To be fair, some experts in the field of jazz - like Dr. Gordon Vernick - mainly credit Billy Strayhorn as the initiator of the project. Strayhorn met Ellington in 1938 and Ellington would eventually describe him as "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine." In 1960 he got the idea of working on what had become a holiday classic. It wasn't just a matter of "jazzing up the classics" as it was often the case. Strings are replaced by saxophones, a bamboo flute creates a Middle-Eastern sound, ... As Vernick puts it, "it's about taking a piece of music, dissecting it and then reassembling it in a very original and unique manner." The melodies are intact but the arrangements are typical of the Ellington/Strayhorn collaboration - arrangements they spent hours discussing over the phone as Ellington was living in Los Angeles and Strayhorn in New York.
Let's listen to the original version of one the of most recognisable pieces of the Nutcracker Suite, the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy...
...and let's compare it to the Strayhorn/Ellington version, called "Sugar Rum Cherry".
If you want to hear more Tchaïkovsky vs. Strayhorn/Ellington, we recommend you listen to this "Jazz-Insights" podcast (from Atlanta-based readio station AM1690) dedicated to the Nutcracker Suite.