Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

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It's a challenge to transform the "Nutcracker Suite's" romantic orchestra into jumpin' jazz melodies, but that's exactly what Duke Ellington and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, did.

Ellington's band memebers were not so sure that a classical ballet could become a cool-cat jazz number. But Duke and Billy, inspired by their travels and by musical styles past and present, infused the composition with Vegas glitz, Hollywood glamour, and even a ...

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It's a challenge to transform the "Nutcracker Suite's" romantic orchestra into jumpin' jazz melodies, but that's exactly what Duke Ellington and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, did.

Ellington's band memebers were not so sure that a classical ballet could become a cool-cat jazz number. But Duke and Billy, inspired by their travels and by musical styles past and present, infused the composition with Vegas glitz, Hollywood glamour, and even a little New York jazz.

CD recording of the Ellington/Strayhorn composition included.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Putting a jazzy spin on the holiday, Celenza tells the true story of how Duke Ellington recorded his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Tate’s mixed-media artwork keeps tempo with Celenza’s vibrant writing (“A little Vegas glitz appeared here and there.... Hollywood glamour mixed with the Harlem Renaissance as each dance tune fell into place”), incorporating piano keys, musical notation, swirling colors, and Nutcracker motifs spiced up with a big-band flavor. An upbeat Christmas book about breaking boundaries and experimenting with new ideas. Includes a recording of Ellington’s suite. Ages 6–9. (Nov.)
Children's Literature - Leona Illig
Duke Ellington was no ordinary American, and this is no ordinary picture book. The book may have lush, colorful illustrations and a clear, rhythmic writing style, but the story and the music are the stars. In 1960 Ellington's music, written with the help of his friend Billy Strayhorn, was at the top of the charts. Duke Ellington's band was the featured act at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, and they played to sold-out audiences. At the top of his profession, Ellington could have continued to compose and play his famous jazz songs, but he wanted to do more. He and Strayhorn came up with the idea of creating a new arrangement and recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. This book describes the process that led to the making of an extraordinary Nutcracker: the teamwork of Ellington and Strayhorn, the initial skepticism of Ellington's band members, the inspirations for the music, and the way the entire band worked together to create music that was "beyond category." As the author notes, the book is based on historical fact and is well documented. It is, however, a fictionalized account of what happened, since some information, including a detailed description of the recording session, was unavailable. At the back of this book is the jewel: a CD recording of Ellington's Nutcracker. Unlike so many other books about music, this one goes to the next level and brings the music to you. This story of what happens when you try something new, and when you work together with different people in a common cause, is unique and inspiring. While this book is considered a picture book because of its format, it would be a great book not only for children to listen to, but for young readers as well. The music, of course, is ageless. Reviewer: Leona Illig
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—When Ellington signs a record contract in 1960, he teams up with fellow musician Billy Strayhorn, and the two composers create a new spin on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The classical masterpiece is a holiday favorite and tinkering with something so well known is a bit risky. Ellington's band is not keen on tackling it, but he is not dissuaded. Even the record executive is skeptical until he hears the band recording in the studio. This fictionalization of Ellington and Strayhorn's daring collaboration is well told, and the illustrations convey the hip, cool feeling of the time. An author's note provides more information, and a CD of the piece is included. Anyone who pops the CD in for a listen is sure to see Ellington as the jazz giant he was. Music teachers will love this package to compare and contrast versions of the Nutcracker, thereby helping children understand what the classical and jazz genres are. Pair it with Jack Prelutsky's The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns (Knopf, 2010) for more insight into interpreting another artist's work.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Drawing from letters, memoirs, photos, film and recordings, Celenza presents a spry account of the 1960 composition and recording of a decidedly swinging Nutcracker Suite. Laced with invented dialogue and crisply delineating the close collaboration between Ellington and his brilliant, classically trained friend, Billy Strayhorn, the narrative traces the piece from radical idea to work in progress to exuberant recording session. Such a bold departure--classical ballet into jazz suite--required convincing: Both the recording exec and the band were initially dubious. Text and art sync around the premise that the musical traditions and global influences of the cities in which Duke and "Strays" worked--L.A., New York, New Orleans, Vegas--infused the evolving composition with distinct rhythms and cultural metaphors. The brilliant music cues Tate's full-bleed mixed-media pictures. Bold ink strokes outline and define figures--Duke's quizzical forehead and Strays' distinctive cheekbones are expressive squiggles--and create movement across paint-spattered spreads studded with stars, snowflakes and musical notes. The palette marries rich violet-blues with hot, harmonious yellows, sepia and crimson. The delightful accompanying full-length CD is a must-listen, since text and art mesh with it in genuine symbiosis, song by song. Indeed, the absence of a track list--ideally, integrated within the relevant page spreads--is a missed opportunity for deepening context. Still, real cool. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570917004
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/2011
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 398,708
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 620L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Harwell Celenza is a musicologist and the author of several books for adults and children regarding music history and the history of art. Her children’s books include THE FAREWELL SYMPHONY, PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, GERSHWIN'S RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS. Anna lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    Highly recommend

    i bought this book for my classroom. The children loved it. Especially the CD.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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