Duke Ellington’s Personal Music For Queen Elizabeth Revived By Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

Ellington composed ‘The Queen’s Suite’ after their meeting and had the recording pressed onto a single disc for her ears only.

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Duke Ellington - Photo: Reg Davis/Express/Getty Images
Duke Ellington - Photo: Reg Davis/Express/Getty Images

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra will play a three-concert tour of the country in early December with the show In The Spirit Of Duke, in which the Duke Ellington tribute will include the music he wrote in honor of the late Queen Elizabeth.

Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote The Queen’s Suite after the great bandleader met Her Royal Highness in 1958 in Leeds, after a performance by his orchestra. The Duke, enchanted by the cordial encounter, immediately started composing the suite. He recorded the 20-minute work with his musicians and had it pressed onto a single disc for the Queen, sending it to Buckingham Palace and intending it for her ears only.

Ellington reimbursed his label, Columbia, some $2,500 in production costs, retaining personal ownership of the masters. The suite was not released until after his death in 1974, featuring on the 1976 collection The Ellington Suites. That set, which won a Grammy the following year as Best Jazz Performance By A Big Band, also contains his Goitelas and Uwis suites, recorded in 1971 and 1972 respectively.

Sunset And The Mocking Bird (The Queen's Suite)

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As the Scottish Daily Express reports, when the Queen presented Scottish National Jazz Orchestra founder and saxophonist Tommy Smith his OBE in 2019, he asked her if she remembered receiving the disc. She confirmed that she did, and was known to be a great admirer of the bandleader’s work. The original score to the suite is now in the collection of the National Museum of American History.

Smith says: “The music was supposed to remain unavailable to the general public but an album was eventually released in 1976 following Ellington’s death. I’m really glad that it was because The Queen’s Suite includes some outstanding writing by Ellington and his co-composer/arranger, Billy Strayhorn that really needs to be heard and appreciated.”

The SNJO’s In The Spirit Of Duke shows will now include music from the suite, in shows at Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on December 1, the Byre Theater, St. Andrews, Fife (2), and the New Auditorium of Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall (3). Read more here about an evening described as “a fabulous programme of foot-tapping favourites, infectious swing, mellow mood, and contemporary jazz to inspire and entertain all. Great tunes such as ‘Mood Indigo’ or ‘Caravan’ will alternate with less familiar pieces, but all are guaranteed to produce an evening not to be missed.”

Listen to Duke Ellington’s The Queen’s Suite as part of The Ellington Suites on Apple Music and Spotify.

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