Jazz Friday – Billy Strayhorn

This edition of Jazz Friday features composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn (Apple Music) (Wikipedia). Billy started his musical career as a classical music enthusiast and wanted to become a classical composer. This never came to fruition, partly because racism. Eventually, however, Billy found a love for jazz and brought his classical music knowledge to jazz. He wrote Lush Life while still in high school!

In 1938 Billy met Duke Ellington which resulted in a collaboration that lasted the rest of his life. Strayhorn’s musical sensibilities fit perfectly with Duke’s vision for his own orchestra. As Duke later explained, “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.”

Billy Strayhorn, a diminutive, mild-mannered, unselfish, and openly gay man in a time of extreme prejudice, is a jazz legend. Just a few of his songs are Take the ‘A’ Train (iTunes),Such Sweet Thunder (iTunes), and Chelsea Bridge (iTunes). I love listening to Billy Strayhorn jazz. There is a level of subtlety in it that you won’t find many places. His sense of harmony and syncopation, mixed with that original love of classical music combine to make something special. Billy and Duke also collaborated to write the music score for the motion picture, Anatomy of a Murder (iTunes). This was the first African-American-written score for a motion picture.

There’s a lot of great Billy Strayhorn music out there but if you’d like to just get one album, I’d check out Masters of Jazz – Billy Strayhorn (iTunes).