Flashback Friday – Duke Ellington – Three Suites

Duke Ellington - Three Suites
It is only fitting for the last Flashback Friday entry of this year to go out on a royal note. Duke Ellington’s Three Suites recording has been a part of my holiday season for about the last 10 years. I heard it for the first time as the soundtrack for a soulful version of the “Nutcracker Suite” called “Nuts and Bolts” performed by the Joel Hall Dance Theatre in Chicago. After hearing it, I searched the record stores until I found it.

Three Suites is made up of wonderful adaptations of Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, and Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2, Ellington-Strayhorn: Suite Thursday, an original composition.

In addition to receiving the magic touch of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, several of the pieces in The Nutcracker Suite got renamed to coincide with their new arrangements. “Dance of the Reed-Pipes” was now “Toot Toot Tootie Toot”, “March” was now “Peanut Brittle Brigade” and “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” was now “Sugar Rum Cherry.” The liner notes discuss in detail how this excellent group of musicians came together to create this magnificent body of music. It is pure genius and I am sure even Tchaikovsky would have been pleased with the finished product. Ellington and Strayhorn put the same amount of loving care into the selections for the Peer Gynt Suite Nos. 1 and 2 which includes “Morning Mood”, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, “Solvejg’s Song”, “Ase’s Death”, and “Anitra’s Dance.” Suite Thursday is the result of a commission from the directors of the Monterey Jazz Festival for an original Ellington to be written and presented at the Festival in 1960. Monterey is Steinbeck country, and the author’s “Sweet Thursday” inspired the title of Ellington four-part suite which includes the pieces “Misfit Blues”, “Schwiphti”, “Zweet Zurzday”, and “Lay-By.”

While the adaptation of The Nutcracker Suite is my personal favorite, the entire album is filled with beautiful music that you are sure to enjoy. It also displays the musical genius and complexity of these great legends. Enjoy your music and may all the best be yours for the New Year!

4 Responses to “Flashback Friday – Duke Ellington – Three Suites”

  1. Bernie says:

    Happy New Year, James. That Ellington CD is one I need to add to my own collection. Perhaps I’ll run out and get it today.

  2. Gee says:

    HAPPY NEW YEAR! I’m planning a trip to Oakland 01/15-01/17. Hopefully I’ll get to start this new year by meeting some online friends in person. 🙂
    Thank you for a year of wonderful music and recipes. YOU ARE THE MAN!!!!!!

  3. mwanji says:

    I went to the record store soon after having read your post, saw this one on the racks for cheap and bought it. Nice album. On first listen, I most enjoyed “Ase’s Death” from the Peer Gynt suite.

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