Billy Strayhorn: Jazz Composer Gets His Due : NPR
The Duke summed up Strayhorn's talents with typical Ellington Another meeting was arranged, and year-old Billy Strayhorn was hired. Duke Ellington was one of the most important creative forces in the music of the Billy was attracted to the piano that his grandmother, Elizabeth Strayhorn owned. He influenced many people that he met, and yet remained very modest and. Born on November 29, , in Dayton, Ohio, Billy Strayhorn was the fourth of at the age of 23, Billy Strayhorn met the year-old Duke Ellington, who was.
And even as early as this, Ellington was beginning to be recognized as an important serious composer."Lush Life" performed by Kay Davis and Billy Strayhorn [First documented recording]
Inhe was invited to visit the White House, and in his band made its first European tour, a huge triumph. In the years that followed, Ellington continued to grow musically, and the quality of his band continued to improve, reaching what many consider to be a peak from through the early s.
After the end of World War II, big bands went out of fashion, and, like other bands, Ellington's band suffered financially. Nevertheless, Ellington continued to keep the band together through all the years that followed, subsidizing the band from his royalties as a composer. Ellington was primarily an instrumental composer, and most of his songs were originally written as instrumental pieces, with words tacked on at a later date.
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Nevertheless, many of them remain remarkable as songs. Duke Ellington died in New York on May 24, Strayhorn joined Ellington's band inat the age of twenty-two. Ellington liked what he saw in Billy and took this shy, talented pianist under his wing.
Neither one was sure what Strayhorn's function in the band would be, but their musical talents had attracted each other. By the end of the year Strayhorn had become essential to the Duke Ellington Band; arranging, composing, sitting-in at the piano. Billy made a rapid and almost complete assimilation of Ellington's style and technique. It was difficult to discern where one's style ended and the other's began.
The results of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration brought much joy to the jazz world. Billy was attracted to the piano that his grandmother, Elizabeth Strayhorn owned. He played it from the moment he was tall enough to reach the keys.
Working with Strayhorn, rather than alone, he compared to going out in armour rather than naked. Unfortunately, it also seems to have imposed considerable strain on Strayhorn, the invisible partner. Related Articles 10 April Ellington in England 15 Apr As men, they were remarkably different.
Ellington, 16 years older, was flamboyant, witty, tall, handsome, an international celebrity and enthusiastic womaniser. Strayhorn was small, suave, intellectual, bespectacled, a heavy drinker and homosexual. Neither of the latter bothered Ellington at all. His band was full of Herculean drinkers, and as for the homosexuality, as a friend of Strayhorn's put it, "For those of us who were both black and homosexual in that time, acceptance was of paramount importance.
Duke Ellington afforded Billy Strayhorn that acceptance. To Billy, that was gold. Strayhorn appeared one day with the words, "Miss Horne, I've been commissioned by Mr Ellington to keep you company.
Bob Perkins Tells The Story of Billy Strayhorn, Composer of "Take the 'A' Train" | WRTI
He wanted to make sure that no other man came after me, so he arranged for Billy to be my chaperon. He assumed Billy was safe. He was just about everything I wanted in a man, except he wasn't interested in me sexually. But they were plainly very fond of each other - Ellington being a substitute for Strayhorn's real, brutal father. Duke was devastated by Strayhorn's early death inand fittingly one of his finest recordings - one of the most beautiful of jazz records - is the memorial album he made of, for once, pure Strayhorn, And His Mother Called Him Bill.
Strayhorn was born inand brought up in a back alley in the poorer part of Pittsburg. His family was large, his mother hoping for refinement, but his father embittered, violent, alcoholic, and employed in the humblest of jobs. In these unpropitious circumstances the young Strayhorn performed an amazing feat of self-invention.
He bought himself a piano from earnings as a delivery boy, soaked up music theory like a sponge - he was brought up, he remembered, on the "three Bs": He learnt French, dreamt of Paris, read omnivorously, and finally emerged from the back streets of Pittsburg, an incongruously exquisite figure, "a miniature black Noel Coward", as someone said much later.
Inat the age of 21 he wrote a song, Lush Life, which is like a prediction of the rest of his life, with its slightly strained Cole Porterish lyrics, and underlying melancholy. A week in Paris will ease the bite of it. All I care is to smile in spite of it. He was presented to Ellington in at a concert inkicking off with the audacious words, "Mr Ellington, this is the way you played this number in the show.
He rapidly settled in with the Ellington family itself, and quickly developed a taste for limousines, expensive restaurants, luxurious clothes, cashmere and silk particularly, and cocktails - all paid for by the Ellington organisation.
Bob Perkins Tells The Story of Billy Strayhorn, Composer of "Take the 'A' Train"
It was a bargain with Faustian elements. Strayhorn could certainly have made it on his own; his reputation among musicians was phenomenally high. Gil Evans, himself the most highly regarded jazz arranger of the s and '60s, said that once he had heard Strayhorn's world-weary, impressionistic piece Chelsea Bridge, "I set out to try to do that.
That's all I did - that's all I ever did - try to do what Billy Strayhorn did.