All Set (Babbitt)

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All Set, for jazz ensemble, is a 1957 composition for small jazz band by the American composer Milton Babbitt.


All Set was commissioned by the 1957 Brandeis University Creative Arts Festival, which in that year was a jazz festival. It was premiered there by the Bill Evans Orchestra in a performance that was recorded and released on a Columbia Records LP in 1963. The title is a play on words referring to the all-combinatorial twelve-tone series Babbitt used in composing the work (Wuorinen 1974). The published score is dedicated to Gunther Schuller (Babbitt 1963, 3).


The composition is scored for alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, contrabass, piano, vibraphone, and percussion (trap set: small and large tom-toms, snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat, three suspended cymbals).

The lyrical, imagist tendencies of Babbitt's earlier vocal works are also evident in All Set, which combines a twelve-tone pitch structure using an all-combinatorial set (hence the work's title) to what Babbitt calls "jazz-like properties ... the use of percussion, the Chicago jazz-like juxtapositions of solos and ensembles recalling certain characteristics of group improvisation" (Barkin 2001). Through this fusion of the sounds and rhythms of the jazz ensemble with strict serialism, Babbitt demonstrates the flexibility of his procedures (Simms 1986, 344).

The composition falls into three main sections, starting in bars 1, 169, and 270, and concludes with a coda of eighteen bars. Each of the three sections is announced by a prominent statement of the combinatorial pitch array used as the basis of the work, and each section is subdivided into two parts (Stuessy 1978, 176–78).

As with most of Babbitt's music, pitches are organized according to an array, rather than to a single, referential twelve-tone row. In the opening eight measures, for example, four row forms occur simultaneously (Babbitt 1987, 115–17; Stuessy 1978, 166):

All Set (Initial pitch array)
P0 C E F B F B G E D D A A
I7 G E D A D A C E F F B B
R0 A A D D E G B F B F E C

It is entirely arbitrary which of the four lynes of the array is to be regarded as the untransposed prime form (P0). In this case, that designation is assigned to the lyne presented in the score by the trumpet and trombone, but another source chooses the third lyne, which is presented in the high register of the vibraphone and the left hand of the piano (Arnold and Hair 1976, 159). Regardless of which row is used as a reference, all of the hexachords are drawn from the (unordered) second-order all-combinatorial hexachord, type [0,1,2,6,7,8], which is Babbitt's "source set" number 4 (Arnold and Hair 1976, 160; Babbitt 1955, 57; Stuessy 1978, 166–67).

It was in this work, together with Partitions for piano, that Babbitt introduced his idea of time points as an analogue to the twelve chromatic pitch classes (Griffiths 2010, 155). There is no steady beat from either the trap set or bass (as might be expected in a jazz piece), so that the effect produced is one of persistent and rather nervous activity (consistent with the tonal material), with only occasional relief (Stuessy 1978, 179–80).


  • Outstanding Jazz Compositions of the 20th Century. J. J. Johnson: Jazz Suite for Brass; John Lewis: Three Little Feelngs; Jimmy Giuffre: Pharaoh; George Russell: All about Rosie; Teo Macero: Sounds of May; Bob Prince: Avakianas Brasileiras; Teddy Charles: Swinging Goatsherd Blues; Charles Mingus: Revelations (first movement); Jimmy Giuffre: Suspensions; Harold Shapero: On Green Mountain: Chaconne after Monteverdi; Duke Ellington: Idiom '59; Milton Babbitt: All Set; Gunther Schuller: Transformation. Performed by various ensembles. [Babbitt performed by Bill Evans and orchestra]. Recorded 1955–1959. LP recording, 2 discs: 33 1/3 rpm, electronically re-channeled for stereo, 12 in. Columbia C25 831 (CS 8909, CS 8910). New York: Columbia Records, 1963. Reissued on Bill Evans and Orchestra. George Russell: All about Rosie: part I & part II; Jimmy Giuffre: Suspensions; Gunther Schuller: Transformation; Harold Shapero: On Green Mountain; Milton Babbitt: All Set; Charles Mingus: Revelations; Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz: "Dancing in the Dark"; Cole Porter: "I Love You"; George Gershwin: "'Swonderful". Recorded at the Brandeis Jazz Festival, New York City, 1957, and the Newport Jazz Festival, 1957. Compact disc, 1 sound disc: digital; 4¾ in. Gambit Records 69214; [S.l.]: Gambit Records, 2005.
  • Spectrum New American Music, volume 5. Milton Babbitt: All Set; T. J. Anderson: Variations on a Theme by M. B. Tolson; Richard Wernick: Kaddish-Requiem. Contemporary Chamber Ensemble; Arthur Weisberg, conductor. LP recording, 1 disc: 33⅓ rpm, stereo, 12 in. Nonesuch H-71303. New York: Elektra Nonesuch, 1974. Reissued on CD, Spectrum New American Music, coupled with Stefan Wolpe: Quartet for trumpet, tenor saxophone, percussion, piano; Seymour Shifrin: Satires of Circumstance; George Rochberg: Serenata d'estate; Richard Wernick: Kaddish-Requiem. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79222-2. New York: Elektra Nonesuch, 1990.
  • Milton Babbitt: All Set. Composition for Twelve Instruments; All Set; Correspondences; Paraphrases; The Crowded Air; From the Psalter. Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor. BMOP/sound 1034. Malden, MA: BMOP/sound, 2013.


  • Arnold, Stephen, and Graham Hair. 1976. "An Introduction and a Study: String Quartet No. 3". Perspectives of New Music 14, no. 2/15, no. 1 (Spring-Summer/Fall-Winter): 155–86.
  • Babbitt, Milton. 1955. "Some Aspects of Twelve-Tone Composition". The Score and I.M.A. Magazine, no. 12 (June), 53–61.
  • Babbitt, Milton. 1963. All Set, for Jazz Ensemble (1957). Study score. AMP-96417-48. New York: Associated Music Publishers, Inc.
  • Babbitt, Milton. 1987. Words about Music, edited by Stephen Dembski and Joseph N. Straus. The Madison Lectures. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299107906 (cloth); ISBN 0299107949.
  • Barkin, Elaine. 2001. "Babbitt, Milton (Byron)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Griffiths, Paul. 2010. Modern Music and After, third edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-974050-5.
  • Simms, Bryan R. 1986. Music of the Twentieth Century: Style and Structure. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-872580-8.
  • Stuessy, Clarence Joseph, Jr. 1978. "The Confluence of Jazz and Classical Music from 1950 to 1970". PhD diss. Rochester: The University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music.
  • Wuorinen, Charles. 1974. Liner notes for Spectrum: New American Music, volume 5. Nonesuch LP H-71303.

Further reading[edit]

  • Karpman, Laura, and Milton Babbitt. 1986. "An Interview with Milton Babbitt". Perspectives of New Music 24, no. 2 (Spring-Summer): 80–87.
  • Lewin, David. 1995. "Generalized Interval Systems for Babbitt’s Lists, and for Schoenberg’s String Trio". Music Theory Spectrum 17, no. 1: 81–118.
  • Mead, Andrew. 1994. An Introduction to the Music of Milton Babbitt. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691033145.

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