Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #8 Ellington Afro-Eurasian Eclipse

On Sunday, June 26, 1994, I was working as a sales associate at the Men’s Wearhouse in Woodside, California. On Sundays at work, Chris, one of the salesmen, would put on the local station from the College of San Mateo, a Community College. They would play local music, obscure music, experimental music, etc. Well, this particular Sunday, they played this jazz suite I had never heard before, and it was AMAZING. It was so good, I called the station and asked them what was the name of the piece they just played. He said it was called the Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, by Duke Ellington. I loved it, and went out to purchase the CD. 

Coming in at #8 on my Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical is Duke Ellington with his truly amazing Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. Duke Ellington has a storied career spanning six decades of music creation and over one thousand pieces. He is known for quite a number of jazz standards, including “Don’t Mean a Thing, If You Ain’t Got That Swing.” He’s not as well known for his late compositions, the “world music” suites, the “Far East Suite”, “New Orleans Suite”, “Latin America Suite, and finally this one, the “Afro-Eurasian Eclipse.” That, to me, is a damn shame, particularly with the Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. 

As Ellington and his Orchestra travelled around the world, he became engrossed in the sounds and music that he heard all over. It inspired him to create this suite. In fact, he tells everyone in the beginning of the suite exactly how it came about. You get to hear him recite the inception in his cool basso voice, as he jokes about the didjeridoo and the chinoiserie. Here is what he says to start the suite: 

“Now this is really the chinoiserie. Last year, we–about this time–we premiered a new suite titled Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. And, of course, the title was inspired by a statement made by Mr. Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto. Mr. McLuhan says that, “the whole world is going oriental and that no one will be able to retain his or her identity, not even the orientals.” And of course we travel around the world, a lot, and, in the last five or six years, we, too, have noticed this thing to be true. So as a result, we have done a–sort of a thing–a parallel or something–and we’d like to play a little piece of it for you. In this particular segment, ladies and gentlemen, we have adjusted our perspective to that of the kangaroo and the didjeridoo. This automatically throws us either down under, and/or out back. And from that point of view, it’s most improbable that anyone will ever know exactly who is enjoying the shadow of whom. Uh, Harold Ashby has been inducted into the responsibility and the obligation of possibly scraping off a tiny bit of the charisma of his chinoiserie, immediately after our piano player has completed his rikikiki.”

The music begins, a lively bounce with Ellington on the piano having a grand time. The first piece of the suite is entitled “Chinoiserie.” Musically, this is a play on the meaning–an evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in western art. Each of, at least the first six pieces in the suite, are entitled with some cultural nomenclature related to the Afro-Eurasian landmass and its people. All eight pieces are very jazzy and very lively, very strongly rooted in jazz, no matter how much he tries to invoke sounds from around the world. In Chinoiserie, he composes similar to Puccini in Turandot, borrowing particularly Chinese sounding motifs, in this case, parallels in the saxophones, but otherwise, the music, the structure, the form, is strictly African American jazz. 

The second piece is called Didjeridoo, named for the Australian instrument. For this piece, he succeeds better at invoking the sound of the didjeridoo, as much as is possible on the baritone saxophone. The piece is also rockin’ great! It’s such a jam that you can totally hear the upright bass player yank that string like he was Bartok! 

The third piece is entitled “Afrique” and it focuses mostly on the drummer, Rufus Jones, and his magnificent skills. The fourth piece is entitled “Acht O’Clock Rock”, a straight up rock jam. The fifth is called “Gong” and features a gong. After four hard hitting, fast paced pieces, “Gong”, while starting hard, takes a very relaxed vibe after about 30 seconds in. It includes a duet for flute and clarinet, giving it, again, an oriental kind of sound. 

Finally we get to the 6th piece in the suite. This is the one that caught my attention 26 years ago on that Sunday afternoon. The sixth one is called “Tang” and it is full of jazzy dissonance, but where it stands apart is the chorus section with trumpets blasting off on two off-beat eighth notes followed by the trombones, and it’s just so good. It was this part that drew my attention on Sunday, June 26, 1994, and I’ve loved listening to this ever since. 

The final two pieces are called “True” and “Hard Way.” Interestingly, I’m not as big of a fan of them compared to the rest of the suite. Oddly, they feel out of place, too, lacking something “exotic” as the first six pieces have. They’re still fantastic pieces of jazz. 

This Afro-Eurasian Eclipse needs more recognition and attention. There’s not even a live recording of the suite. However, I highly recommend listening to the full suite, which you can find here. Enjoy!

Chinoiserie
Didjeridoo
Afrique
Acht O’Clock Rock
Gong
Tang
True
Hard Way

#08 – Ellington Afro-Eurasian Eclipse

#09 – Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade, Op. 35

#10 – Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture

#11 – Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22

#12 – Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps

#13 – Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

#14 – Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551

#15 – Coltrane My Favorite Things

#16 – Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

#17 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss Salomé

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Wolfe Fire in my Mouth

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Glass Anthem, Pt. 2

Weber Der Freischütz

Coleman Lonely Woman

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

Jobim Girl From Ipanema

Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra

Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944

Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Schubert String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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