Arranging Ellington

Congratulations to Michael Conrad for his winning submission to the Arranging Ellington project! Our review panel was impressed by the depth and inventiveness of all of the submissions, but Michael’s arrangement of “Come Sunday” was particularly remarkable. 

Due to the high quality of submissions we received, we have decided that two other arrangements from the project will also be performed at the concert on March 30th at Carnegie Hall. We would like to congratulate Dan O’Brien and Stephanie Wieseler on being selected to have their arrangements performed this spring.

Click here to listen to the winning arrangements.

We invite you to arrange one of Duke Ellington's classic sacred compositions as part of the Arranging Ellington project:

  • Create your arrangement of one of Ellington's sacred songs.

  • Get your arrangement performed at Carnegie Hall!


Click here to view the final submissions.


The arranging project is one component of this season’s Creative Learning Project, which shines the spotlight on Duke Ellington’s sacred music, some of the most ambitious and heartfelt music of his legendary career. First heard during three historic concerts in the 1960s and 1970s, these legendary works will be performed this spring by hundreds of student singers and instrumentalists from New York City in collaboration with some of today’s brightest jazz soloists.

Creative work by New York teens will be showcased in a concert on Sunday March 30, 2014, along with two new arrangements from Musical Exchange members like you.

Commission Guidelines

  • Write a new arrangement of either "Come Sunday" or "Almighty God Has Those Angels." Lead sheets for both compositions are available here. Your arrangement should build upon the musical, emotional, and narrative intent of Ellington’s original compositions while illuminating aspects of your personal musical style.
  • You may include any or all of the below instruments in your arrangement:
    • Trumpet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Trombone, Baritone Saxophone
    • Piano, Bass, Drums
    • Female Voice

    Note: If you include instruments not on this list, your arrangement will not be eligible to be performed at the concert.

  • In keeping with the spirit of Ellington’s music, your arrangement must include space for improvisation.
  • A lead sheet of each song as performed in the Sacred Concert is provided below for reference.
  • Arrangers are expected to participate fully throughout the online project, and their level of engagement with the community will be taken into account in evaluating submissions.
  • The winning arrangement will be performed at Carnegie Hall in a concert featuring creative work tied to the Sacred Ellington project on Sunday March 30, 2014. Although we cannot provide travel or accommodations for arrangers who live outside the New York area, we can offer the winning arranger tickets to the concert as well as an archival recording of the performance.


Click here for lead sheets.

Submission Materials

  1. Full score (one staff for each instrument)
  2. Live recording (preferred) or MIDI (embedded audio from SoundCloud)
  3. Program notes (one or two paragraphs describing how your work relates to Ellington and how it demonstrates your personal musical sensibility)
  4. The winning arranger will also be asked to prepare individual parts for their arrangement, as well as a brief video greeting to introduce themselves and their arrangement during the March 30 concert at Carnegie Hall.


Project artist Darcy James Argue will be posting blogs and resources and providing feedback regularly throughout the project. We encourage you to share your work in progress for feedback, and to comment on the work of your peers. 

Final arrangements must be submitted through Musical Exchange no later than December 15, 2013. Selected arrangements will be announced by the end of January 2014.

Project Artist

Darcy James Argue

Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue, a seven-time winner in the DownBeat Critics Poll, is credited with “making the big band cool again” (Time Out New York) and “reinventing the jazz big band for the 21st century” (John L. Walters, The Guardian). 



Featured Performers

Duke Ellington is known for writing for the specific personalities of the musicians in his band. We'd like to give you the same opportunity by sharing with you the names of some of the musicians who will be performing your music. We will introduce additional musicians as the project progresses.

Claudette Sierra, Voice

Chris Washburne, Trombone

Eli Yamin, Piano 

Ole Mathisen, Tenor Saxophone

Doubles: Clarinet, Alto Saxophone

John Walsh, Trumpet




You need to be a member of Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange to add comments!

Comment by Andrew Herring on December 11, 2013 at 6:37pm

Good evening! I want to ask if anybody could offer any general advice on what to do with the piano in a ballad type tune. As a saxophonist, bassist, and vocalist, I haven't touched the keyboard much outside the occasional combo gig, which is usually nothing more than comping. In Come Sunday, I avoided the tempting option of giving the pianist chord symbols and instructions to comp, so I did my best to write a unique, interesting, and appropriate piano part. In listening to Ellington's music, I noticed that in many slower charts, he often stays out of the way to avoid cluttering the texture, but adds blissful flourishes atop the band; this is what I attempted to emulate. If anyone would like to check out my work, it's been posted on the Work in Progress page. Thanks!

Comment by Darcy James Argue on December 6, 2013 at 7:20pm

Hey Drew,

The stone classics featuring a 4-horn front line are Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth (trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax) and Charles Mingus's Mingus Ah Um (two alto saxes, tenor sax, trombone) — I suspect most people are already familiar with these two records, but anyone who hasn't heard them should rectify that situation at once!

Another great 4-horn record that is particularly relevant to this project is Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges' Side by Side. Most of the tracks feature a front line of Hodges (alto sax), Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), and Ben Webster (tenor sax), with Billy Strayhorn at the piano and, most likely, writing the arrangements. (Duke only appears on the three sextet tracks.) "Ruint" is a particular highlight.

Other 4-horn records I'd recommend would be Wayne Shorter's The All-Seeing Eye (trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone) and three records featuring my mentor, Bob Brookmeyer, who loved the 4-horn format: Presenting the Gerry Mulligan Sextet (trumpet, tenor sax, valve trombone, baritone sax), Zoot Sims' Stretching Out (trumpet, valve trombone & 2 tenor saxes [1 doubling on baritone]) and Bob's own Jazz is a Kick (2 trumpets & 2 trombones [one valve, one slide]. The Sims record features Brookmeyer's classic octet arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" which is discussed in Fred Sturm's Changes Over Time book and is definitely worth checking out.

Records with a 5-horn front line are a bit rarer — oddly, there are many more 6-horn records that come immediately to mind (starting with Birth of The Cool and Mingus Dynasty) — but this is a good one that includes music by the Oscar Pettiford Octet (two trumpets, valve trombone [Brookmeyer, again!], alto sax, tenor sax). In a more contemporary vein, the Steve Lehman Octet's 2009 Travail, Transformation, and Flow (trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, tuba) is a fascinating recording. 

Of course any big band recording will feature plenty of 5-part horn writing, often across sections as well as within them.

Hope this helps! I'm almost certainly forgetting some obvious, important 5-horn records, so if anyone else has any suggestions for those, please leave them here!

Comment by Drew Williams on November 24, 2013 at 8:27pm

Yeah! I know the Dobbins book very well. I've mainly been focused on composing music for a nonet with five horns for the last few years. I've noticed that there tends to be a different approach between arranging for an octet or a big band. When composing in a traditional big band setting, there is an emphasis placed on making sure the voicing works well within each section. I may be reaching a little but I would bet that most composers with big band experience would work to get a good trombone voicing and then add a good trumpet and saxophone voicing that fits on top of it. Time would be spent to make sure the entire voicing works together, but the approach would still be to think of the voicing in sections. If we were arranging for five saxophones or five trombones and rhythm section, I do not think the approach would need to that different. Alas, the five horns we have present a different set of possibilities. The sounds just don't automatically blend. That sort of changes everything, right?

(I feel the need to post some disclaimers. Of course, Duke Ellington is anything but a "traditional" composer. Also, a lot of modern big band composers, yourself included, have moved past these "traditional" approaches for something that is a little more fluid.) 

I'm not sure I have a real questions or if any of this means anything. It's something I was thinking about before starting this arrangement and it has seem to hit a head while working on it. In other words, I'm trying to use Ellington/Strayhorn as inspiration to get more colors out of the five horns. 

I would love to hear some of your favorite octet/nonet records are! Thanks again for doing this. 

Comment by Darcy James Argue on November 23, 2013 at 2:27pm

Hi Drew — thanks for the comment! So great that you got to perform the Far East Suite music!

Regarding big band vs. octet, that is a pretty broad question! Do you have any specific concerns about a passage from the arrangement you're working on? If so, maybe you could post an excerpt here and we can all take a look.

Also, do you have any recordings by 4-horn and 5-horn ensembles? You might try transcribing some passages and posting them here. (If you need suggestions, I could provide some recommended records.)

Have you checked out the Bill Dobbins Linear Approach book from the Recommended Reading? He talks about 4-horn and 5-horn writing in depth and I think you'll find this book extremely helpful!

Comment by Drew Williams on November 22, 2013 at 9:00am

Hey Darcy and everyone else-

Thanks again for doing this. Anytime people are checking out Duke in depth, I think the world wins a little bit. I can say for myself, playing the Far East Suite my first semester in undergrad made me fall in love with Ellington and Strayhorn's music and inspired me to write my own music. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the differences in approach of composing for an octet and a big band? besides having fewer voices, there are not as many of each instrument type which can make voicing's blend in different ways. Thanks again! 

Comment by Zack Sulsky on October 29, 2013 at 2:32pm

Hi David. Thanks for your questions. Unfortunately, only the instruments listed are available for your use in this project. Since we cannot provide travel to the concert for the winning arranger, we cannot offer arrangers the opportunity to play in their own ensemble. We understand that the given instrumentation is limiting, but in real-world composition and arranging situations, your options are often limited. Rather than feeling restricted by the instruments that are not included, think about this as an opportunity to come up with new creative solutions with the instruments that are included.

Your question about balancing the intent of the composer with your own voice is a great one! I started a discussion in the jazz group so we can all learn from one another's progress.

The demo can absolutely be a mixed ensemble of live and electronic instruments. We understand that not everyone can get the full ensemble together, but we encourage you to use live instruments when possible.

Comment by David Salter on October 28, 2013 at 10:03pm

Also one other thing, is it cool (for the purposes of a demo) to have the arrangement be electro-acoustic, with a live rhythm section/vocalist and programmed horns (or possibly a different combination of live and programmed), with the score written with live performance in mind, as it can be hard to get a full nonet together to read, rehearse and perform a piece. 

Comment by David Salter on October 28, 2013 at 9:55pm

Hey all,

 I'm really excited to do this, and I have two questions, one pragmatic and the other a bit more philosophical. I'm wondering if its cool to use an instrument not on the list of approved instruments, if its the instrument you play (the presumption being if your arrangement gets performed, you'd play the part)? Specifically I'm wondering about switching out piano for guitar (for idiomatic reasons)?

I'm also wondering how reverently one should treat the material in this setting? Does anyone have any thoughts on balancing the intent of the composer (which I'd imagine is particularly important with sacred music due to the heaviness of the subject matter) with the expression of your own voice. Should we try to consider how Ellington would write it if he were alive today, or think the existing recording more as a framework for self expression?



Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 25, 2013 at 7:46am

Here is my first full blog post for the Arranging Ellington project, in which I discuss the famous Ellington Effect, "Mood Indigo," and the importance of careful listening via a cautionary tale involving a certain well-known composer: 

Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 24, 2013 at 4:03pm

Hi Andrew — as per the guidelines, you can "include any or all of the below instruments," including voice. It's entirely up to you whether you want to include a vocal part.

Comment by Andrew Herring on October 23, 2013 at 9:08pm

Must the arrangement include a vocal part, or can it be purely instrumental?

Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 22, 2013 at 8:05pm

Hi Connor — certainly you can choose to transpose either piece to a new key, or modulate to different keys within your arrangement!

The one caveat is that if you are writing for voice, you want to make sure you select keys that are well-suited to Claudette Sierra's range. I hope to be in touch with Claudette soon about which keys work best for her for each song — I will report back.

Comment by Connor Peavy on October 22, 2013 at 5:28pm

quick question, am I allowed to change the key ?? I was thinking there are some keys that you can change between in a single song and it sounds great (only now this cause like doing it in songs I compose) also was wondering about  thoughts on this idea ????

Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 21, 2013 at 4:35pm

Hey all — I've just posted a brief introduction and video outlining my goals for the project and offering some tips as to how to begin:

Looking forward!

Comment by Zack Sulsky on October 21, 2013 at 2:48pm

Hi Lloyd. Unfortunately, no, there is only one vocalist available for this project. One of the central challenges with arranging is always going to be working within the limitations of your ensemble. Think about ways that you can use the given instrumentation to evoke the sound or felling that you would hear with that SATB chorus. Could a section for unaccompanied horns in a chorale style create a similar sound? Could you use the voice as part of the horn choir? I hope questions like these help get you thinking about some of the challenges and opportunities that this ensemble offers you. 

Comment by Lloyd Spartan Miller II on October 20, 2013 at 7:47pm

Ok could the song be arranged for SATB chorus with soprano solo? I ask this since I realize there is a choral section in "Almighty God"

Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 19, 2013 at 2:09pm

Hi Zachary,

"Darcy" is fine.

In the introductory video I'll be posting on Monday, I will talk a little about the process I'm envisioning. Certainly you want to be aware of the full scope of possibilities that are available to you as an arranger. Duke himself was constantly reinventing and re-envisioning his own works (often quite radically) throughout the course of his career. Charting the evolution of early Ellington works like "Creole Love Call," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "The Mooche," etc, from their initial recordings in the late 1920's through all of the transformed versions Duke recorded in subsequent decades would be an excellent place to begin.

You could also look at how Ellington (and of course Billy Strayhorn) would arrange music by others. It's worth remembering that Duke originally attracted the attention of his first manager, Irving Mills, with his band's distinctive version of W.C. Handy's hit song, "St. Louis Blues" — Ellington recalls that Mills "asked what it was. When I told him, he said it sure sounded nothing like it. So maybe that gave him ideas."

Good luck with Vijay's "Three Fragments" — definitely of the most rhythmically challenging pieces of bigband music I've ever encountered!

Comment by Zachary Tecumseh Detrick on October 19, 2013 at 9:48am

Also I have a question about what this project means by 'arrange': take the piano/vocal score and write it out for band, or turn the harmonies into an original composition? And also I'd like to add that clams are cool.

Comment by Zachary Tecumseh Detrick on October 19, 2013 at 9:45am

Darcy, Mr. Argue, Mr. DJA; however you want to be addressed, I thought it was so interesting that this project came up while my ensemble is rehearsing Vijay Iyer's Three Fragments-a work written for Secret Society! Hopefully you find that interesting.

Comment by Darcy James Argue on October 18, 2013 at 6:31pm

Hi all — I'll be posting a proper introduction soon, but I just wanted to chime in to express how excited I am to be part of this project!


Carnegie Hall created this Ning Network.

About Musical Exchange

Connect with other young musicians (ages 13 and up), share your performances and compositions, and join creative projects led by professional artists from Carnegie Hall.





 Proud Sponsor

Digital music workshops produced by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Building Beats are supported by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in the New York Community Trust.


© 2018   Created by Carnegie Hall.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service