At this point in the holiday season, we’ve heard all of the music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite over a billion times (no exaggeration). And if you’re a dancer, parent of a dancer, sibling of a dancer, friend of a dancer, or associated with the dance world in any way whatsoever, take that one billion and multiply it by seventeen trillion.
Well, what if we were to tell you that there exists a version of the Nutcracker that won’t drive you insane? Could such a thing be real? It is real and it is glorious! I hope you’re ready because we’re about to travel back in time to when music was real music. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to introduce
Mr. Duke Ellington and Mr. Billy Strayhorn.
From the early 1920’s until the mid-1960’s Duke Ellington, slowly but surely, took the world of big band and jazz music by storm with his own band for which he conducted, composed and acted as the band’s pianist. Fighting racial adversity and refusing to lay down to anyone, he is still today considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. Throughout the 1930’s, Ellington began to make a name for himself in the record industry making regular “appearances” on popular radio programs of the time. As his star rose, as did his band. Joining the band as lyricist and fill-in pianist when Ellington was busy conducting, was Billy Strayhorn. But, it wasn’t until 1941 when Ellington teamed up with Strayhorn to create the song which would become the theme for the Duke Ellington band and immortalize him in music history, Take the A Train. Even if you don’t know the name, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the song before.
Originally finding passion in classical music, Billy Strayhorn began his career at the age of 19 in Pittsburgh, writing for a professional show called Fantastic Rhythm. A few years later, Strayhorn met Ellington at a club to see the Duke Ellington band perform. After the show, Strayhorn played a few numbers on the piano for Ellington and history was made. The two would go on to write numerous compositions together, play countless concerts and leave behind a musical legacy like no other.
The Nutcracker Suite
In 1960, the music from one of the world’s most renowned ballets was recreated in a way that no one had ever heard before. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn teamed up to reinvent Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite into a full jazz band composition. The composition gave new life to this ballet classic known world wide as a Christmas favorite. Choosing signature songs from the ballet, they were rearranged to fit the modern audience of the day. The composition was a hit and has continued to wow audiences to this day, almost sixty years later!
Not only did they change the style of music, they went so far as to change the names of the songs within The Nutcracker that they covered to fit the music’s new tempo and genre.
“The Dance of the Reed Pipes” was titled “Toot Toot Tootie Toot”
“The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” was changed to “Sugar Rum Cherry”
“Russian Dance” was titled “Volga Vouty”
“Chinese Dance” was changed to “Chinoiserie”
“The Waltz of the Flowers” was titled “Danse of the Floreadores”
and “Arabian Dance” was changed to “Arabesque Cookie”
But, we’re not just here to TALK about this masterpiece! We’re here to share it with all of you! Click on the album cover above to listen! We hope that you’re as amazed and impressed with it as we are! Who says holidays tunes all have to sound the same?