Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator:   Don Tate 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Charlesbridge , 2011   ISBN: 978-1570917004

It is 1960 in Las Vegas, and Duke Ellington and his band are in town playing at the Riviera Hotel.  A record producer invites Duke to make a record, letting him choose what he is going to play on the recording. Duke wants to “create music that can’t be categorized,” and he asks his best friend Billy if he can suggest anything. Billy has helped Duke compose music many times before so he knows that his friend likes. He knows Duke likes to play dance music, so he suggests that Duke create his version of the Nutcracker Suite. The record producer is not sure that listeners will like to hear ballet music, but Duke likes the idea, and so the producer draws up a recording contract.

Billy and Duke get to work, finding ways to replace Tchaikovsky’s violins with band saxophones and brass instruments. They also need to jazz up the beat so that their version of the Nutcracker will be “jumpin’”

By May of that year, the new version of the classical music is ready, but Duke’s band is not at all happy when they told that they are going to be playing ballet music. Duke is going to have to show them that this music isn’t “snooty.” In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Based on the true story of how Duke Ellington’s version of the Nutcracker Suite came to be written and recorded, this picture book tells a story that is quite fascinating. Readers will come to appreciate that Duke Ellington had a unique approach to composing and   performing music, and that he liked to explore new ideas.

Many people probably don’t even know that Duke Ellington made a recording of the Nutcracker Suite, and they are going to enjoy reading this remarkable story and listening to the CD that is included.