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date: 07 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on several key moments when the history of jazz intersected with Shakespeare. It discusses, analyses, and contextualizes the three most significant jazz suites composed with a Shakespearean theme: Duke Ellington’s Shakespeare-inspired Such Sweet Thunder (1957), George Russell’s Othello Ballet Suite (1968), and Shakespeare Songs by Guillaume de Chassy and Christophe Marguet (2016). Shakespeare’s connection with jazz dates right back to the music’s early years, when both the word and the music were synonymous with modernity, youth, and Americanization. After several early attempts to set Shakespeare’s words to music, Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder (written with Billy Strayhorn) was the first significant jazz composition to engage with Shakespeare in a creative and non-verbal way, blending swing harmonies with European atonal ideas. Russell’s experimental interpretation of Othello went even further in fragmenting the text into repeated motifs and polytonal soundscapes. The chapter concludes with a study of a recent Shakespeare suite, de Chassy and Marguet’s set of compositions inspired by lines in Shakespeare. For all these musicians, the plays are a starting point for musical creations which draw on the signature sounds of jazz and twentieth-century experiments in atonal and polytonal music.

Keywords: William Shakespeare, jazz, Duke Ellington, Guillaume de Chassy, Christophe Marguet, Othello, Such Sweet Thunder, swing, modernity, Americanization

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