A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Prelude To A Kiss” is one of the most famous of Duke Ellington’s ballads. True to Ellington’s style, the melody is highly chromatic and the bridge goes to new harmonic territory. There’s a wonderful moment in the bridge where the music and lyric are truly “married.” When the words say “A Shubert tune with a Gershwin touch,” the chords and melody evoke George Gershwins jazz-age style of writing, with a sudden upwardly chromatic movement that perfectly sets up the final ‘A’ Section.
Ellington first recorded “Prelude To A Kiss” at the height of the Swing Era, in 1939. Not everyone was using this degree of chromaticism at that time, but Ellington was always pushing musical boundaries and searching for new sounds, both in his writing and in his piano playing.
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)
Duke Ellington: Ellington Indigos
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Prelude To A Kiss” is a perfect tune to play with a slow stride pattern in your left hand. This style is very appropriate to play on a Swing Era ballad such as this, and it will provide a beautiful “cushion” for your right hand melody and solo.
When you’re playing a melody from this era, keep in mind that players at that time would feel free to interpret the melody in their own, personal way. This means that you can change the rhythm slightly, and add neighboring notes and other melodic ornaments as you see fit.
Also, be sure to check out how Ellington himself played “Prelude To A Kiss” as a piano solo, in the transcription I’ve linked to below. Ellington had a unique piano style that’s often overlooked by players today, although some very famous jazz pianists have embraced his style as an influence.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
A transcription of Duke Ellington’s 1953 rendition of “Prelude To A Kiss”
Ellington had a unique piano style so be sure to check out this transcription by Thomas Mueller
Duke Ellington: Music Is My Mistress
Ellington’s autobiography is unmatched for its vivid descriptions of the early New York City jazz scene.
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