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DUKE ELLINGTON’S THE QUEEN’S SUITE PART 2 

YESTERDAY IN PART 1, JAZZMAN Duke Ellington flirted ever so gently with Queen Elizabeth II at the 1958 West Yorkshire Centenary Festival of the Arts. Today we see how this inspired Ellington’s subsequent musical life.  

The Queen a Jazz Fan? “What was the Queen’s response at the time?,” Ted Gioia asks in “When Duke Ellington Made a Record for Just One Person—Queen Elizabeth.” 

“We will never know,” Gioia says, “But I note that as recently as 2019, Her Majesty surprised British jazz musician Gary Crosby by mentioning how much she admired Duke Ellington. And that same year, she made specific reference to The Queen’s Suite in a conversation with saxophonist Tommy Smith.” All her life, the queen had evidently been a jazz fan. 

In 1973, the Queen meets Vera Lynn (and Duke Ellington again). Image from The Guardian, June 7, 2016. 

Ellington kept the disc a unique personal gift to Queen Elizabeth. He deemed that no reissues of The Queen’s Suite be made during his lifetime. The jazz great died at age 75 in 1974.

The Ellington Suites. In 1976, The Ellington Suites album was released by Norman Granz (who’s already made an appearance here at SimanaitisSays in “Jazz Impresario, Car Nut.” The album consists of three suites for jazz orchestra, The Queen’s Suite, 1959; The Goutelas Suite, 1971; and The Uwis Suite, 1976. It earned a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band in 1976.

The Goutelas Suite was inspired by Ellington’s visit in 1970 to a restored medieval chateau in the French hills. NPR, September 9, 2013, writes, “In a journal, Ellington wrote warmly of how the countryside’s aristocrats and commoners—its intellectuals, artisans and laborers, its Catholics and communists—had all banded together on the project. Ellington’s orchestral concept was based on a similar idea, which he’d learned hanging around a D.C. pool hall as a kid: ‘All levels could and should mix.’ “

The Uwis Suite, NPR continues, “was composed for a University of Wisconsin festival. It’s best remembered for Ellington’s novelty polka, ‘Klop.’ But it also includes ‘Loco Madi,’ the last of the many train songs Ellington recorded, in a tradition that began with his inaugural session in 1924.”

The Queen’s Suite’s six movements are “Sunset and the Mocking Bird,” “Lightening Bugs and Frogs,” “Le Sucier Velour” (“The Velvet Sugar Bowl”), “Northern Lights,” “The Single Petal of a Rose,” and “Apes and a Peacock.”

NPR cites Ellington travels as inspiration: a Florida mocking bird, a ballet of hundreds of lightening bugs accompanied by a chorus of bullfrogs, and the night sky seen from a Canadian roadside. Apes and Peacocks? NPR says, “Those were among the annual tributes bestowed on the Bible‘s King Solomon—natural wonders presented for a monarch’s delight.”

Queen Elizabeth II was evidently delighted as well. Rest her regal soul. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022 

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