Chineke! Orchestra, the ground-breaking ensemble renowned for pushing the boundaries in classical music, has announced the release of a rhythmically compelling rendition of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, set for release on October 27, 2023 via Chineke! Records/Decca Records.

The recording is a lively reinterpretation that takes the beloved themes from Tchaikovsky’s 1892 festive ballet and infuses them with a vibrant jazz twist, uniquely arranged by jazz legends Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn during the 1960s.

With only a handful existing recordings of Ellington and Strayhorn’s adaptation, this album marks the first ever recording of Jeff Tzyik’s orchestration. In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn teamed up to give Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite a creative twist, marking their first equal billing since their 1938 collaboration. The arrangement, described as “melting pot of musical styles past and present” by The New York Times, exemplified Ellington and Strayhorn boundary-pushing spirit and their strong partnership. Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chineke! Foundation explains “Chineke! exists to redress the balance of who plays and does not play classical music.” and this album promises to reignite the spirit of Ellington and Strayhorn’s jazz-infused interpretation of the The Nutcracker Suite, offering an exclusive perspective on a timeless classic.

Writer Sharon Eberson wrote a wonderful review of the World Premiere Musical ‘Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For’ after its grand opening performance. Here are some excerpts from that review in On Stage Pittsburgh…

“In a full-circle, overdue moment, the words “Hi, I’m Billy Strayhorn,” are at last being said on a Pittsburgh stage. Conjuring the late jazz genius is Darius de Haas, kicking off a tour-de-force performance and immediately opening the floodgates of song, dance and history in the exuberant, celebratory Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For.”

Something to Live For illuminates the classically trained, Homewood-raised Strayhorn’s life as an out, gay Black man, from his impoverished childhood to Westinghouse High School to his career as an innovator in the world of jazz, when he was often overshadowed by his longtime collaborator, Duke Ellington.”

“The show boasts a bravura cast, led by the captivating de Haas and radiant dynamo Keziah John-Paul, the latter as Ivie Anderson, the famed vocalist for the Ellington Orchestra, and doubling as Billy’s mother, Lillian.Written by Pittsburgher Rob Zellers (The Chief), with director Kent Gash, and with arrangements by music director, conductor and pianist Matthew Whitaker, you can at times see the struggle to curate a life lived to the fullest and the endless choices of timeless music – much of it attributed to Ellington.”

“They would go on to create some of the world’s most beloved jazz works, with Strayhorn taking the lead as arranger and composer. Those include Lush Life, written when Billy was a teenager, Satin Doll, Something to Live For and the song that became Ellington’s signature, Take the ‘A’ Train. On Friday (September 23rd), after the stunning, inspiring and yes, lush retelling of a singular life, with the jazzed-up audience on its feet and clapping, the company gathered to dance together in one last jam. Having just said hello, no one wanted to say goodbye to the music of fellow Pittsburgher Billy Strayhorn.”

The Pittsburgh Public Theater world premiere of Billy Strayhorn: Something to Love For,  is at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown, through October 11, 2023. Tickets: visit https://ppt.org/production/87809/billy-strayhorn-something-to-live-for or call 412-316-1600. For more information, visit the website https://www.strayhornmusical.com/.

From October 16th thru November 22nd, Instructor Lori Mechem from the prestigious Nashville Jazz Workshop will be offering an in depth course highlighting the musical mastery of Billy Strayhorn. While Billy Strayhorn was a composer and arranger who spent most of his career as Duke Ellington’s musical partner, you will study and perform some of Billy’s most famous lyrical compositions such as, “Lush Life”, “Passion Flower”, “The Star-Crossed Lovers”, “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”, “Something to Live For” and many more.

The mission of the Nashville Jazz Workshop is to enrich people’s lives and build community through world class jazz education and performances.

They accomplish their mission through:

  • A workshop environment where jazz professionals pass on their knowledge & experience in a journeyman/apprentice situation
  • Classes for players & non-players
  • Performances to promote community appreciation of jazz

They embrace diversity among our faculty, staff, and students as a means of achieving excellence in education, as a stimulus for innovation and problem solving, and for ensuring a culture of inclusion. Learn more about these exciting classes and the Nashville Jazz Workshop at: nashvillejazz.org