The late, great jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington once said, “Whether it be Shakespeare or jazz, the only thing that counts is the emotional effect on the listener.”
In the summer of 1956, Ellington found himself seriously digging the bard. Inspired by his encounters with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival while on tour in Stratford, Ontario, he composed a 12-part suite titled “Such Sweet Thunder.” The title comes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but the title track is actually about “Othello.” This work, suffice it to say, is complicated.
A collaboration among Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media, Jazz St. Louis and the Big Muddy Dance Company, the new production of “Such Sweet Thunder” incorporates Ellington’s music with Shakespeare’s words. It premiered Thursday in Grand Center. And on Friday, Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, and Tom Ridgely, executive producer of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, shared the story behind this new “Such Sweet Thunder” on St. Louis on the Air.
“We’re always looking for ways Shakespeare can feel relevant and contemporary today, and how we might help people understand that there’s something in Shakespeare, and in these characters and these stories, that can be for them, even if they don’t necessarily think that they are bard lovers,” Ridgely explained.
Bradford added that the collaboration was an easy sell for Jazz St. Louis. “It was a very natural pairing for us to work with them to bring this piece, which is very well-known among jazz circles,” he said. “It’s a beautiful and rigorously organized piece as well, so to bring it to life was just a treat.”
What: "Such Sweet Thunder"
When: Oct. 3, 4 and 5 at 8 p.m.
Where: The Public Media Commons in Grand Center (3653 Olive St., St. Louis, MO 63108)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.