Nov 29, 2015
"Billy Strayhorn was 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.” – Duke Ellington
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn, one of the greatest jazz composers of all-time. Podcast 5__ celebrates the life and works of the man called by man names - "Strays", Swee' Pea","Weely" – and remembered by all who love jazz.
Strayhorn was a collaborator – and much more – with Duke Ellington from late 1938 until Strayhorn’s untimely death from cancer in 1967. At one time or another, Strayhorn was Ellington’s arranger, composer, pianist, collaborator and muse. Many have felt that Strayhorn’s arrangements were the reason that the many incarnations of the Ellington band sounded the way they did, and that as a result, he may have been more important than Ellington himself to the creative process. In David Hajdu’s fine biography of Strayhorn, Lush Life, he suggests – but never insists – that Strayhorn may have been deprived of songwriting credits and appreciation by Ellington during their time together. Instead of fighting for recognition, Strayhorn seemed happy to remain in Ellington’s shadow.
One of the reasons that Strayhorn may have been content to stay in the background was his homosexuality. Strayhorn was a private person, and was publicly gay, with a small, tight circle of friends to support him. A man about town, Billy was dapper, sophisticated and always ready with a quip, He has been called “the Truman Capote of the jazz world”. But he was also an ardent supporter of civil rights,and developed a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, who he immortalized in the song "King Fit the Battle of Alabama"
His compositions have survived far longer than he did, and his reputation continues to grow as more musicians discover and reinterpret his works. Here is more than an hour of Billy Strayhorn compositions, and one appreciation, by a variety of artists, including:
James Carter – “Take the A Train”
Joe Lovano and Hank Jones – “Chelsea Bridge”
Don Byron – “Snibor”
Jimmy Heath – “Ellington Strayhorn”
Chick Corea – “Lush Life”
Dianne Reeves – “My Little Brown Book”
Duke Ellington – “Flirtbird”
Phil Woods Quartet – “Blood Count”
Joe Henderson - "Johnny Come Lately"
The 14 Jazz Orchestra - "UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)"