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Donald Macleod looks into American jazz musician Billy Strayhorn's deep connection with Paris, the city where he found the night-life and the artistic independence he craved.

Donald Macleod looks into American jazz musician Billy Strayhorn's deep connection with Paris, the city where he found the night-life and the artistic independence he craved.

"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.

The cracks were beginning to show in his dealings with Duke Ellington. A life-long Francophile, whenever he felt oppressed, Billy Strayhorn headed to Paris, a city he adored. He loved shopping, he loved the night-clubs, and he had a big circle of friends. It's also where he was given the chance to record his first album under his own name.

Strayhorn: Boo-dah
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Strayhorn: Ballad for very tired and very sad lotus eaters
Ken Peplowski, clarinet
John Horler, piano

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

Ellington, Strayhorn: Satin Doll
Oscar Petersen Trio
Oscar Petersen, piano
Sam Jones, bass
Bobby Durham, drums

Strayhorn, reconstructed by Rob van Bavel: Music for The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in their Garden
The Dutch Jazz Orchestra
Rob van Bavel, piano
Marjorie Barnes, vocals
Jerry van Rooijen, leader

Strayhorn: Festival Junction (The Newport Jazz Festival Suite)
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Strayhorn: Multicoloured Blue
Billy Strayhorn, piano

Strayhorn: Day Dream
Billy Strayhorn, piano
Paris Blue Notes

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

    Boo-dah

    • RCA 88985346442.
    • RCA.
    • 2.
  • Ken Peplowski

    Ballad for very tired and very sad lotus eaters

    • Mainstem MCD 0021.
    • Mainstem.
    • 7.
  • Billy Strayhorn

    Johnny Come Lately

    Performer: Art Farmer. Performer: James Williams. Performer: Rufus Reid. Performer: Marvin “Smitty” Smith.
    • Universal Contemporary 25218142922.
    • Universal.
    • 3.
  • Duke Ellington

    Satin Doll

    Ensemble: The Oscar Peterson Trio.
    • MPS RECORDS 0209478MSW.
    • MPS.
    • 1.
  • Rob van Bavel

    Sprite Music

    • Challenge Records CHR 70092.
    • Challenge Records.
    • 9.
  • Marjorie Barnes

    The Flowers Die of Love

    • Challenge Records CHR 70092.
    • Challenge Records.
    • 10.
  • Marjorie Barnes & Dutch Jazz Orchestra

    Love, Love

    • Challenge Records CHR 70092.
    • Challenge Records.
    • 11.
  • Duke Ellington

    Newport Jazz Festival Suite

    Ensemble: Duke Ellington Orchestra.
    • CBS 4509862.
    • CBS.
    • 1.
  • Duke Ellington

    Daydream

    Performer: Billy Strayhorn. Ensemble: Paris Blue Notes.
    • Storyville 1018404.
    • Storyville.
    • 6.

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