Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite

Duke and StraysIn 1960 Duke Ellington recorded an album titled Three Suites, which featured a jazz interpretation of “The Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovsky. The works on the album were arranged by both Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. This is not the first time that “classics” were given a jazz treatment and selections of the Nutcracker had been arranged and recorded previously by a number of big bands starting in the 1930’s. The Ellington/Strayhorn version is the most often performed jazz version today. Selections from the suite have enjoyed widespread popularity around the holidays (as has the original by Tchaikovsky).

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite - Episode 1

On this podcast I do a side by side comparison between the original by Tchaikovsky and the Ellington/Strayhorn version. A number of the Duke’s original members of his 1938-1941 band performed on the recording including: Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Johnny Hodges, and Harry Carney. These are not “jazzy” versions of the suite, but often newly composed music in the spirit of the original reflecting the vision of both Ellington and Strayhorn coupled with the unique sound of the Ellington Orchestra. The soloists are just outstanding.
TitleArtist
OvertureTchaikovsky
OvertureDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
MarchTchaikovsky
Peanut Brittle BrigadeDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
Dance of the Reed PipesTchaikovsky
Toot Toot Tootie TootDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
Russian Dance (Trapek)Tchaikovsky
Volga VoutyEllington/Strayhorn

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite - Episode 2

On this podcast I will compare the remaining 4 selections from both suites. The Ellington/Strayhorn versions of the suite reflect their respect for the original work. More importantly it shows an understanding of how to transform a classic while allowing it to maintain its relevance and integrity by making it more accessible to wider audiences. This 1960 version, with its unique jazz interpretion by two of the 20th century’s most important American composers, remains as popular as ever today.
TitleArtist
Arabian DanceTchaikovsky
Arabesque CookieDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
Waltz of the FlowersTchaikovsky
Dance of the FloreadoresDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
Dance of the Sugar Plum FairyTchaikovsky
Sugar Rum CherryDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn
Chinese DanceTchaikovsky
ChinoiserieDuke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn