Billy Strayhorn's 101st


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Charlie Shoemake sent a reminder that today is the 101st anniversary of the birth of Billy Strayhorn (pictured with Duke Ellington). Strayhorn was a 16-year-old high school student in Pittsburgh when he wrote “Lush Life.” A few years later he brought his songwriting ability to Ellington’s attention. One of the songs he demonstrated that day was “Lush Life.” “Take The ‘A’ Train” followed soon after he joined Ellington. The encounter led to one of the most significant partnerships in twentieth century music. Little known to the public, Strayhorn nonetheless quickly became a jazz composer and arranger of supreme importance. His collaboration with Ellington lasted under his death in 1967. One of his last projects for the Ellington band was arrangements for the Ellington ’66 album. The collection contained three of Henry Mancini’s songs, “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Charade” and “Moon River.” In his Strayhorn message, Charlie Shoemake wrote, “When the album came out, I sat in Jimmy Rowles’ living room listening to it with him." Jimmy said, 'Can you imagine Henry Mancini’s face when he hears this?'"

The soloists were Paul Gonsalves, tenor saxophone on “Days of Wine and Roses,” Cootie Williams, trumpet on “Charade” and Jimmy Hamilton, clarinet on “Moon River.”

Here’s pianist Rowles in 1989 playing Strayhorn’s best-known composition. His daughter Stacy is on trumpet. The bassist is Eric von Essen, the drummer Donald Bailey. It’s from the Rowles’s album Looking Back.

Happy Strayhorn Day.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.


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