Bringing alive the music of Duke Ellington

Transcriptions by Michael Kilpatrick
Image of Ellington

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Unknown Ellington compositions never heard before! Harmony in Harlem Michael's Ellington jazz orchestra

Michael Kilpatrick

I learnt the piano from an early age and began playing the cornet, later the trumpet, at the age of 8. On leaving school I migrated to the saxophone, specialising on the baritone. I soon made it my goal to recreate a baritone saxophone sound like that of the great Harry Carney, and I think I do reasonably well, although I'm no professional. Having the right tools is of course an important first step, so I have become an obsessive collector of Conn saxophones and vintage mouthpieces such as the Woodwind Co. of New York.

I began listening to Duke Ellington in the mid 1980s, at around the age of 15. It is perhaps because some of my first Ellington vinyls were from the 1950s Capitol Recordings, a period of some decline in the popularity of orchestras like Ellington's, that my taste in his music differs to that of other devotees. I developed my collection of Ellington recordings in a rather back-to-front manner. Now, of course, like any fanatic, I've got almost as many as are possibly collectible...

I began transcribing by ear and learning about jazz during my teens. Transcribing by ear is a difficult task and doesn't always lead to very accurate results. I learnt about the repository of Ellington's manuscripts at the Smithsonian Institution when I first attended an International Duke Ellington Conference in 1997, in the city of Leeds. There I met many other Ellington fans from around the world, and people who have influenced my journey to this point. Annie Keubler, then archivist at the Archive Centre at the Smithsonian Institution, assisted me in my first foray into the vast collection of manuscripts there. Now I try to visit DC every year. Over the years I have assisted in identifying a number of the untitled and previously unrecognised Ellington/Strayhorn manuscripts, partly through my familiarity with more obscur pieces that other people might not recognise so readily! Making these identifications is one of my greatest sources of pleasure.

In 2006 I formed my jazz orchestra Harmony In Harlem in order to have the opportunity to play many of my transcriptions. The orchestra has been built up slowly since then and now has a stable personnel, many of whom have been with the band for a number of years. The band rehearses regularly and performs a number of times each year. Our most prestigious gig to date has been a wedding for a former Lord Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, no less!