Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn performed Friday at RIT

‘Such Sweet Thunder’ is Ellington’s tribute to William Shakespeare sonnets

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A. Sue Weisler

RIT’s Jonathan Kruger and Carl Atkins co-direct the New Energy Jazz Orchestra.

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Such Sweet Thunder,” music inspired by sonnets, characters and characterizations from William Shakespeare, will be performed by the New Energy Jazz Orchestra at 8 p.m. Friday at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Ingle Auditorium.

The concert, led by RIT faculty members Carl Atkins and Jon Kruger, is part of RIT’s yearlong commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

“Such Sweet Thunder” is the title of a 1957 record by Ellington and Strayhorn in their musical tribute to Shakespeare. It comes from a sonnet from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

The skies; the fountains, every region near

Seem’d all one mutual cry; I never heard

So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

“Fans of Duke Ellington and the jazz community know about ‘Such Sweet Thunder,’” said Atkins. “It’s not music that’s played that often.”

He said the band will play all 12 movements inspired by Ellington’s appreciation of Shakespeare. Students and faculty members plan to recite the actual sonnets that inspired the works between some of the movements.

The 18-member band will play other Ellington works including “Caravan,” “Cotton Tail” and “Sepia Panorama,” Atkins said.

A reception will follow the concert in the Fireside Lounge in the Student Alumni Union.

Tickets are $5 for students, $15 for RIT faculty/staff/alumni and $20 for the public. They can be purchased at the door, or in advance from the University Arenas Box Office at 585-475-4121 or online at

Additional information, including directions and parking information, may be found at