Prelude to a Kiss (song)

This article is about the Duke Ellington composition. For other uses, see Prelude to a Kiss (disambiguation).

"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 C Major, but makes extensive use of the secondary dominant chords, secondary ii–V–I progressions, diatonic circle of fifths, and Cadence (music)#evaded cadence-s.[2] The song 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 music 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] Ellington originally 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, using lyrics by Irving Gordon and Irving Mills, and sung by a young and relatively unknown vocalist Mary McHugh.[5]


Outside of jazz musicians and historians, "Prelude to a Kiss" remains one of the lesser known Ellington songs. Prominent jazz historian, 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."[6]

Film usage

The film Prelude to a Kiss (1992) (based on Craig Lucas' eponymous 1988 play), derived its title from the Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills tune and was performed by Deborah Harry during the opening credits.

Notable recordings


  1. "Prelude to a Kiss". Jazz Standards. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  2. Hellmer, Jeffrey. Jazz Theory and Practice. Alfred Music. p. 107. ISBN 9780882847221.
  3. Greeen, 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. Greeen, Edward (2015). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521881197.
  6. Schuller, Gunther (December 1991). The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195071405.

See also

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