His closest friend and arranger had left his life full of music and memories. The album features well-known and previously unrecorded Strayhorn tunes that showcased his range, versatility, and, above all, the quality that Ellington admired him most for: his sensitivity to all of the timbral, tonal, and color possibilities an orchestra could bring to a piece of music. The set opens with a vehicle for Johnny Hodges called "Snibor," written in A loose blues tune, its intervals showcase Hodges against a stinging I-IV-V backdrop and turnaround, with a sweeping set of colors in the brass section before Cootie Williams takes a break and hands it back to Hodges to take out. It proved to be his final composition and chart. Hodges again gets the call and blows deep, low, and full of sadness and even anger.

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Early life[ edit ] Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio. His family soon moved to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In an interview, Strayhorn said that his grandmother was his primary influence during the first ten years of his life.

He first became interested in music while living with her, playing hymns on her piano, and playing records on her Victrola record player. In Pittsburgh, he began his musical career, studying classical music for a time at the Pittsburgh Music Institute, writing a high school musical, forming a musical trio that played daily on a local radio station, and, while still in his teens, composing with lyrics the songs "Life Is Lonely" later renamed " Lush Life " , "My Little Brown Book", and " Something to Live For ".

While still in grade school, he worked odd jobs to earn enough money to buy his first piano. While in high school, he played in the school band, and studied under the same teacher, Carl McVicker, who had also instructed jazz pianists Erroll Garner and Mary Lou Williams. By age 19, he was writing for a professional musical, Fantastic Rhythm. Strayhorn was then introduced to the music of pianists like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson at age The artistic influence of these musicians guided him into the realm of jazz where he remained for the rest of his life.

His first jazz exposure was in a combo called the Mad Hatters that played around Pittsburgh. Ellington was impressed enough to invite other band members to hear Strayhorn. At the end of the visit, he arranged for Strayhorn to meet him when the band returned to New York.

Strayhorn worked for Ellington for the next quarter century as an arranger, composer, occasional pianist and collaborator until his early death from cancer. As Ellington described him, "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. Ellington may have taken advantage of him, [4] but not in the mercenary way in which others had taken advantage of Ellington; instead, he used Strayhorn to complete his thoughts and introduce new musical ideas, [5] while giving him the freedom to write on his own and enjoy at least some of the credit he deserved.

Ellington would make jokes onstage like, "Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows! Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker concludes that the work of Strayhorn and Ellington in the score of the Hollywood film Anatomy of a Murder is "indispensable, [although] Personal life[ edit ] Shortly before going on his second European tour with his orchestra, from March to May , Ellington announced to his sister Ruth and son Mercer Ellington that Strayhorn "is staying with us.

As a committed friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He had a major influence on the career of Lena Horne , who wanted to marry Strayhorn and considered him to have been the love of her life. They eventually recorded songs together.

In the s, Strayhorn left his musical partner Duke Ellington for a few years to pursue a solo career of his own. He released a few solo albums and revues for the Copasetics a New York show-business society , and took on theater productions with his friend Luther Henderson.

Illness and death[ edit ] In , Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer , the disease that took his life in The last track of the album is a spontaneous solo version of "Lotus Blossom" performed by Ellington, who sat at the piano and played for his friend while the band who can be heard in the background were packing up after the formal end of the recording session.

Ellington always wrote for the personnel he had at the time, showcasing both the personalities and sound of soloists such as Johnny Hodges , Harry Carney , Ben Webster , Lawrence Brown and Jimmy Blanton , and drawing on the contrasts between players or sections to create a new sound for his band. It is a community-based performing arts theater.

In Strayhorn was inducted into the Legacy Walk.


...And His Mother Called Him Bill

Four of his siblings did not. As a child, he was shielded from an abusive father by his mother, Lillian, who bought him books and sheet music from her earnings as a domestic. Lillian also sent her gifted son for extended visits to North Carolina, where his grandmother taught him to play piano. On March 1, , the diminutive Strayhorn, then a barely five-foot-tall teenager, took center stage at the Westinghouse High School auditorium.


Billy Strayhorn


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