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Donald Macleod explores the reasons why the American jazz musician Billy Strayhorn's time in Hollywood turned out to be an opportunity and a source of disillusionment.

Donald Macleod explores the reasons why the American jazz musician Billy Strayhorn's time in Hollywood turned out to be an opportunity and a source of disillusionment.

"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.

Stuck in Hollywood for months, working on various projects for Duke Ellington enabled the Duke to tour with his Orchestra secure in the knowledge that Strayhorn would make sure everything ran to plan in his absence. There were artistic downsides to this arrangement, but on the plus side, Strayhorn met one of his closest friends, Lena Horne.

Strayhorn: Clementine
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Ellington, Strayhorn, Lee Gaines: Just a-sittin' and a rockin'
Ella Fitzgerald, vocals
Ben Webster, tenor saxophone
Stuff Smith, violin
Paul Smith, piano
Barney Kessel, guitar
Joe Mondragon, bass
Alvin Stoller, drums

Strayhorn: Rain Check
Art Farmer, flugelhorn
Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone
James Williams, piano
Rufus Reid, bass
Marvin "Smitty" Smith, drums

Strayhorn: Pentonsilic
The Dutch Jazz Orchestra
Jerry van Rooijen, leader

Strayhorn: You're the One
Lena Horne, vocals
Lennie Hayton and his Orchestra

Tchaikovsky, arr Strayhorn: The Nutcracker Suite
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

    Clementine

    • Storyville 1088614.
    • Storyville.
    • 14.
  • Ella Fitzgerald

    Just a-sittin' and a-rockin'

    • Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55426.
    • EJC.
    • 3.
  • Art Farmer

    Rain Check

    • Universal Contemporary 25218142922.
    • Universal.
    • 6.
  • Dutch Jazz Orchestra

    Pentonsilic

    • Challenge CHR 70089.
    • CHR.
    • 12.
  • Lena Horne & Lennie Hayton & His Orchestra

    You're the One

    • RCA VICTOR LPM 1148.
    • RCA VICTOR.
    • 3.
  • Duke Ellington

    The Nutcracker Suite

    Performer: Duke Ellington. Ensemble: Duke Ellington Orchestra.
    • COLUMBIA : col-472356 2.
    • COLUMBIA.
    • 1.

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