In this excerpt from the podcast, Delfeayo recounts his experience reinterpreting this jazz classic. [3:59] - See more at: http://nea.cmstesting.co/art-works/2012/art-works-podcast-delfeayo-marsa...
Delfeayo Marsalis: Such Sweet Thunder is almost like the Charlie Brown Christmas Special music. It's, like, you grew up hearing it and it affects you and you don't necessarily know to what degree. But I remember hearing Such Sweet Thunder and just that first opening it's just so strong and, you know, masculine sounding, it's like guys are going to war or something. And it's all a unison line. It's, like, man, who would think of that? Anyway, I remember hearing that early on and the opportunity came while I was in Louisville to write a thesis paper and the teacher suggested it.
Jo Reed: And Such Sweet Thunder, we should say, for listeners who might not know, was written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn and it's based on characters from the plays of William Shakespeare.
Delfeayo Marsalis: William Shakespeare, right. In 1956, Ellington and Strayhorn were at the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford on Avon, Ontario, in Canada, and they commissioned him to write something for the following year while they were still working on A Drum Is a Woman. So what I think happened was Duke just told Strayhorn, "Look, you work on A Drum Is a Woman and I'll handle most of this." So we can look at it and say Ellington definitely wrote the majority of this music. In a lot of the suites, they would collaborate and you didn't know what was what. But there are very specific movements that you say for sure, it's all in Ellington's, you know, his hand and I think he understood the importance of that connection with Shakespeare and a great work of art, very great. It's very different than some of his other works and not as well developed in a certain way as far as you know, the three-minute songs. So it's easy to misunderstand what it actually is. But it's just very rich and it's killing, totally killing.
Jo Reed: Explain what you did with it? Because you didn't just reproduce it.
Delfeayo Marsalis: How can one explain such a thing? Well, let's see. It's very challenging to work something like that, you know? It's very different when you're writing your own music and you can make certain decisions and make twists and turns. But, when you have something that exists -- and the thing that I'm most proud of, I played it for Clark Terry and Monsignor John Sanders, who are the only members of the original recording that are still with us, and they seemed to think that Ellington really would have appreciated it. The goal for me was not to disregard what Ellington did, nor was it to recreate what he did. The goal was to use that material and create something that was uniquely mine but that paid homage and showed respect to the original intent.