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New Film Examines Billy Strayhorn's Rich Contributions to Jazz

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Anyone familiar with Pittsburgh's rich jazz legacy will recognize the name Billy Strayhorn and his contributions to the 20th-century jazz canon.

But folks outside the cognoscenti might wonder: Who was Strayhorn, and why does he matter?

Before his death from cancer at 51 in 1967, Strayhorn shared a musical relationship with Duke Ellington that spanned nearly 30 years. His sound and originality contributed heavily to the Ellington oeuvre.

Strayhorn's best-known works are “Lush Life," “Chelsea Bridge" and “Take the 'A' Train," but Strayhorn composed scores of others, including entire musical suites, such as “Suite for Duo," a harrowing piece composed in three movements, for piano and French horn.

“Lush Life," which airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on WQED, brings the life and career of the pianist and composer into focus and helps to rescue him from the artistic shadows of Ellington. There's also a companion CD titled “Lush Life," available on Blue Note records.

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