Prelude to a Kiss (song)

"Prelude to a Kiss" is a 1938 ballad composed by Duke Ellington, with lyrics by Irving Gordon and Irving Mills.[1]

Background and composition

This composition is in the key of D-flat major but makes extensive use of the secondary dominant chords, secondary ii–V–I progressions, diatonic circle of fifths, and evaded cadences.[2] The song is extremely chromatic and complex, employing sophisticated mathematics that were rare at this time in jazz:[3] Ellington's rising semitones (G-G#-A-A#-B) at the end of the bridge mirror the opening of both A sections (B-A#-A-G#-G).

By the late 1930s, swing was at the height of its popularity. Using his fame and artistic freedom, Ellington became more ambitious and experimental, writing "Prelude to a Kiss", which abandoned the Tin Pan Alley style hooks and dance tempo for melodic lines and harmonies found more often in classical music.[4] He recorded this piece as an instrumental in August 1938 before returning to the studio a few weeks later to record it as a vocal number with lyrics by Irving Gordon and Irving Mills that were sung by a young and relatively unknown Mary McHugh.[5] Popular records in 1938 were by Ellington and by Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra.[6]


Outside of jazz musicians and historians, "Prelude to a Kiss" remains one of the lesser known Ellington songs. Gunther Schuller, described "Prelude to a Kiss" as "One of Ellington's finest ballads, although too sophisticated in its weaving melody and chromatic harmonies to gain wide public acceptance."[7]

Notable recordings


  1. "Prelude to a Kiss". Jazz Standards. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  2. Hellmer, Jeffrey (1996). Jazz Theory and Practice. Alfred Music. p. 107. ISBN 9780882847221.
  3. Green, Edward (2015). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521881197.
  4. Gioia, Ted (July 2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199937394.
  5. Green, Edward (2015). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521881197.
  6. Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890–1954. Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 569. ISBN 978-0-89820-083-6.
  7. Schuller, Gunther (December 1991). The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195071405.
  8. Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 341–342. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.

See also

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