ESU Kicks Off Holiday Season with Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite

Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite Grinch Suite

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on November 21, 2023, No Comments

East Stroudsburg University’s Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection will once again present the Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite. This will be the fifth year for the holiday concert at ESU. In addition, a performance of The Grinch Suite by Matt Vashlishan will be included in the concert for a second year. The performance will take place on Saturday, December 16, 2023 at 7 p.m. in the Cecilia S. Cohen Recital Hall of the university’s Fine & Performing Arts Center, Normal and Marguerite streets, East Stroudsburg.

The original music to the iconic Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite and Vashlishan’s new piece for large jazz ensemble will be performed by the Water Gap Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Vashlishan. The 18-piece ensemble will be joined by local jazz vocalist Nancy Reed and Duke Ellington’s grandson, Edward Ellington II, as guest narrators telling the story of the Nutcracker, as well as special guest Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone.

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker has become one of the most recognized holiday performances since its debut performance in 1892. In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn arranged their own jazz version of the suite for Columbia Records. The music is instantly recognizable with a fresh, “hip” twist, and has become very popular among jazz musicians, jazz listeners and general audiences.

After testing the waters with “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” at the 2019 Nutcracker performance, Vashlishan has spent years working and re-working this 30-minute suite that represents his take on a pop culture classic, much like Ellington and Strayhorn did so many years ago with the Nutcracker. He debuted the performance at last year’s concert at ESU.

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite is open to the public. General admission tickets are $25; students and children are $10.

Tickets are available directly by visiting, or by calling the special events coordinator at (570) 422-3156. Tickets will also be available at the door, but advance purchase is strongly encouraged and will receive priority. For more information about the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection visit or email