Duke Ellington this weekend. A sort of memorial, since it was 42 years since his passing on May 24, 1975, and his funeral on May 27th. One of the true innovators and key figures in the world of Jazz, Duke Ellington has never been copied or surpassed and remains to this day, an original voice in Jazz.
In 1957 – 60 years ago this July, he premiered the latest in what would become a series of Suites based on various subjects and inspirations. This one, inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare, had its U.S. premier at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and was broadcast (much, but not all of it) via CBS Radio on July 1st, with the performance already underway. An album of the Suite was planned and recorded, slated for release in November of 1957, but apparently the Stereo version was scrapped and only the mono version was available until 1999. The world premier of the piece was given at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where Ellington and his band were scheduled to play for two nights. It was there that Ellington got the idea to do a suite based on Shakespearean themes, and along with his co-writer Billy Strayhorm, worked on the suite to be premiered the following year at the festival. So the actual world premier of most of Such Sweet Thunder took place at Stratford around June 30, 1957, but it wasn’t complete and no recording of it exists.
This broadcast and snippets of other excerpts from the Suite have circulated among collectors for years in various forms and have offered a tantalizing glimpse of what the audience heard at the first performance. And although revisions took place and even the premier had some pieces missing or not yet complete, it was still considered one of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn‘s finest collaborations to date.
If you haven’t heard it – here is the CBS Radio broadcast of the Radio premier of Such Sweet Thunder from July 1, 1957.