Ellington's 'Sugar Rum Cherry' for the jazzy holiday season
11th December 2017
While many dance companies around the world embrace Sergei Prokofiev's glorious Cinderella and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker productions for the holiday season, a sophisticated festive musical alternative is Duke Ellington's The Nutcracker Suite for Jazz Band.
In 1960 the American pianist, composer, and bandleader arranged the suite with his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, successfully reimagining Tchaikovsky's 1892 score into jumpin' jazz melodies through the lens of big band jazz. The iconic Christmas ballerina Sugar Plum Fairy becomes the sultry Sugar Rum Cherry, while the graceful Arabian Dance becomes Arabesque Cookie (which Spike Lee included in his movie Malcolm X).
Ellington and Strayhorn did not simply place jazz rhythms over Tchaikovsky's music. Instead, they picked up the notes, recast the beats, communed with the themes, and recreated the work, turning it into something that was at once completely their own and completely Tchaikovsky's. In doing so, they showed that while music may be the universal language, it is spoken with many accents (and therein lies the fun).
At his death in 1974, Ellington was acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz, and one of the greatest jazz pianists, composers, and improvisers that had ever lived.
2. Toot Toot Tootsie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Pipes)
3. Peanut Brittle Brigade (March)
4. Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy)
6. The Volga Vouty (Russian Dance)
8. Dance Of The Floreadores (Waltz Of The Flowers)
9. Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance)
Noted pops conductor, composer, and arranger Jeff Tyzik adapted five of the movements for orchestra to create a popular 17-minute suite.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Nutcracker Sweeties — David Bintley's creation with Jasper Conran designs — was lauded "a delicious extravaganza" by The Independent and was a 1996 Olivier Award nominee.
• Nutcracker Suite
• The Judas Tree by Brian Elias
Buy the DVD
The Nutcracker Suite played by Harmonie Ensemble/New York on Spotify
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