The Ellington Effect

Jeff Friedman

Professor of Jazz Composition,
Berklee College of Music

As I understand it, "The Ellington Effect" was the sound bite for the fact that Strayhorn had "cracked the code," meaning he'd caught on to Duke's musical tendencies and techniques.

The late, great Herb Pomeroy, who was probably the first to teach the techniques of Duke for an academic course (at Berklee), developed a list of Dukish techniques. Herb was my mentor, and he fostered my fanatical interest in Duke.

When Herb retired from Berklee, I inherited his Duke course, and for the course, I adopted (read: embellished and expanded) Herb's list. I would suggest that these are the technical elements of "the Ellington effect," with the proviso that if you wrote music using all of the stuff on the list, you wouldn't sound like Duke, because techniques are tools to express musical IDEAS, and Duke was Duke!

  1. Combination Diminished Voicings

  2. Blue Note Voicings

  3. Wide interval melody and counter-melody

  4. Extensive use of dominant harmony (bluesy effects)

  5. Unusual combinations of instruments

  6. Unusual instrumental registers (i.e., high bari, low tenor, etc.)

  7. Lead not always top voice

  8. Constant color coupling above lead

  9. Conversational jazz soloists

  10. Obligato melodic settings for soloist

  11. Extensive use of clarinet in reeds

  12. Impressionistic harmony (i.e., parallelism, whole tone, etc.)

  13. Plungers in brass
    1. )  sectional
    2. )  solos
    3. )  muted
    4. )  non-muted
    5. )  “Pep” section (2 trumpets plus trombone,
      using wah wah plunger mutes)

  14. Shorter than usual brass punctuations

  15. Faster than usual brass shakes

  16. Extensive use of “continuing” pedal point (ambient thread drone)

  17. Constant structure in compositions and arrangements

  18. Concerting within the octave when possible

  19. Abrupt changes of mood (sharp contrast)

  20. Triadic trombone solis

This is my expansion of a list that originated with Andy Jaffe.

Compositional Techniques and Representative Compositions

1. Writing for specific players:

2. Triadic trombone solis:

3. Counterpoint:

4. Three - part polyphony:

5. “European” forms:

6. Through composition in single-movement works based on motivic development:

7. Restatement of themes in different instrumental colors:

8. Blues form within larger forms:

9. “Pep” section and cross sectional writing:

10. New compositions on existing harmonic forms, i.e., Tiger Rag, I Got Rhythm, etc.:

11. “Modern” voicings, i.e., upper structure triads, clusters, fourths, symmetric diminished, etc.:

12. “Odd” phrase length:

13. Blues derived harmonic material in non-blues forms, i.e., #9, bVI7, bluenote voicings, etc.:

14. Written out solos:

15. “Mood” pieces:

16. Voice-crossing in soli textures:

17. Reharmonization:

18. Tin Pan Alley song forms:

This article is adapted, with the kind permission of
Professor Friedman, from his reply to a question
about the Ellington effect that he made on
the Duke-LYM discussion list,
November 26, 2007.

The sound hyperlinks, added by David Palmquist, are links to A Jazz Anthology