Gay Men's Chorus Presents "Lush Life" -- The Music of Billy Strayhorn
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The last date listed for "Lush Life" was Sunday April 22, 2007 / 3:00pm.
Currently at Alex Theatre
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Celebrity guest Alan Cumming -- best known for his award-winning turns in Cabaret and The Good Wife… More
Billy Strayhorn wrote some of this country’s favorite songs – “Lush Life” and “Take The ‘A’ Train” are just two of his hits. Grammy award-winning musician Alan Broadbent has arranged Billy’s music for chorus in a show directed by Joanna Gleason and starring Billy Porter and Tierney Sutton – and the 150 singers of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
- Billy Strayhorn *
An extravagantly gifted composer, arranger and pianist — some considered him a genius — Billy Strayhorn toiled throughout most of his maturity in the shadow of his employer, collaborator and friend, Duke Ellington. Only in the last decade has Strayhorn’s profile been lifted to a level approaching that of Ellington, where diligent searching of the Strayhorn archives (mainly by David Hajdu, author of the excellent Strayhorn bio Lush Life) revealed that Strayhorn’s contribution to the Ellington legacy was far more extensive and complex than once thought. There are several instances where Strayhorn compositions were registered as Ellington/Strayhorn pieces (“Day Dream,” “Something to Live For”), where collaborations between the two were listed only under Duke’s name (“Satin Doll,” “Sugar Hill Penthouse,” “C-Jam Blues”), where Strayhorn pieces were copyrighted under Ellington’s name or no name at all.
Still, among musicians and jazz fans, Strayhorn is renowned for acknowledged classics like “Lotus Blossom,” “Lush Life,” “Rain Check,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” and “Mid-Riff.” While tailored for the Ellington idiom, Strayhorn’s pieces often have their own bittersweet flavor, and his larger works have coherent, classically influenced designs quite apart from those of Ellington. Strayhorn was alternately content with and frustrated by his second-fiddle status, and he was also one of the few openly gay figures in jazz, which probably added more stress to his life.
Classical music was Strayhorn’s first and lifelong musical love. He started out as a child prodigy, gravitating to Victrolas as a child, working odd jobs in order to buy a used upright piano while in grade school. He studied harmony and piano in high school, writing the music for a professional musical, Fantastic Rhythm, at 19. But the realities of a black man trying to make it in the then-lily-white classical world, plus exposure to pianists like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, led Strayhorn toward jazz; he gigged around Pittsburgh with a combo called the Mad Hatters. Through a friend of a friend, Strayhorn gained an introduction to Duke Ellington when the latter’s band stopped in Pittsburgh in 1938. After hearing Strayhorn play, Ellington immediately gave him an assignment, and in 1939, Strayhorn moved to New York to join Ellington as an arranger, composer, occasional pianist and collaborator without so much as any kind of contract or verbal agreement.
A 1940-41 dispute with ASCAP that kept Ellington’s compositions off the radio gave Strayhorn his big chance to contribute several tunes to the Ellington bandbook, among them “After All,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Johnny Come Lately” and “Passion Flower.” Over the years, Strayhorn would collaborate (and be given credit) with Ellington in many of his large-scale suites, like Such Sweet Thunder, A Drum Is a Woman, The Perfume Suite and The Far East Suite, as well as musicals like Jump For Joy and Saturday Laughter and the score for the film Anatomy of a Murder. Beginning in the 1950s, Strayhorn also took on some projects on his own away from Ellington, including a few solo albums, revues for a New York society called the Copasetics, theatre collaborations with Luther Henderson, and songs for his friend Lena Horne.