Into the light: the life of Billy Strayhorn | The Seattle Times
Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's Gay Composer . to Horne's dismay, Strayhorn was in a committed ten-year relationship with Aaron Bridgers. But first, Billy Strayhorn. If you have questions about his life, his music, or his complicated relationship with Duke Ellington, our number here in. Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's 'right arm', to be paid tribute to at instructor Rejean Marois said Ellington and Strayhorn's relationship was "a.
These musicians guided him into the realm of jazz where he remained for the rest of his life. His first jazz exposure was in a combo called the Mad Hatters that played around Pittsburgh. Strayhorn's fellow students, guitarist Bill Esch and drummer Mickey Scrima, also influenced his move towards jazz, and he began writing arrangements for Buddy Malone's Pittsburgh dance band after Here he first told, and then showed the band leader how he would have arranged one of Duke's own pieces.
Ellington was impressed enough to invite other band members to hear Strayhorn. At the end of the visit, he arranged for Strayhorn to meet him when the band returned to New York. Strayhorn worked for Ellington for the next quarter century as an arranger, composer, occasional pianist and collaborator until his early death from cancer.
As Ellington described him, "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. Strayhorn was a gifted composer and arranger who seemed to flourish in Duke's shadow. Ellington was arguably a father figure and the band was affectionately protective of the diminutive, mild-mannered, unselfish Strayhorn, nicknamed by the band "Strays", "Weely", and "Swee' Pea".
Ellington may have taken advantage of him,  but not in the mercenary way that others had taken advantage of Ellington; instead, he used Strayhorn to complete his thoughts, while giving Strayhorn the freedom to write on his own and enjoy at least some of the credit he deserved. Though Duke Ellington took credit for much of Strayhorn's work, he did not maliciously drown out his partner.
Ellington would make jokes onstage like, "Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows! Strayhorn also arranged many of Ellington's band-within-band recordings and provided harmonic clarity, taste, and polish to Duke's compositions.
The cultural mediators of their day were white, and there was plenty of room for a great many major white composers, but for some reason they would only accept one major black composer. And the idea that there were two seemed unthinkable. And that the idea these two can work in a collaborative, companionable way which is linked to black culture and to the communal sense that's important in black culture could to not be processed by the white mediators of the day. I say that as a white man with a kind of shame.
Well, let me ask you, though, did Ellington and Strayhorn test that thesis? Did they test the thesis? In other words, did he come - was he presenting himself as another great black composer along with Ellington to put the people to the test? I don't think that they thought they had a chance. I thought they were wise enough to know that that's the way the system worked. They were both very, very astute men who wanted an ear, wanted the public ear, and knew that there's a value in playing the game as it was played in those days to get that ear.
Now, as to the point of how did Strayhorn pay for not only his piano but the music and his music lessons and - he worked as a soda jerker. He worked delivering newspapers. He saved every penny he could. He had the support of a mother who loved him dearly and encouraged him to play music, and Alyce could talk more about that. And he'd save up the money and paid for it. Now, he only went for a year, and then he left. He didn't finish his studies there.
But he saved up enough money from just working like a dog as a soda jerker and a newspaper delivery boy. We're going to take another short break. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A Biography of Billy Strayhorn. And one of the things, Alyce, that the film documents well is Billy Strayhorn's very difficult death.
Homophobia in Jazz - JazzTimes
You were there with him at the time. That was a very painful part of the history. I remember attending his 25th anniversary at the New School of Social Work.
He had that special concert, and his voice was very raspy. And I was just becoming aware of how ill he really was. And Billy Strayhorn was the first cancer death I had ever seen, so that was very, very difficult for me to see him suffering.
And we, his family members, we would go and sit vigil with him during his illness. But he always had a strong spirit underneath that. As you know, he continued to write music up into his death. And as a person he, you know, he exhibited great character because he knew how ill he really was. But whenever physical strength would allow him to do it, he tried to participate in life as fully as he possibly could. The most heartbreaking memory I have is one day I was walking him - he wanted to go to Harlem.
He loved to visit Harlem. He had friends in Harlem. And he needed to hail a cab, and he was a little weak, and he lived on Riverside Drive and I lived not too far from there and I came up to - and we were walking out to Broadway to catch a cab.
And he was beginning to look very, very ill, and his clothes were hanging off of him because, you know, he had lost a lot of weight. And the cab driver, you know, wouldn't pick him up and told him he couldn't get into his cab, because he thought maybe he was a vagrant or something like that. And that was very, very - that was very painful for me to see. Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. This is Jacque ph. Jacque's calling us from Detroit. That is correct, and good afternoon everyone.
First of all, I'd like to commend you for putting jazz on and highlighting, I believe, two of the best and the brightest that we have to offer modern civilized society. My question is two-fold.
Into the light: the life of Billy Strayhorn
What would you hope that folks will take away from the documentary that will air tonight? And the second portion of that is how do you think it will affect - if it will affect their legacy?
Robert Levi, why don't you try the first part of that? Well, I hope that it will reintroduce people to this incredible, unique, unprecedented collaboration that these two men The second portion of that is Yes, we'll get to the second portion of it in a moment, Jacque. So as I said, you know, here's an unprecedented, unique, collaboration in the history of the arts - a collaboration that yielded so many incredible gems, songs that are as timeless today as the day they were written.
And I really think - I think they will. I think the film, from what I could tell, is full of lots of different styles of music, different genres, idioms, mostly Billy's work, but also work that the two men are responsible for having created together.
And David Hajdu, the legacy question. Well, that might be one more for Alyce. Well, I'd actually like to interject. Again, I think as Luther Henderson - who was one of the most incredibly wonderful people I'd interviewed - said that Billy loved to share above all else. This was one of my first interviews for a now-finished biography of his former employer, Chet Baker [out in April from Knopf]. After gorging himself, grunting and burping, on Chinese food, he listened with me to a vocal recording that Baker had made inwhen his singing suggested a shy little fawn.
The pianist spat out in disgust: They turn that on any target. One guy in the trumpet section makes some idiotic remark, they all collapse in laughter.
One of the most important arranger-composers in swing history notably with the Woody Herman orchestra and an equally renowned Broadway arranger, Burns, now 79, carefully hid his homosexuality in those days.
These are topics most people in the business-Albertson aside-would rather ignore. What counts is the music, they argue, not who anyone is sleeping with. A group of fans debated the subject this year on Jazzcorner. So many contributors pounced on him that he withdrew his postings.
Cookie Coogan, a jazz singer-pianist who works and teaches in Ithaca, N. Imagine if I was really gay. The male-dominated jazz community was hardly so open-minded.
He also brushed off a quote by the late bandleader Mercer Ellington, who told David Hajdu that his father, Duke, may well have had a sexual relationship with Billy Strayhorn. Hajdu caught plenty of heat for it.