THE rise to superstardom of band leader, pianist and arranger Duke Ellington dates back almost a century now – but his music is still finding a new audience today.

This was amply demonstrated by the young students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama as their big band arrived in the Queens Hall, Narberth, last week to perform some of his best-loved works.

The 15-piece band under Teddy Smith belied their tender years with a storming concert of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas favourite The Nutcracker Suite, arranged by the Duke and Billy Strayhorn.

But this was much more than some slavish tribute to the romantic composer with a bit of swing.

The tunes of Tchaikovsky, who died incidentally only a few years before Ellington was born in 1899, were still just about recognisable. But he would certainly have wondered at the novel rhythms and the harmonic clashes.

The result was a breath of fresh air to some tired melodies that many will only know from the soundtrack to prominent advertising campaigns.

The band was joined in the second half by two talented vocalists who helped continue the exploration of Ellington’s legacy.

This SpanJazz event earned its place at the bigger Queens Hall venue - they’ll be back at the Plas Hyfryd on January 18 for more Ellington-flavoured music with The Dukes and the Duchess, a nine-piece west Wales outfit formed specifically to play the music of Duke Ellington.

Directed by Jim Luxton, it features the outstanding voice of Sarah Benbow and some of the most experienced jazz musicians in Wales.

Eifion Jenkins