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Billy Strayhorn

Donald Macleod takes five places that shaped Strayhorn's personal and musical trajectory

Donald Macleod looks at five key environments that shaped Billy Strayhorn's personal and musical trajectory.

Donald starts the journey in Homewood, Pittsburgh, where Billy Strayhorn’s early life was over-shadowed by poverty and a violent father. Over six years of toil as a “soda jerk and delivery boy” he saved up for music college, but an Art Tatum record showed him that everything he loved about classical music was there in one form or another in jazz. Strayhorn cut free and moved to New York, where his path crossed with Duke Ellington. He was quick to discover an exciting new world of opportunity, playing and writing for Ellington’s famous band – a complex relationship that continued for almost thirty years. Work took him to Hollywood - Donald explores the reasons why this turned out to be both an opportunity and a source of disillusionment. We also hear of Strayhorn’s love affair with Paris, the city where he found the night-life and the artistic independence he craved, and where he was given the chance to record his first album under his own name. Finally, Donald charts the ups and many downs of Strayhorn's final years, which he spent in Riverside Drive, New York.

Music featured:
Take the “A” Train
Lush Life
Something to Live For
Fantastic Rhythm
Suite for the Duo
My little Brown Book
The Hues
Passion Flower
Your Love has faded
Three and Six
Grouya/Anderson, arr. Strayhorn: Flamingo
Chelsea Bridge
Strayhorn/Ellington: The Perfume Suite
Ellington/Strayhorn/Gaines: Just a-sittin' and a rockin'
Rain Check
You're the One
Tchaikovsky, arr Strayhorn: The Nutcracker Suite
Ballad for very tired and very sad lotus eaters
Johnny Come Lately
Satin Doll
Music for The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in their Garden
The Newport Jazz Festival Suite
Multicoloured Blue
Day Dream
Ellington/Strayhorn: Smada
Cue's Blue Now
Far East Suite
Blood Count
Cashmere Cutie
Le Sacre Supreme
Lotus Blossom

Presenter: Donald Macleod
Producer: Johannah Smith for BBC Wales

For full tracklistings, including artist and recording details, and to listen to the pieces featured in full (for 30 days after broadcast) head to the series page for Billy Strayhorn:

And you can delve into the A-Z of all the composers we’ve featured on Composer of the Week here:

Release date:

Available now

1 hour, 13 minutes