It is unknown whether Henderson stopped using
counterpoint through personal choice or due to market demands for music that was danceable. In any
event, there are very few examples of counterpoint in Henderson's many works.

Ellington, on the other hand, never gave up the aesthetic of multi-layered counterpoint. Instead, he
found numerous ways around the inherent problems created when each separate contrapuntal line is
to be executed by multiple performers in a large, modern ensemble comprising fourteen players or
more. While Ellington and his early jazz-writing contemporaries (Don Redman, Jimmie Lunceford,
Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, et al.) created, developed and mastered the art of orchestrating for
"the great American jazz orchestra," it is Ellington who stands apart from all other jazz writers of the

90
time. In many ways he is unparalleled as a jazz composer. I believe this is in great part due to his
continued and consistent use of counterpoint.

Ellington's Multiple Simultaneous Elements

Much of Ellington's counterpoint was written in traditional ways so that the multiple parts sound
harmonious and combine to create a meaningful whole. However, Ellington's use of multiple
simultaneous elements goes beyond what can be described as counterpoint He often employed
multiple ideas that do not combine into a meaningful whole. Rather, he deliberately inserted separate
ideas into his music, as if one were hearing multiple conversations at one time, with each
conversation discussing a different topic. Separate ideas were often polyrhythmic (that is, using
contrasting rhythms that do not necessarily fit together or share similar rhythmic subdivisions).
Ellington often used distortion of timbre (such as a special mute on a trombone or trumpet, or a
growling tone) to draw attention to one musical line or idea. Some ideas were short, judiciously
placed bursts of sound that we could simply call noise, and that essentially "interrupt" the surrounding
musical ideas. He combined all of these with counterpoint in his music to create a sense that there was
constantly more than one thing going on.

Examples of Multiple Simultaneous Elements

Ellington's 1940 composition Harlem Airshaft presents multiple simultaneous elements, mixed
together in very inventive ways, employing polyrhythm and counterpoint It is as an excellent
example for listening and for viewing as a printed score. Figure 7.19 contains an excerpt from Harlem
Airshaft (measures 80-4) during which a clarinet solo is accompanied by harmonized trombones
playing a rhythmically complex melody, plus unison saxophones playing in call-and-response with
the trombones:

91
Figure 7.19 Multiple simultaneous elements in Harlem Airshaft

Harlem Airshaft

Concert Score

Clarinet solo - Measures 80-84


Solo

Clarinet

Alto Sax

Alto Sax

m ^5
s

Dufe Ellington
Trans. Brochnan

sa rf

m m
>J^JJJJJ

|S

* ^JJJJI.J

Tenor Sax

Ban Sax

Trombone 1

Trombone 2

Trombone 3

f t t t

Guitar

it

&t

f-r+ r

ir

r f r

Drums

F=R?

I I I I

Rano

3^5

Bass

II

J t

/ / 7 / / / =fc/ / /

i^^f
=J I

I I J

r ^ !Ft f *
I I I

56/

f f i

In the above example, the vivid contrasts between the trombones, saxophones, and solo clarinet result
in a confusing mixture of sounds and ideas. The listener has no idea which part to follow. The
individual parts seem unrelated, yet they are well crafted to fit together like pieces of an interesting
puzzle. If the ensemble playing this passage were reduced to one clarinet, one trombone, and one
saxophone (or a trumpet playing the saxophone melody) plus a rhythm section, it might sound very
similar to New Orleans jazz.

92
In the course of the piece, which lasts nearly three minutes, there is constant mixture of disparate
ideas. Ellington uses call-and-response throughout (similar to the example above), even as
accompaniment during two improvised trumpet solos. During these solos the accompaniment often
commands so much attention that it overwhelms the solo. The end of the piece arrives with all parts
of the band playing at full volume, and three simultaneous elements occurring, each with its own
melodic or rhythmic fascination. The listener is never given any clue about which of those things
might be considered "the main idea."
Ellington's 1939 composition Ko-Ko serves as another excellent example of the use of multiple
simultaneous elements. It includes polyrhythm and counterpoint, the insertion of noisy chords by the
piano, and timbral distortion that draws the listener's attention. Table 7.a shows a time sequence for
the piece as it alternates between two, three, and four simultaneous musical elements.
Table 7.a - Simultaneous musical elements in Ko-Ko
Time

No. of

Description

Simultaneous
Elements
0:00

Ban sax plays rhythmic pedal tone on Eb; Trombones play syncopated figures in
harmony.

0:12

0:30

Solo trombone plays in call-and-response against harmonized reeds.


Plunger muted trombone solo; Reeds play unison answer. All remaining brass play chords
using plunger mutes in a repeated, syncopated riff.

0:50

1:07

Similar to previous section, but piano plays heavy chord punches in each empty space.
Saxes play unison in call-and-response with harmonized, rhythmic trumpets still using
plunger mutes; Solo piano plays ascending/descending scales over a wide range.

1:26

Low, unison trumpets play repeated melodic line; High reeds play harmonized chords;
Middle reeds play a syncopated answer to them; Trombones play rhythmic chords.

1:44

2:03

3 answered by

Reeds, trombones and trumpets stack up with pyramid entrances to form a huge chord;

Solo bass answers (this occurs three times).

Brass and clarinet combine to play large chords in dense voicings; Bass plays quick
walking line similar to solo; Unison saxes play melodic line; Piano plays heavy chord
punch in each empty space.

2:20

Shortened reprise of introduction (Eb pedal by the bari sax with trombones in syncopated
chords), decrescendo down to pianissimo.

2:34

Four-measure crescendo to the end begins with trumpets playing chords; Reeds play
ascending melodic line to high note; Trombones continue syncopated chords until final
whole notes; Bass plays active melodic line in eighth notes.

Figure 7.20 shows an excerpt from Ko-Ko at 1:26 (measures 59-62), an example of the use of four
simultaneous elements:
Figure 7.20 Simultaneous musical elements in Ko-Ko

Ko-Ko

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Measures 59-62

Clarinet

pi

f ff

Alto Sax

p rr P P

Alto Sax

pm

* P rpr P

"^m

, f ff f

te

f|f

hfff'

flf

?PPP
vpr r p

Tenor Sax

Ban Sax

JIM

Ohis.

Trumpet 1

Trumpet 2

Trumpet 3

Trombone 1

Trombone 2

^s

* ut *

Trombone 3

^m

* f]J

Guitar

Drums

fete

/ / / / = / /
t

r rrr

String Bass

t t

pp

j^^-^i

* err *
'" -yi-" ^

"jy

ar *

*f

i 11 r i r r f r

/ = 7 = / / / =F= / / / 5E
t

t 3 = /

/ / jE / / /
EEESE

Piano

j<r

94

The inventive juxtaposition of simultaneous ideas such as that shown in the above excerpt is
continued throughout the entire two minutes and forty seconds of Ko-Ko. This demonstrates the sort
of genius that separated Ellington from his peers: he found numerous clever ways to set multiple,
disparate musical elements against one another. Two musical elements that might seem incompatible
to the average composer/arranger were ripe material for Ellington. This is not to say that a writer such
as Fletcher Henderson would have been incapable of cleverly combining such ideas. I assert only that
his style of writing evolved to serve his listening audiences, who expected to immediately grasp the
music without the need for repeated listening. Ellington's best works, exemplified by Ko-Ko and
Concerto for Cootie, require repeated listening.

III. Adding "Dirt" to a Chord


As described in Chapter 3 ("Basic Principles of Early Jazz Piano"), a jazz writer can add the 9th,
11th, and 13th extensions of a chord to create harmonic richness. Extensions can be used to
accentuate any chord, including chords providing sustained accompaniment from the orchestra or
those harmonizing a moving melody. Chord extensions can be mixed and combined in numerous
ways, and can be altered up or down by half steps as needed to create interest throughout a musical
piece. During the 1930s, the use of upper extensions became an increasingly common practice for
jazz players and writers, and Ellington used these sounds throughout his career.
Figure 7.21 was first introduced in Chapter 3, and is included here as a reminder. It shows a variety of
7th chords (that is, containing a root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) with various combinations of 9th, 11th and
13th extensions added above them.
Figure 7.21 Results of adding upper extensions above various 7th chords
C-Ma9 Crri9

C7(t9)

C7(l9)

Crri 11

C7(|11)

C9(13)

C'ffe)

C9[hV)

As shown in the above example, placing the 9th, 11th and 13th extensions above the basic notes of a
seventh chord makes the presence of the extensions very obvious to the listener. Rather than place
extensions above the basic chord, Ellington preferred to insert them lower down within the chord,
directly adjacent other chord tones, where they form close intervals. Figure 7.22 shows both a C
major 9 chord and a C dominant 9 chord, each with an added 13th extension placed above the other
notes of the chord; to the right of each of those chords is shown the result of moving the 13th
downward by an octave:
Figure 7.22 Results of placing 13th extensions within the main body of chords
CMa 9 ( l 3 )

CMa 9 ( l 3 )

C9(13)

C9(13)

When the 13th is placed within the main body of a chord, as shown in Figure 7.21, it is directly
adjacent to the 7th and 5th. Note that for the final C dominant 9 chord in the example, the resulting
interval between the 7th and the 13th is a minor 2nd. This is the preferred result from Ellington's
point-of-view. Half-step dissonance in the middle of the chord especially commands the attention of
the listener.

As discussed previously regarding ambiguity of lead, the drop-2 voicing helps draw attention away
from the top melody note, and focuses attention on the bottom note of the chord. Figure 7.23 shows a
four-part G7 chord in Drop-2 voicing and then the same chord with a 13th added in the middle of the
voicing:

Figure 7.23 Dissonant extensions placed in the middle of a drop-2 voicing

G7
o
IT

>7(13)
O

In the G7(13) chord shown above, the presence of half-step dissonance between the notes F and E
draws the listener's attention away from everything else in the chord, including the bottom B that had
previously been the prominent tone in the chord.
Ellington's voicings for large ensembles often included multiple upper extensions, which he preferred
to place into the middle of the ensemble chord, directly adjacent to other chord tones. Figure 7.24
shows three examples G dominant 7 chords, each comprising seven voices as could be played by the
seven-piece instrumentation of the Ellington brass section:

Figure 7.24 Dissonant extensions placed in the middle of a seven-piece brass section chord

G 7 ( te)

IP

Trumpets

Trombones

G 7 ( 19)

551=

JQ_

-o-

---

^ 7 (h3)
G 7 ( to)

5^=
*fc

In the first chord shown above, the upper extensions are placed at the top of the orchestra, where their
presence is clearly audible. The extensions in the second and third chords add harmonic interest
without being obvious, and they create multifocalism by drawing the listener's attention away from
the top of the ensemble. It is doubtful that the listener to the third chord would pay any attention to its
topmost note. Beyond this, the third chord has a quality of warmth and subtle resonance that is very
appealing. The first chord, while containing the same harmonic information, sounds brazen and
forced.

Figure 7.25 shows a striking part of Concerto for Cootie in which Ellington placed extensions
(indicated with triangle-shaped markers) in the middle of several chords to create half steps and/or
clusters of sound:

Figure 7.25 Dissonant nudrange extensions in Concerto for Cootie

Concerto for Cootie

Concert Score

Reeds & Tbn. Response - Measures 14-17


(Dissonant extensions in middle of chords)

a.

4h* j f l ^ r i

AltSaX.

>)l
^l jJP

AltSax.

h'1 jJX)Ui

= 5

if

r^'

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

LLL
|

'

ap

' J J 1" Jg

EQ

Ten.Sax.

Bar.Sax.

Tbn.

Bass

. r i ^ ff
EMa6 E M a 6 ( l FMa6 Fmi11(ls,te)

At each of the points marked with a triangle in the above example, one or more mid-range extensions
create harmonic richness (or dissonance) that subtly draws the listener's attention.

Figure 7.26 shows an excerpt from the climactic portion of Ellington's Ko-Ko, where dominant 7
chords contain all the available altered extensions (b9, #9, b5 and #5), with intense dissonance
occurring between the mid-range melody line and chords tones all around it:

Figure 7.26 Mid-range dissonance in Ko-Ko

Ko-Ko

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Measures 89-92

AJ/Tn/BarSax

*i.ztJ >iM

mm

L,(t5f5>
B >7 (l9l9)

B"7(l9f9)

Clarinet
3 Trumpets

3*i*j

Alto Sax
3 Trombones

String Bass
Piano

nn

friSM
^

Mw

if

E%i 9 (n)

Si

In the above example, the octave C-flats (in the alto sax and the trumpet above it) create prominent
dissonance with the Bb root of the chord. The D-natural in the trombone forms a diminished triad
with the F and Ab in the trumpets, capped by a C# in the high clarinet (thus creating the dominant 7
sharp-nine dissonance described in Chapter 6). In the first measure, the repeated E-naturals in the
saxophone melody line create close harmony with the D-natural in the trombone and piano. In the
second measure, repeated B-flats in the melody create sharp dissonance with the C-flat of the alto sax.

IV. Ellington-Style Call-and-Response


As described in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"), call-and-response has always been
an integral part of jazz and other African-American musical forms.

In Ellington's hands, call-and-response is treated with great skill and departs from the styles of most
other writers. This is because Ellington frequently reversed the importance of roles played by the call
phrase and the response phrase. In classic blues, field hollers, work songs, folk blues, and rock, the
response phrase is often reduced to a couple of syllables such as "yes sir" or "oh yeah." The Bobby

99
Timmons classic jazz composition Moanin' (Figure 7.27, below) represents the epitome of a simple
yet beautiful response to a sophisticated, ever-changing call phrase.

Figure 7.27 Call-and-response in Moanin' by Bobby Timmons

Moanin'
Bobby Timmons

Call

Response

fc!=

*
Ev -

jy

morn-in' find me

'cause

moan- in

^ ^

yj=

all

^
the trou

Lord

J J > M " if

*5
ble

of

# = #

Yes

life's

I see,

loos-in'

gam

ble

to me,

l^#

Yes

Lord

Yes

Lord

In contrast, a response phrase constructed by Ellington was often designed to draw more of the
listener's attention than the original call phrase. Ellington often fooled listeners by having fun with his
variation of the response, making it a surprise to the listener. One can almost imagine him smiling to
himself as he created his 1940 composition, In a Mellotone, in which the opening unison saxophone
melody (beginning in measure 8) is immediately "outclassed" by the carefully sculpted and strikingly
harmonized response in the trombones. Figure 7.28 shows this treatment of call-and-response in
measures 8-12 of In a Mellotone:

Figure 7.28 Ellington's call-and-response with focus on the response

In A Mellotone

Concert Score

Duke Ellington
Trans. Brockman

Measures 8-12
Unis.
Saxophones

Trombone 1

Trombone 2

Trombone 3

strin Bass

\T^\> UTT\

l t

T////

1/

\//&

The next portion of the piece (beginning at measure 41, or 1:15 in the recording) features a Cootie
Williams trumpet solo that is mostly a well-planned variation on the melody, matched in call-andresponse by the reeds. The reeds begin with whole notes and then become increasingly more active
until they nearly take over all prominence from the trumpet solo. The reeds and trumpet battle for the
listener's attention until the struggle finally culminates with the entire orchestra entering in tutti.

Figure 7.29 is a graphic overview of Concerto for Cootie. It is provided as both a listening guide and
a visual depiction of the competing roles played by the various sections and players in the orchestra.
From this graphic, one can see the constant juxtaposition of various ideas, and how central the use of
call-and-response is to the overall structure of the piece, which lasts three minutes andieighteen
seconds.

Figure 7.29 Graphic overview of Concerto for Cootie

Concerto for Cootie


Graphic Overview
Solo Trumpet (plunger mute):
Introduce Fragment 1 of
Melody as cafl
Reeds and Str. Bass:
Respond with chromatic,
descending chords in
complex harmony.

Trombone solos tills with


ascending line.

Remaining brass enters, full ensemble continues chromatic, descending


chords started by reeds. Ensemble crescendos, some voices ascend, ensemble
reaches large, complex, open chords in loud accents on the off-beats.

Solo Trumpet (1/2 open


mute): Fragment 1 as cafl.

Solo Trumpet (1/2 open


mute): Fragment 1 as cafl.

Solo Trumpet (1/2 open mute):


Extended fragment 1 as call

Reeds & 1 trombone: Response


in very complex harmony with
dissonance and ambiguous lead.

Trombones: Response
in harmony.

Trombones:
in harmony.
0:421

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment; 1 as cadi.

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment 1 as call.

Solo Trurnpet (tight mute): Extended


Fragment 1 as call.
Reeds and Str. Bass: Quick
String bass:
1/8 note version of chromatic,
Descending 1/4 note
descending chords from
line.
introduction.

Reeds: Response in
harmony with
ambiguous lead.

Keeds: Kesponsiem
harmony with
ambiguous lead.
1:08 i
Growling Trumpet
(plunger mute): Suedoimprovised call.

Reeds:
nib on
Ff
onse

Reeds:
Quiet
chord

Growling Trumpet
(plunger mute): Suedoimprovised call.

Brass:
Short
response

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment 1 as cafl.

Reeds:
Quiet
chord

Brass:
Short
response

Growling Trumpet (plunger mute):


Extended suedo-improvised call.

Reeds:
ms on
n asponse

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment 1 as cafl.

Trombones:

Trombones:

harmony.

harmony.

Full ensemble: 1
harmony with crescendo.

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Extended Fragment 1 as cafl

Tbns:
Loud rm

Reeds & 1 trombone: Response


in very complex harmony with
dissonance and ambiguous lead.

Full ensemble: Loud response


in harmony, building to
unmuted trumpet solo.

1:571
Open Trumpet:
Improvised Solo

Open Trumpet:
Improvised Solo
Reeds: Smooth
counter-line in
unison.

Reeds:
chord
Tbns:
Short
response

Reeds: Smooth
counter-line in
unison.

Recds:Harmonized
response with
ambiguous lead.

Trombones:
Chords

Open Trumpet:
Improvised Solo

1 Open Trumpet
1 Improvised Solo

Reeds: Smooth I I Reeds:


counter-line in II chord
unison.
II

1 Reeds: Moving
1 counter-tine in
J unison.

Trombones: Easy
swing figures

1 Trombones:
1 Chords

Full Ens:
Short lead
in back to
torecapof
melody
Tbns:
Short
response

2:40 |
Solo Trumpet (tight mute):
Extended fragment 1 as call

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment 1 as call.

Solo Trumpet (tight mute):


Fragment 1 as cafl.
Full ensemble: Quiet
response in harmony
with ambiguous lead.

i
Full ensemble: Loud unision run
up to a large, open chord

Full ensemble:Quiet
response in harmony
with ambiguous lead.

2:54 |
SoloTpC
Short fill
Full ensemble:
Harmonized tutti with
baritone sax lead.

Solo Tpc Begin new cafl phrase,


ending with a held high note.
Full ensemble:
Harmonized tutti with
baritone sax lead.

Solo Tpt: Hit and hold final tonic note (F).


Reeds: Response with
complex, chromatically
asranriing chords.

Full ensemble: Two


quiet, final chords
(Gb7 ->Fma6)

A Note About the Blues Vernacular


It is interesting to note that Concerto for Cootie, though not based on the harmonic form of the blues,
nevertheless employs phrasing that follows the vernacular tradition of the blues with its use of A-A-B
phrasing. In the graphic overview shown above, we see that each phrase (except the introduction and
ending) begins with a short trumpet statement by Cootie Williams, which he almost exactly repeats
two measures later, and then answers with a meaningful response. This is very much the same way
that a blues singer would create a lyric phrase that he/she repeats and then answers in rhyme.
Responses to the trumpet's short statements, played by the reeds or the trombones and interspersed
between the segments of trumpet music, are also organized using A-A-B phrasing. Whether this
"blues-style" organization of phrases was deliberate or not, it is noteworthy that Ellington seems to
have retained a connection with this African-American song tradition even while he was developing
as a major composer and creating some of his most enduring works.

Using All Methods of Multifocalism in Combination


As we have just seen, Concerto for Cootie employs non-stop call-and-response with interest primarily
focused on the responses. However, Concerto for Cootie also contains many examples of ambiguity
of lead, multiple simultaneous elements, and dissonance in the middle of its chords. To keep his
music from becoming too confusing to the listener, I imagine that it sometimes became necessary for
Ellington to apply some judicious restrictions on his own writing techniques, thus ensuring that his
different musical elements continued to complement one another. The restrictions that I imagine him
using are provided below, and can serve as useful guidelines for anyone composing or arranging for
large ensembles:
1. As the number of musical elements in the mixture increases, simplify the elements.
For example, in Ko-Ko at measure 57 (or 1:25 into the recording) four separate ideas are
played by four separate groups of instruments: the trumpets, the high reeds, the trombones,
and the middle reeds. To simplify things during this complex moment, the trumpets revert to
playing in unison for the very first time in the piece. The middle reeds do the same.

2. Even if only two elements are playing simultaneously, when one idea is rhythmically very
busy or melodically complex, simplify the idea playing against it. For example, in the
opening measures 1 though 4 of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, the reeds play a

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complex rhythmic figure while the brass plays held chords; then in measures 5 through 8 the
roles are reversed, with the brass playing complex rhythms and the reeds playing held chords.
3. When two elements play simultaneously, if one idea is harmonically complex, simplify or
remove the harmony of the idea playing against it For example, in Ko-Ko at measure 81 (or
2:03 into the recording), the brass and clarinet join forces to play a large, Eb minor 11 chord
in a very dense voicing. Set against this, the saxophones play a counter-melody that is written
in unison to limit clashes with the brass/clarinet chord.

Conclusion
The four methods of multifocalism (ambiguity of lead, multiple simultaneous elements, dissonance in
the middle of chords, and call-and-response) appear over and over in Ellington's scores, often in quick
succession, and often with two or more of the methods applied at the same time. Ellington's ability to
draw a listener's attention in many directions at once, without disrupting the artistic elegance of his
music, was a major factor in the success of his writing style.

Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

Chapter 8

Tailoring to Musical Personalities


How Ellington incorporated the individual strengths of his players into his music.
Beginning with The Washingtonians, each embodiment of the Duke Ellington orchestra was a
unique organization with outstanding individuals in every chair.1 As Ellington added new or
replaced existing personnel, he hired players who were his equal as soloists. The fact that he had
a special soloist on every part gives Ellington's recordings enduring popularity. It also makes
playing his music a great challenge for modern musicians: performing the classic works of Duke
Ellington in live performance requires that players carefully study the band's recordings and learn
the individual styles of Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Sam Nanton, Ben
Webster, Jimmy Blanton and the many other outstanding personalities in the band. Modern
performers must absorb the subtleties of vibrato, timbre, phrasing, and inflection in order to
capture the sound and the essence of the great Duke Ellington Orchestra.

When listening to recordings of popular big bands from the 1930s and 1940s, it is often difficult
to tell which band is playing. The twin goals of tight ensemble playing and balanced homogeneity
across all instruments were fairly universal, and all professional bands generally adhered to these
standards. Therefore, it is not until we hear the unique solo work of a Zoot Sims or a Lester
Young that we can perceive the essential differentiation between one ensemble and another.

This was not the case, however, with the Ellington band. As soloists, all his players were easily
identifiable whether on recordings or over the radio. In addition, the ensemble sound was unique.
This is because each player in the band possessed a distinct musical personality, and Ellington

This includes all the bands for which Ellington served as leader: Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club
Orchestra, Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra, Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra, The
Duke Ellington Orchestra, plus Ellington bands operating under pseudonyms for recordings, such as The
Harlem Foot Warmers, The Jungle Band, the Harlem Hot Chocolates, Joe Turner And His Memphis Men,
Mill's Ten Black Berries, The Six Jolly Jesters, and The Whoopee Makers.

105
encouraged each one to make full use of that personality both when soloing and when playing in
ensemble. Ellington deliberately asked his players to use lots of inflection, interpretation, and
personality, even at the risk of creating an unbalanced ensemble sound where individual
instruments might "stick out." This became part of the band's characteristic sound, and Ellington
learned to use it to his advantage so that each of his pieces had distinctive personal elements that
could be discerned by listeners. He expected every player to bring something special to each
piece of music performed.

The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal

The concept of allowing the individual characters of multiple instrumentalists to "stick out" in an
ensemble is discussed by composer (and scholar of African-American vernacular music) Oily
Wilson in his very interesting article, The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal in African-American
Music.2 Wilson points out that nearly all African-American musical traditions share a quality of
heterogeneity, and that this is reflected in the way instruments (or voices) with different timbres
are combined in ensembles. This heterogeneous quality is also found in most sub-Saharan
musical cultures, and in traditions of African descent worldwide: the desirable musical texture is
one that contains a combination of diverse timbres. Interest and beauty in music are not, in
African music, achieved by the smooth, homogeneous blending of instruments or voices with
similar timbres (as we might find, for instance, in a classical string quartet) but through the
kaleidoscopic mixture of many different tonal colors (as we would find in a West African
percussion ensemble of drums, bells, shakers, and idiophones).

In jazz music, contrasts in the timbres of instruments play an important role in two ways:
1. Each player's individual timbre is vital to the collective sound of the ensemble. If
individual instruments fail to "blend in" to the sounds of others, this is a good thing. The
listener retains the sense that he/she is hearing a large group made up of unique
individuals, even when many instruments are playing together on the same musical idea.

2. When music is a polyphony of multiple, complex melodic and rhythmic ideas sounding
simultaneously (as is so often the case, for example, with early jazz), the sharply
contrasting timbres of instruments help the listener to differentiate the separate activity of
This article was published in New Perspectives on Music (Essays in Honor of Eileen Southern) as listed in
References.

106
one instrument (or group of like instruments) from another. For example, when all
trumpets play together on one melodic line, and all saxophones play together on a
different melodic line (or counter-line), the contrasting timbres of those two sections of
instruments make it possible to hear the two melodic lines independently.

Ellington apparently had an appreciation for the aesthetic of heterogeneous sound, and he seems
to have exploited it throughout his career.

How Ellington Created the Sound of His Orchestra

Many essential parts of Ellington's writing style were the result of the musical experiences and
challenges he shared with a multitude of unique musical personalities. From his first professional
outings in Washington, D.C. beginning in 1917, through his final projects as a composer and
bandleader in 1974, he surrounded himself with a stream of formidable performers and writers.
When he crossed paths with special musical personalities, he often found ways to incorporate
them into his orchestra, and then did his best to keep them there. The presence of outstanding
individuals in the Duke Ellington Orchestra had as much to do with the creation of "the Ellington
sound" as anything else described in the previous chapters of this text.

Numerous authors have discussed the fact that Ellington consistently tailored his writing to utilize
the unique skills and musical personalities of his orchestra members.3 This was made possible by
the fact that his key players remained in the orchestra for many years, a rare occurrence in
working jazz bands with busy travel schedules. (Following their three-year residency at the
Cotton Club, the Ellington band was virtually on the road for 365 days a year for the next four
decades.)

Ellington and his original collaborators, drummer Sonny Greer, trumpeter Arthur "Artie"
Whetsol, and saxophonist Otto "Toby" Hardwick were all teenagers when they left
Washington, D.C. for New York City. Ellington and these three players comprised the core of
Elmer Snowden's Washington Black Sox Orchestra (Snowden was the banjoist and leader of the
quintet), which began playing a six-month engagement in September of 1923 at the Hollywood

An interesting discussion of this can be read in Schuller, The Swing Era, pp. 48-9

107
Club, near Times Square. After about three months, Snowden was forced out of the band over a
disagreement about money, and Duke Ellington was elected as the new leader. The name of the
group was shortened to The Washingtonians.

Shortly after taking over as leader, Ellington began adding key personnel to his musical team,
beginning with the replacement of Arthur Whetsol (who elected to return to Washington, D.C. to
continue his studies at Howard University) with the tremendous trumpet soloist James "Bubber"
Miley, whose growling "plunger mute" style helped transform the band from a polite dance
orchestra into a jazz band. Using the rubber portion of a plumber's sink plunger to partially cover
the bell of his trumpet plus a healthy dose of vivid pitch-bending Miley developed a great skill
for creating sounds that mimicked human speech. Used in combination with vocal utterances
while playing the trumpet (creating a growling distortion of the tone), the plunger mute gave
Miley's playing an unmistakable style that was amazingly similar to that of an early blues singer.
Other mutes (such as the straight mute or the harmon mute) could be combined with the plunger
to create an even greater variety of colors and effects. Miley became the centerpiece of the
orchestra at the Hollywood Club, and he would remain with Ellington for the next six years. His
stylized sound became a permanent hallmark of the orchestra's personality.

Late in 1923, Ellington added trombonist Charlie Irvis, bringing the ensemble to six players. The
Washingtonians continued to play at the Hollywood Club until it closed temporarily in January
1925. When the club re-opened as the Kentucky Club in March 1925, the band brought on
another key individual, Fred Guy, to play banjo and guitar. In mid-1925, a tuba was first added
to the band (played by Henry "Bass" Edwards), bringing the ensemble to seven musicians.

Despite the exotic solos of Miley, the band did not always have an exceptional sound. For the
most part, Ellington adapted popular songs for the group and used simple arrangements, many of
which could have been played by any seven-piece band of the same era. Except for those times
when Miley played a trademark growling plunger solo, it is hard to differentiate early recordings
of The Washingtonians from those of any other band.

Then in June 1926, an enormous change was made: the splendid trombone soloist, Joe "Tricky
Sam" Nanton, replaced Charlie Irvis. Nanton proved to be Bubber Miley's equal in creating the
growling plunger mute sound. With this, the die was cast: the band became renowned for the
exotic, animal-like sound of its brass, and this became a regular part of every show at the

108
Kentucky Club. Ellington relied heavily on the bending, growling, speech-like sounds of Nanton's
trombone and Miley's trumpet, and these sounds were added permanently to Ellington's palette of
compositional colors.

Ellington had thus begun the tradition of placing first-rate soloists in every chair of his ensemble,
and then providing them limelight in an effort to keep them content He was very loyal to his
musicians, and retained his people as long as possiblesometimes well beyond when another
bandleader would have replaced them. The advantage to Ellington for his almost excessive
loyalty was that he could, on a continual and long-term basis, make the most of his player's
unusual styles, creating a totally unique sound for his band. Bubber Miley was only player from
the 1926 personnel of The Washingtonians who would not remain with the Ellington band for
many years to come (he was replaced in 1929). All others stayed with Ellington through the
1930s and beyond:

Joe Nanton remained a key soloist in the band until his death in 1948.

Otto Hardwick played in the reed section, off-and-on, until 1945.

Sonny Greer was the band's drummer until 1951.

Fred Guy remained as guitarist for the band until 1949.

Arthur Whetsol departed on friendly terms in 1923, but returned to the band in 1928 and
remained, off-and-on, until his death in 1940.

In the summer of 1926, the Kentucky Club was temporarily closed and the Ellington band went
on a tour of the New England states, playing mostly for upper-crust dance halls. Various new
personnel were called to join the band during the 1926 tour, including Chicago-bred clarinetist
Rudy Jackson (a veteran of the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band). When the band returned to the
Kentucky Club in September, they were regularly using eight players and sometimes expanded to
nine or ten for recordings. 1926 also saw the addition of the tremendous New Orleans bassist,
Weilman Braud.

Braud and Jackson brought a special New Orleans flavor to the band's sound just as Ellington
entered a very creative period of writing. During the next few months, he wrote several of his
most memorable early compositions, including the incomparable East St. Louis Toodle-Oo and
Birmingham Breakdown. These two great works were among the four pieces selected in
November 1926 for the band's first recording session to feature only original compositions by

109
Ellington (all of the band's previous recordings primarily featured arrangements of popular songs
by other composers).

These November 1926 "sides" (each song took up one full side of a 78-rpm disc) were a great
commercial success. Recorded for Vocalion Records under the name "Duke Ellington and his
Kentucky Club Orchestra," they are considered to be Ellington's first significant recordings
especially East St. Louis Toodle-Oo. The recordings drew the attention of several other record
companies, including Brunswick, Columbia, and Victor, who engaged the band to make a total of
thirty-one recordings during the following year.

And yet, the 1926 Vocalion version of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo and even the March 1927
recording of the same piece for Columbia records are lackluster when compared to the version of
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo recorded just a few months later (in December 1927) for Victor records.
The difference came from the addition of another highly significant personality to the Ellington
line-up: baritone saxophone virtuoso Harry Carney. Brimming with an infectious combination
of vibrato, inflection, pitch-bending, and a massive sound, Carney's playing nearly took control of
the orchestra.

Carney had joined the band in the summer of 1927 for its second extended tour of the New
England statesa tour prompted by the expiration of the band's Kentucky Club contract that
April. For this tour, Ellington elected to try out Carney, who was a mere seventeen years old. The
youngster apparently made a good impression, because he was never absent from the Ellington
orchestra again. Returning to New York after Labor Day, the band played various engagements
around the city, and with his expanded personnel, Ellington went into another very creative
period, producing his famed Creole Love Call (featuring singer Adelaide Hall singing wordless
vocals with a unique growling, trumpet-like tone) and Black and Tan Fantasy.

Then, on December 4,1927, a twist of fate (or stroke of luck) marked the end of one period of
Ellington's career and the beginning of another The Cotton Club in Harlem held auditions for a
new house band, and the Ellington organization was ready. According to Ellington's
autobiography, the job at the Cotton Club required an ensemble of at least eleven pieces. So he
quickly pulled together some additional players from around New York and secured a new home
for his new, larger version of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

110
The difference of nine months between the second and third recordings of East St. Louis ToodleOo reveals an astounding transformation in the ensemble. When the band returned to the Victor
recording studios on December 19,1927, Carney was ready to show off his skills on the baritone
saxophone. His presence is apparent throughout the recording, even when he is playing in the
ensemble. Carney's vibrato, inflection, and tone are all so powerful that he apparently inspires
everyone around him with energy. Joe Nanton rises to the occasion for a solo that is infinitely
more commanding than his earlier efforts. Rudy Jackson's clarinet solo is filled with growls and
vibrato previously missing. The final brass trio is filled with expression and vibrancy absent in
the earlier recording. Braud plays arco on the bass with exceptional vitality. Throughout the
entire piece, the individual voices ring out from the ensemble, even when all are playing in
homophony.

This December 1927 recording, selected as the quintessential example of early Ellington by many
historic discographies (including the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz) marks the beginning
of the ensemble's playing with individual expression from every chair. Either the successful
recording session, the winning of a steady engagement at the Cotton Club, the addition of Carney,
or all of these combined, changed forever the sound of the Ellington orchestra. Thus, in
December 1927 the genie was let out of the bottle. From this time forward, every Ellington
performance and recording was distinguished by the unique sounds of its individual players. A
catalogue of those sounds would include:

Squeezed attacks

Instrumental growling

Human vocal sounds from horns

Use of plunger mute for speech-like syllables

Unusual muting

Bending of notes

Wildly expressive vibrato

Airy tone quality

Gravelly tone quality

Lead lines being played by unusual instruments

To quote jazz historian Gunther Schuller, "A unique musical partnership, unprecedented in the
history of Western music, developed in which a major composer forged a musical style and
concept which, though totally original and individual, nevertheless consistently incorporated and

Ill
integrated the no less original musical ideas of his players. No such musical alchemy had ever
been accomplished before, with the possible exception of Jelly Roll Morton's Hot Peppers
recordings of 1926. Miraculously, the Ellington imagination fed on the particular skills and
personalities of his players, while at the same time their musical growth was in turn nurtured by
Ellington's maturing compositional craft and vision. The process of cross-fertilization was
constant and, given the stability of personnel, self-expanding."4

Life at the Cotton Club: 1927-1931

The Cotton Club was a dinner/dance/variety club that had special themes for each of its
floorshow productions, and each show made extensive use of singers and exotic dancers. Faced
with the need to produce lots of new music for his expanded ensemble (which now permanently
comprised at least ten players), Ellington needed to jump on the bandwagon with other jazz
writers of the mid-1920s to tackle the requirements of writing for more winds. Thus, the bulk of
bis subsequent writing reflects the application of the very expedient and reliable orchestration
methods described in Chapter 2 ("The Advent of Big Band Arranging"). Additionally, the
demands of creating new music for the reviews and variety shows (many with exotic or
deliberately racial themes, such as "Hot Chocolate" or "Blackberries") drew Ellington into
experimentation with new song forms and new orchestration ideas.

Schuller, The Swing Era, pp. 48

112
Figure 8.1 The Cotton Club Orchestra with ten members

Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra (1927) from left to right: Ellington, Joe Nanton, Sonny
Greer, Bubber Miley, Harry Carney, Wellman Braud, Rudy Jackson, Fred Guy, Nelson Kincaid, Ellsworth
Reynolds.5
At the Cotton Club, Ellington's music became unchained from the swing music pieces written for
social dancing, and he became a composer of music meant for listening or theater presentation.
This was encouraged by frequent radio broadcasts sent live from the Cotton Club to a national
listening audience. (An explosion of radio sales beginning around 1927 brought the new devices
to millions of homes in Americaa fortunate turn that helped launch Ellington into national
fame.) Ellington experimented with many new and exotic sounds in the ensemble, some
incorporating primitivism, tribal drumming, "jungle music" sounds, animal sounds, growling, and
so on. Classic pieces from the early Cotton Club period include Creole Rhapsody, The Mooche,
and Jungle Nights in Harlem.
5

Photo source: vvvvvv.trcc.commnet.edu

113

December 1927 was a momentous month: it brought another outstanding addition to the band,
New Orleans clarinetist Barney Bigard. Replacing Rudy Jackson, Bigard soon became the
primary clarinet soloist with the band, and remained with Ellington until 1942. In March 1928,
alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges joined the band, eventually replacing Otto Hardwick (whose
excessive drinking made him unreliable). Hodges became one of most revered saxophonists of
all time, and was a constant and recognizable part of the Ellington sound. Except for a brief break
from 1951-55, Hodges remained a key figure in the band from 1928 until his death in 1970 (a
total of sixty-two years).

In June 1928, Arthur Whetsol returned, replacing Louis Metcalf. Whetsol would remain in the
band, off-and-on, until his death in 1940. In October 1928, trumpeter Freddie Jenkins was
added as a third trumpet player and remained in the band for nine years. The brass section now
stood at three trumpets and one trombone.

In February 1929, Bubber Miley was asked to leave the band (he also had a drinking problem that
made him unreliable) and the remarkable seventeen-year-old trumpeter, Cootie Williams,
replaced him. With coaching from Joe Nanton, Williams quickly mastered the growling plunger
mute technique, and so this technique passed from Miley to Nanton and finally to Cootie, who
would become its greatest practitioner. He remained with Ellington for twenty-three years.

In August 1929, Puerto Rican valve-trombonist Juan Tizol joined the band. A talented writer and
remarkable soloist with a unique tone (one that was purer and more classical than Sam Nanton's),
Tizol was added as a contrasting voice in the trombone section. He stayed with the Ellington band
(with occasional breaks) until 1961some thirty-two years.

The Cotton Club Orchestra was now permanently up to twelve players, each of them bringing
immense talent to the stage. Photos taken of the band during the next three years reveal
remarkable stability in personnel: Cootie Williams, Freddie Jenkins, and Artie Whetsol, trumpets;
Sam Nanton and Juan Tizol, trombones; Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Harry Carney, reeds;
Sonny Greer, drums; Fred Guy, banjo and guitar; Wellman Braud, bass; and Ellington, piano.

114
Figure 8.2 The Cotton Club Orchestra at twelve members

The Cotton Club Orchestra (after August 1929) from left to right: Williams, Nanton, Jenkins, Tizol,
Whetsol, Greer, Ellington, Carney, Guy, Hodges, Braud and Bigard.6
Ellington had surrounded himself with a near-perfect team of musicians. Finding himself at the
head of a band with almost limitless possibilities, he began stretching himself as a composer,
employing ever more sophisticated sounds in his work and demanding very high levels of
professionalism from his players. Further, he made a great effort to feature soloists from
throughout the band, and his encouragement of their unique musical personalities apparently did
not breed divisive rivalries within the band. Most of his players remained for many years.7

The piano began to be less and less Ellington's main instrument; in its place, the orchestra became
his primary medium for expression. Numerous elements of genius began appearing in all his
pieces as Ellington made clever use of the special talents his players had developed on their own.

Personnel in this photo are listed in Hasse (p. 117). A 1930 photo of the band at New York's Fulton Street
Theater appears in Ellington's Music is My Mistress (p. 132) showing the same twelve players, as does a
1931 photo from Chicago's Oriental Theater that appears in Hasse (p. 149).
7

Ellington's leadership style would seem to support the concept that African and African-American
musical aesthetics call for a particular dichotomy that equally values the tightly woven performance by a
musical ensemble, and the opportunity for individual talent to stand out.

115

Coincidental with this period of artistic growth and exploration for Ellington, the stock market
crash of October 1929 marked the beginning of many changes in the world, including changes in
American musical tastes. The happy, liberated, and carefree sounds of jazz in the 1920s were
gradually replaced by the more carefully constructed and arranged music of the 1930s. As
Ellington aspired to become a more adventurous and serious composer, listening audiences
around the world were more interested in hearing what he had to say. Thus, the Cotton Club
period, during which Ellington experimented constantly with the various sounds he could get
from his players, yielded some of his most beloved and enduring compositions and arrangements.
Among these, the outstanding pieces of the Cotton Club era were the incomparable Mood Indigo
(written October 1930) and the classic Rockin' in Rhythm (written January 1931).

After the Cotton Club

On February 2,1931, the Ellington band's contract at the Cotton Club expired, and with that
ended a steady engagement that had lasted more than three years. In the course of those years,
the band had become established internationally, had made hundreds of radio broadcasts, had
been featured in Hollywood films, and made over a hundred recordings. Following this the Duke
Ellington Orchestra embarked on a series of long, successful tours around the country.

Much of the music the band played at the Cotton Club included the contributions of vocalists who
were in the troupe of singers and dancers working at the club. Beginning in February of 1931, the
band engaged the highly versatile and expressive vocalist Ivie Anderson to perform with them on
a regular basis. She became a featured member of the band, remaining with Ellington for eleven
years.

In 1932, saxophonist Otto Hardwick returned to the band, giving the Ellington orchestra a fourpiece reed section for the first time. Also in 1932, Ellington added the highly versatile and
virtuosic lead trombonist Lawrence Brown, giving the orchestra a three-piece trombone section,
also for the first time. Brown had a smooth, warm, and lyric tone, even when playing notes well

116
above the normal range of the trombone.8 The result was that Ellington could write high
trombone parts and mix them with reed parts to create a seemingly effortless blend. Brown
remained with Ellington off-and-on until 1970. It is interesting to note that until 1938 Ellington
found it generally unnecessary to have more than four reed players in his band, since Brown
could blend into the reed section chord as a fifth voiceso well as to be unnoticeable.

With the addition of Hardwick and Lawrence, the band grew (as Schuller puts it) to its "full
complement" of fourteen instrumentalists4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, piano, guitar (or
banjo), bass and drums.9 In 1934, another virtuosic soloist, trumpeter Rex Stewart (from the
Fletcher Henderson band) was added (replacing Freddie Jenkins) and remained in the Ellington
band for eleven years.

The "unique musical partnership" described by Schuller was now in full bloom as Ellington
exploited each player's personal sound. A 1935 list of band members10 shows a marvelous
collection of players, and each of them brought special sounds and skills to the band:
Trumpets:
Cootie Williams (plunger and growl sounds, special muting, outstanding solos)
Rex Stewart (virtuosic trumpet soloing, squeezed tone and half-valve effects, special
muting)
Artie Whetsol (excellent section playing, soloing, special muting)
Trombones:
Lawrence Brown (smooth and high lead trombone, special muting)
Sam Nanton (plunger and growl sounds, special muting, soloing)
Juan Tizol (solo and section playing with a clear, classical sound)
Reeds:
Harry Carney (astounding baritone sax soloing, lead melodies, and section playing)
Barney Bigard (virtuosic clarinet soloing, lead melodies, and section playing)
Johnny Hodges (remarkable pitch bending and vibrato as alto sax soloist)
Otto Hardwick (virtuosic lead alto playing and soloing)
8

An example of the type of demands Ellington placed on Lawrence for high-range trombone playing can
be seen in the excerpt from Dusk shown in Figure 7.18 (see Chapter 7).
9
Schuller, The Swing Era, p. 46.
10
The 1935 personnel are listed in a photo caption on p. 133 of Music is My Mistress.

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Rhythm:
Wellman Braud (driving bass beat, including walking bass with slap accents)
Sonny Greer (versatile percussion soloist, including a variety of exotic tom-toms, bells
and gongs)
Fred Guy (solid rhythm guitar and banjo, with especially accurate intonation for unison
playing)
Ellington (composer, conductor and pianist)

Now the combination of tonal colors available to Ellington as a composer had become quite
complete. As stated by Schuller, the tonal palette that Ellington enjoyed by combining various
high and low reeds, brasses (with and without mutes), guitar, percussion, and more, could rival
that of a symphony orchestra. Schuller writes, "Almost every playerfrom Johnny Hodges to
Harry Carney, from Cootie Williams and Nanton to Lawrence Brown and Tizol, even Sonny
Greer, with his discreet drumming and penchant for using a variety of coloristic percussion
instruments, and, last but not least, Duke, with his own powerful rich piano soundall these
players produced such individual timbres on their "horns" that Ellington had almost as many
diverse sonorities at his disposal as a ninety-piece symphony orchestra. He certainly made
extraordinary use of his fourteen instruments, in a manner and to a degree that perhaps only a
handful of composers like Ravel, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern could have realized."11

The Blanton-Webster Band

Band personnel remained very stable for the next three years of constant activity. In 1938,
Ellington brought in the brilliant Billy Strayhorn as an additional composer and arranger for the
band. Then in 1939 while on tour in St. Louis, Ellington discovered the remarkable young bassist,
Jimmy Blanton. Born in 1918, Blanton was only twenty-one years old when he joined Ellington.
Even as teenager he was regarded as a new force in jazz bass, virtuosic in executing clean, hornlike melodies on an instrument previously reserved for accompanying others. Sadly, Blanton
lived only until age twenty-four, dying in 1942. During his three years with Ellington, he forever
changed the role of the bassist in jazz.
1

Schuller, The Swing Era (pp. 48-9).

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Finally, in 1940, Ellington added another great talent, thirty-year-old tenor saxophonist Ben
Webster, who until that time had been playing with Cab Calloway (Webster had played brief
outings with the Ellington band in 1935 and 1936). Webster is arguably one of the greatest
influences in the evolution of the jazz tenor saxophone style, with a unique sound and heavy
vibrato that are unmistakable. 1940 also marked the addition of trumpeter, violinist, and singer
Ray Nance.

The band of 1940-1942 represents the pinnacle of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, seventeen years
in the making. Many of the players had been with Ellington from the start. This complete and
well-appointed version of the orchestra was called Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra,
but is referred to in jazz circles as the Blanton-Webster band:

Cootie Williams, trumpet


Ray Nance, trumpet, violin
Rex Stewart, trumpet
Wallace Jones, trumpet
Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, trombone
Lawrence Brown, trombone
Juan Tizol, valve trombone
Barney Bigard, clarinet
Johnny Hodges, alto sax
Otto Hardwick, alto sax
Ben Webster, tenor sax
Harry Carney, baritone sax
Jimmy Blanton, bass
Sonny Greer, drums
Fred Guy, guitar
Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn, piano
Ivie Anderson and Herb Jeffries, vocals

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Conclusion
For Duke Ellington, the excitement of the Blanton-Webster period was that it freed him to
compose in any style with confidence and with the assurance that the talent in the ensemble
would not only do justice to his creations, but would enhance them. He could cast any individual
or any section into the limelight, and count on great results.

There has been much debate about the role Ellington's ego played in his success. To be sure, he
placed great importance on always being well dressed, had a penchant for appearing in the right
place at the right time, and had no compunction about representing his community before headsof-state. However, I believe Ellington's success, at its core, was the result of his ability to
unselfishly feature the talents of other musicians and let the contributions of individuals shine.
This idea goes contrary to the notion that the success of any group (musical or otherwise) requires
uniform performance from its members. The encouragement of individuality is not incompatible
with group endeavors, and jazz music is living proof of this.

While other big bands strived for smooth homogeneity, the heterogeneous sound of the Ellington
band left plenty of room for every musician to show off his talent. Ellington encouraged his
players to use their individual styles to be heard even when playing in ensemble. Beyond this,
Ellington hired Billy Strayhornwho could have been perceived as a competitorand nurtured
the younger man's career; in fact, he also shared the limelight with many other talented writers
from within the band. Thus, Ellington was a great manager because he was able to take a varied
group of highly talented individuals, get them to work together, utilize their best assets, and keep
them in his employ for years and years.

There were, of course, many additions and personnel changes to the band during the thirty-two
years following the Blanton-Webster period. Among the most notable were:

Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn

Jimmy Hamilton, clarinet

Paul Gonzalves, tenor saxophone

Cat Anderson, trumpet

Julian Priester, trombone

Charles Mingus, bass

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As always, new members of the band were unique soloists and Ellington continued to write in
ways that let them be stars. He showed audiences that his ensemble was a collection of special
individuals. Ellington maintained this practice throughout his life, up through the creation of his
Third Sacred Concert in 1973. The band's final voyage to present the premiere of that work at
Westminster Abbey was made in October of that year. On May 24,1974, Ellington passed at age
75, ending the fifty-nine-year career of American music's most prolific composer.

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Orchestration Techniques of Duke Ellington

References
Cohen, Harvey G. Duke Ellington's America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Collier, James Lincoln. Duke Ellington. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Collier, James Lincoln. The Making of Jazz. New York: Dell Publishing, 1978.
Debarros, Paul. "Centennial Year of Duke Ellington's Birth."
The Seattle Times (Sunday, October 17, 1989): Sect. M, 1-7.
DeVeaux, Scott. "Black, Brown and Beige and the Critics."
Black Music Research Journal 13, no. 2 (1993): 125-146.
Dobbins, Bill. Jazz Arranging and Composing: A Linear Approach. Rottenburg: Advance Music,
1986.
Ellington, Duke. Music Is My Mistress. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1973.
Feather, Leonard and Gitler, Ira. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1999.
Garcia, Russell. The Professional Arranger and Composer. New York: Criterion Music Corp..
1954-1979.
Hammond, John. "The Tragedy of Duke Ellington the 'Black Prince of Jazz'."
Down Beat l(November 1935): 6.
Hasse, John Edward. Beyond Category: the Life and Genius of Duke Ellington. New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1993.
Hajdu, David. Lush Life: a Biography of Billy Strayhorn. New York: North Point Press, 1996
Jackson, Edgar. "Swing Music: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (Am. N.)
Reminiscing in Tempo (Ellington)" The Gramophone XIII (January 1936): 28.
Lawrence, A.H. Duke Ellington and His World: a Biography. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Levine, Mark. The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma, California: Sher Music Co., 1989.
Myers, Rollo H. Erik Satie. London: Dennis Dobson Limited, 1948.
Porter, Eric. What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American musicians as artists,
critics, and activists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Schuller, Gunther. Early Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

122
Schuller, Gunther. The Swing Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Skinner, Frank. Simplified Method for Modern Arranging. New York: Bibo, Bloedon & Lang,
1928.
Sturm, Fred. Changes in Time: the Evolution of Jazz Arranging. Rottenburg: Advance Music,
1995.
Tirro, Frank. Jazz: a History. New York: W.W. Norton, 1977.
Tucker, Mark. The Ellington Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Wilson, Oly. "The Heterogeneous Sound Ideal in African-American Music" New Perspectives on
Music: Essays in Honor of Eileen Southern. Ed. Josephine Wright with Samuel A. Floyd, Jr.
Warren, Mich: Hannonie Park Press, 1992.
Wright, Rayburn. Inside the Score. Delevan, NY: Kendor Music, 1982.
Zenni, Stefano. "The Aesthetics of Duke Ellington's Suites: The Case of Togo Brava'."
Black Music Research Journal 21, no. 1 (2001): 1-28.

Liner notes from recordings:


The Blanton-Webster Band, liner notes by Mark Tucker (1986 RCA 5659-2-RB)
Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, annotated by Martin Williams
(1973 Smithsonian/Columbia P6-11891 released 1973)
Smithsonian Collection of Big Band Jazz, annotated by Gunther Schuller and Martin Williams
(1983 Smithsonian/RCA R-03030 released 1983)

On-line sources:
Alexander, Scott. "The Red Hot Jazz Archive: A History of Jazz Before 1930."
(http://www.redhotjazz.com)
Solomon, Larry J. "Satie, the First Modern." (pub. 2003)
(http://solomonsmusic.net/Satie.htm)

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Vita

Michael Brockman was born in Portland, Oregon. He earned a Master of Music with Distinction
from the New England Conservatory, where he studied jazz arranging with Jaki Byard, jazz
composition with George Russell, and woodwind performance with Joseph Allard. He earned a
Bachelor of Music degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, and also attended the
Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 2011, he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Saxophone
Performance at the University of Washington.
Brockman is the co-director and lead alto saxophonist of the award-winning Seattle Repertory
Jazz Orchestra, and appears regularly with numerous Seattle ensembles including the Seattle
Symphony Orchestra, the Clarence Acox Quintet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, and his
own group, the Michael Brockman Trio.
He appears on recordings with Jimmy Heath, the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Repertory Jazz
Orchestra, and Clarence Acox. He has premiered many new works for saxophone, including the
West Coast premiere of Sonata for Saxophone by Gunther Schuller, and as a soloist in the Reims
Music Festival, the Dubrovnik Music Festival, the World Saxophone Congress, the Stanford
Computer Music Festival, and many others.
In addition to performing in and co-leading the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Brockman has
prepared scores for much of the band's repertoire, based on rare vintage recordings of
unpublished works by great composers. The SRJO presents an annual subscription concert series
of rare and classic big band works, and is renowned for its annual Duke Ellington Sacred Concert
in Seattle.
Brockman is a faculty member of the UW School of Music, where he instructs concert and jazz
saxophone performance, jazz history, and jazz arranging and composition.

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