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Jazz band adds some swing to ‘Nutcracker’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Back in 1892 “The Nutcracker” ballet premiered accompanied by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s still-famous music.

Sixty-eight years later – in 1960 – the album “The Nutcracker Suite” was released. The album represented Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s jazz arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music.

This week a jazz band will play “The Nutcracker” and the Strayhorn-Ellington arrangement in paired concerts. The concerts, called “The Nutcracker (Swing!),” are Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque and Thursday, Dec. 19 at St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe.

“‘The Nutcracker (Swing!)’ is really fun, fun to play and fun to listen to,” said drummer Cal Haines, who is in the band. “It has all those melodies you’ve heard since you were a kid. Ellington and Strayhorn put them into swing. They didn’t change the melodies. They made the arrangement with a big band accompaniment rather than an orchestra.”

Conducting the concerts is John Leisenring.

Leisenring said Kurt Carr, a woodwind player in Concordia Santa Fe, arranged little movements in classical style for the band. The musicians play those classical segments then follow them with Strayhorn-Ellington’s own jazz arrangement.

“So the audience gets to go back and forth,” Leisenring said. “We are proud that we have a bunch of musicians who can play in both styles.”


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Haines said he, pianist John Rangel and bassist Jon Gagan will open the concerts with a few Christmas carols.

The paired concerts are fundraisers for Concordia Santa Fe, which is a professional wind ensemble.

It is the third year that it is presenting “The Nutcracker (Swing!)” as a fundraiser, said Leisenring, principal trombone of Concordia Santa Fe.

He said Concordia Santa Fe gives six classical concerts each year but those concerts are free with audiences welcome to make donations.