Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Donald Macleod follows American jazz musician’s exploits after he cuts free and heads to New York to work for Duke Ellington.

Donald Macleod follows American jazz musician’s exploits after he cuts free and heads to New York to work for Duke Ellington.

"The biggest human being who ever lived, a man with the most majestic artistic stature", so began Duke Ellington's eulogy on Billy Strayhorn.
A life cut short at just 51, Strayhorn's funeral on 5th June 1967 drew a line on a musical relationship that had continued for almost thirty years. During that time Duke Ellington had never produced a formal contract for Strayhorn's services, yet virtually every performance and every recording session done by the Duke and his Orchestra included original compositions and arrangements done by Strayhorn. The band's sig tune, Take the A Train is one of a number of works which were originally registered as being Duke Ellington's. While not an unheard of practice, this neither reflected Strayhorn's importance within the Ellington enterprise, nor could it be regarded as advantageous to his reputation as a composer. It's possible a significant factor from Strayhorn's perspective wasn't musical. Remaining out of the limelight enabled him to lead an openly homosexual life in an age of strong prejudice.
Taking five key environments, across the week Donald Macleod builds a picture of the contributory factors supporting Strayhorn's development as a composer and his extraordinary association with Ellington.

According to a close friend, it was only a matter of time before Billy Strayhorn’s talent was recognised. That moment happened when his path crossed with Duke Ellington. Strayhorn was quick to discover an exciting new world of opportunity in the big Apple.

Strayhorn: Snibor
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Strayhorn: Tonk
Billy Strayhorn, piano
Duke Ellington, piano

Strayhorn: Passion Flower
Johnny Hodges, saxophone

Strayhorn: Your Love has faded
Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone
with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra
Billy Strayhorn, conductor

Strayhorn: Three and Six
Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone
with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra
Billy Strayhorn, conductor

Ted Grouya, Edmund Anderson, arr. Strayhorn: Flamingo
Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra
Billy Strayhorn, piano
Herb Jeffries, vocals

Strayhorn: Chelsea Bridge
Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone
Hank Jones, piano
George Maaz, bass
Paul Motian, drums

Strayhorn, Ellington: The Perfume Suite
Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra
Al Hibbler, vocals
Duke Ellington, piano

Strayhorn: Take the “A” Train
Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

    Snibor

    • RCA 88985346442.
    • RCA.
    • 1.
  • Billy Strayhorn

    Tonk

    • Piano Passion.
    • Storyville.
    • 15.
  • Billy Strayhorn

    Passion Flower

    Performer: Johnny Hodges. Performer: Billy Strayhorn.
    • AVID AMSC 999.
    • AVID.
    • 13.
  • Billy Strayhorn

    Your Love Has Faded

    • Lush Life â?? The Billy Strayhorn Songbook.
    • Verve.
    • 10.
  • Johnny Hodges

    Three & Six

    • Verve 5299082.
    • Verve.
    • 12.
  • Herb Jeffries

    Flamingo

    • NEVER NO LAMENT.
    • BLUEBIRD.
    • 1.
  • Billy Strayhorn

    Chelsea Bridge

    Performer: Joe Lovano. Performer: Hank Jones. Performer: Paul Motian. Singer: George Maaz.
    • EMI 735502.
    • EMI.
    • 9.
  • Duke Ellington

    Perfume Suite

    Performer: Duke Ellington. Ensemble: Duke Ellington Orchestra. Singer: Al Hibbler.
    • NAXOS 8.120811.
    • NAXOS.
    • 3.
  • Jazz Philharmonic All Stars & Jo Jones

    Take the "A" Train

    • Verve 5299082.
    • Verve.
    • 15.

Broadcast

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.