Ever heard the Duke Ellington piano concerto?

Ever heard the Duke Ellington piano concerto?

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

November 26, 2021

Written in 1945 and titled ‘New World A-Coming.


Now on Youtube.


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Yes. Wonderful piece. 1945. Performed it in 2003 with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande with Pinchas Steinberg conducting in Geneva (the night the Iraq War began), and recorded it with the Brown University Orchestra on a 2016 Naxos recording. Both instances were the Maurice Peress arrangement. In the recording conducted by Maurice with Sir Roland Hanna on piano, the solo cadenza was fabulous. I asked Maurice why it wasn’t in the conductor score of his arrangement. He said Roland improvised it at the recording session. He said I should write it out, fax it to him, he would share it with Roland and ask him if it is ok to perform. He did just that. Roland said it was correct and gave me permission to perform his cadenza, and eventually record it. Here’s another story about this piece: Scary moment happened just before the first rehearsal with the Muncie Symphony in Indiana when Maestro Kirk Trevor showed me the score the orchestra rented. Unbeknownst to me, it was Jeff Tyzik’s arrangement! I had to quickly put both the Tyzik and Peress arrangements together to make it work ten minutes before rehearsal. It worked.

  • Freewheeler says:

    It was a big mistake of Ellington to sometimes think of himself as an American version of an European Composer. I think that was partly the fault of the people who promoted him, too. TBH, European art music was at an all-time low starting in the 1920s and Big Band Jazz was in its ascendancy. Give me Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie et al over Schoenberg any day. Glazunov, after he fled to Paris to escape Stalin, embraced Jazz over modernism in the early 1930s. Glazunov had great taste.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s entertainment music, for the more chique brasserie.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      Edward Kennedy Ellington had more talent in his little finger than you have in your whole body. Just listen to him playing “Single Petal of a Rose” and then put up one of your own “compositions” for comparison. And yes I know there has always been the debate about the composition, was it Strayhorn, Ellington or as was often the case a joint venture. And as an afterthought, do try Far East Suite and New Orleans Suite, might improve your understanding of music!

      • John Borstlap says:

        I wonder what the author of this silly comment thinks to know about my body. The least one can say is that some ego boundaries have been virtually crossed.

        There’s nothing against entertainment music, especially if it’s played in the more chique brasserie. I like to requent brasseries, pre-corona that is. There is a place and time for entertainment and one for the more serious stuff, nothing wrong with that. Confusing the two and attacking the person who generously points out such obvious difference, is revealing a level of misunderstanding and confusion which, post facto, demonstrates the need for the simple information that there are differences in genres.

        The reason of such difference is that the perception framework of the listener is different with each genre. We expect more from a classical concert than from alpine yodeling, a we expect more from Duke Ellinton than from Olga Neuwirth.

        If you listen to a tango by Piazzola with the ears for Fauré, you will be deeply disappointed by the lack of sophistication of Piazzola. When you listen to Fauré with the ears for Argentinian folklore, you get a yuk feeling which will prevent you from ever entering a Parisian salon again.

        It is not so difficult.

    • PeterB says:

      Read the article, went through the comments thinking “he wouldn’t dare”, but yes! Praise the Lord, there are certainties in life! Hallelujah!

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    A surprising Gershwin-like piano concerto.
    Gershwin loved classical composers such as Debussy, and he was especially influenced by Debussy’s harmony. Listening to Porgy and Bess, an opera written by Gershwin, it’s obviously filled with Debussy-type harmonies with closely knit chords and frantic melodies. What Gershwin loved about Debussy and hence brought into his own music was Debussy’s ability to create music by only using very few notes.
    Duke Ellington (1899-1974), a highly influential jazz musician in the early 1900s, also claims that Debussy’s works influenced his own in his jazz compositions. Through the extended form and slow blues style of his music, and the use of riffs, call and response, Debussy’s influence can be heard. The creative sonorities, expansion of blues and related material – all of these elements influenced Ellington as he composed his suites. At the early age of seven, Duke had his first piano lessons, but they did not leave a lasting impression. Later in his life, he ended up developing a fascination for music, seeking out and listening to ragtime pianists in Washington, and during the summers, in Philadelphia. Returning home, Duke yearned to play, and dedicated himself to the task. Thus Duke’s music career was born.

  • Odd stage arrangement.

  • Kyle A Wiedmeyer says:

    Yes, actually. Here’s an excerpt of a performance of it by the Milwaukee Symphony and Aaron Diehl last month.


  • Ben G. says:

    Truly an oddity, even for admirers of Sir Duke.

    One may think that as a pianist and composer of so many Big Band charts, he may have asked himself – “Why not try my luck at this form of expression?”

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Is that a photo of Duke Ellington with Arnold Schoenberg and his wife? Now, that’s an interesting juxtaposition.

    • Claremonter says:

      Dmitri Mitropoulos, not Schoenberg.

    • Chase Coleman says:

      I thought it was Dmitri Mitropoulos (sp?) and Ivie Anderson, who was one of the lead singers in the band in the early 40’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Schoenberg, he was an admirer of Ives and Gershwin and a regular on the Hollywood cocktail party scene. Not at all the dour depressive he is often described as being.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Details about the history of this concerto:

    Duke Ellington (1899–1974): New World a-Comin’

    In 1943 the African-American journalist Vincent Lushington “Roi” Ottley (1906–1960) published New World A-Coming: Inside Black America, the first of his six books, in which he envisioned improved conditions for blacks in postwar America: “…a new world is a-coming with the sweep and fury of the Resurrection.” In his 1973 autobiography Music Is My Mistress, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (born 29 April 1899, Washington, D.C.; died 24 May 1974, New York) explains that he composed New World a-Comin’ in 1943 during his band’s four-week engagement in New York “at the Capitol on Fifty-first and Broadway with Lena Horne as co-star…The title was suggested by Roi Ottley’s best-selling book of the same name…It was premièred at Carnegie Hall on 11 December 1943…I visualized this new world as a place in the distant future, where there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God. Later, the work was orchestrated for performance by the symphony, and I always remember that even Don Shirley, a pianist with prodigious technique, had trouble with a ragtime ‘lick’ for the left hand.”

    At the première, Ellington performed New World a-Comin’ as piano soloist with his fifteen-piece band. In the 1960s, it was revived in an arrangement for piano solo and symphony orchestra that departed considerably from the original version. In spring 1983, Duke Ellington’s son Mercer asked Maurice Peress to reconstruct the original version for piano solo and jazz band. Since Duke Ellington had never written down the piano part, and the 1943 and 1960s scores and parts were lost, Peress worked entirely from a recording of the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, producing an edition that was performed in the summer of 1983 at the Kool Jazz Festival. Subsequently, Peress expanded the arrangement for full symphony orchestra, precisely following the jazz band arrangement and including his written-out version of Ellington’s solo piano part as played at the première. On the recording that Peress conducted in 1988 with the American Composers Orchestra and Sir Roland Hanna as piano soloist, Hanna improvised the final cadenza. Jeffrey Biegel transcribed Hanna’s cadenza from that recording and, with special permission from Sir Roland Hanna, recreates that cadenza on this recording.

    from Naxos 8.573490 – Piano and Orchestral Works – SEDAKA, N. / EMERSON, K. / ELLINGTON, D. (Manhattan Intermezzo) (Biegel, Brown University Orchestra, P. Phillips)

    • Peter San Diego says:

      The conductor on that recording, Paul Phillips, is also a great champion of the music of Anthony Burgess (music that is well worth championing; his three quartets for four guitars are enchanting).

  • MER says:

    Hearing this for the first time, the opening theme appears to have inspired “Last Tango In Paris” by Gato Barbieri. Ellington and Don Shirley were good friends, having met at the Basin Street East nightclub in Manhattan where they were both performing. On March 16, 1955, Ellington conducted New World a’Comin with Shirley as soloist at Carnegie Hall. My personal favorite performances by Shirley were works by two of his favorite composers, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, played for me in his Carnegie Hall apartment while illustrating musical points he was making during one of our marathon discussions about music. His arrangements of African American spirituals for solo piano performed at Carnegie Hall were also mesmeric. I wish someone would record Don Shirley’s symphonies, his Divertimento for Duke, and other works. He was an incredibly brilliant man, including being a gifted painter. Don’s apartment was infinitely more exotic than portrayed in the recent film where it had a more conservative tone. I miss our lively conversations that went on for five hours or more at a time, and wish I had recorded at least one of them. On one occasion while dining out, he admonished me for picking up french fries with my fingers.

  • Rhonda Rizzo says:

    I’ve heard it performed live (Milwaukee Symphony–see link at end of comment). I adore Ellington’s music, but this piece (in my opinion) simply isn’t his best work.


  • Paul Carlile says:

    Enter taining for a short while but goes on fart oolong…..

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Elements in the solo part remind me strongly of one of Ellington’s recordings of In My Solitude, and to some extent I also hear reminders of an album by Don Shirley (mentioned by others) “The Gospel According to Don Shirley.” Try for example the slow opening to D.S.’s “Trilogy.” Those two pieces were the opening and closing numbers to a long running jazz program on Milwaukee radio years ago hosted by Ron Cuzner, so perhaps they are just the most imprinted on my brain.

    My own favorite Duke Ellington piece with “serious” concert hall pretensions is his ballet score “Night Creatures.”