Prelude to a Kiss (song)

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

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

Background and Composition[edit]

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 week later to record it as a vocal number, using lyrics by Irving Gordon and Irving Mills, with a young and relatively unknown 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[edit]

The 1992 film Prelude to a Kiss derived its title from the Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills tune and was performed by Deborah Harry during the opening credits of the movie.

Notable recordings[edit]


  1. ^ "Prelude to a Kiss" at Jazz Standards - retrieved on 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[edit]