Sunday, November 29, 2015

Billy Strayhorn centenary

[“Portrait of Billy Strayhorn, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948.” Photograph by William Gottlieb (1917–2006). From the William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress. Click for a larger view, or visit the Collection for a much larger view.]

William Thomas Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915. He died on May 31, 1967. Duke Ellington, in his (anti-)autobiography Music Is My Mistress (1973):

He was not, as he was often referred to by many, my alter ego. Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.
Also from that book, an excerpt from what Ellington wrote after Strayhorn’s death:
He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity (even throughout all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it might himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor.

His patience was incomparable and unlimited. He had no aspirations to enter into any kind of competition, yet the legacy he leaves, his oeuvre , will never be less than the ultimate on the highest plateau of culture (whether by comparison or not).

God bless Billy Strayhorn.
I am baffled by the apparent absence of Strayhorn programming from Columbia University’s WKCR. Here is a YouTube sampler, with performances by Strayhorn himself, the Ellington band, or assorted Ellingtonians.

“Blood Count” : “Chelsea Bridge” : “The Intimacy of the Blues” : “Johnny Come Lately” : “Lotus Blossom” : “Lush Life” : “My Little Brown Book” : “Rain Check” : “Take the ‘A’ Train” : “U. M. M. G.”

And a website: And a related post: Strayhorn on humility and individuality.

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