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Ellington’s America | Reviews in History

ellington strayhorn relationship trust

A group of Billy Strayhorn Heirs will join the Jazz Education Network meeting to share some they were beyond what many had come to expect of Ellington music. a close partner to Duke Ellington during their almost thirty year relationship. Billy Strayhorn's musical responses to Shakespearean texts in and in terms of the . He and Ellington also recognize that we come to In "Up and Down," Ellington and Strayhorn place characters from the same play in relationship. As the world celebrates Ellington's birthday, we look back on his openly gay " Strayhorn and Ellington had a soul connection," Hoyes says.

Alcoholism, tuberculosis and, later, heroin addiction claimed a terrible toll. To survive you needed enormous strength, courage and luck. Some musicians kicked their habit. Others, remarkably, remained heavily dependent on one or another addictive substance for the entirety of their professional career.

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Great musicians like Billie Holiday, Lester Young ,Charlie Parker and the white Bill Evans — the last the subject of one of the best biographies of a jazzman ever written, particularly on the subject of the self-destructive scourge of drugs 1 — and many others died before they had enjoyed middle-age. Edward Kennedy — Duke — Ellington, the greatest composer and certainly the most influential jazz musician in 20th-century America avoided nearly all these temptations and traps.

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A light-skinned, spoilt Washingtonian child, Ellington, the only son in a family dominated by daughters, aunts and a much adored mother, rapidly became precociously self-assured and vain. In time this engendered a unique and uniquely seductive stage persona — super-relaxed, witty, articulate.

Many studies and biographies have presented this handsome, at times over-weight, genius as an unreadable mask or bewildering series of interchangeable masks. Making psychological sense of Ellington the man is peripheral to the main task that Harvey G. The author has also made telling use of a treasure-trove of interviews with numerous individuals — family, friends, musicians, business associates — who worked with or knew Ellington, housed at the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian Museum.

Interpretation of this fascinating cache of evidence is combined with an encyclopaedic coverage of the American and European musical press, additional oral material, State Department files and radio and television transcriptions and interviews. However, both on and off the road, Ellington had innumerable brief and sometimes much longer than brief affairs. This undermined the very qualities that such arrangements were designed to foster pp.

Working in an industry dominated by white businessmen, hustlers and gangsters, even this well-educated, light-skinned, articulate, and astonishingly talented Washingtonian son of a butler could have tumbled off the wire.

Too many others — and particularly black musicians — had suffered that fate: Ellington, the sybaritic, arch-romantic, aesthete-cum laid-back showman and ambitious workaholic, was determined to survive. Many years later, the clarinettist Barney Bigard provided telling evidence for the prosecution. Following one of his sinuously luxuriant solos, the inscrutable Hodges would turn to the audience, bow, and then, glancing at his employer, rhythmically stroke his thumb across the palm of his hand.

Ellington remained smilingly impassive. Ellington aped the Mills method. The miracle is that so few of Elllington stalwarts moved on. Several — Cootie Williams, Bigard, Carney and Hodges — stayed for 40 years, or took intermittent four or five-year breaks before returning to the fold.

Billy Strayhorn

For instrumentalists of this calibre in the inter-war years big band or session work was plentiful and well paid. Why did they stay? There are several reasons.

Even though he operated a complex pay-scale, which sometimes caused bad feeling and rifts between his musicians, Ellington treated his virtuosi well and was always willing to talk, or get someone else to talk about a bonus if it meant retaining an instrumental voice that had become integral to his ever-evolving compositional palette.

Other than at the very end, when, with the exception of the leader, the exhausted, globe-trotting veterans looked ready and willing to drop into a collective grave, the sheer beauty and originality of the music itself and the size and variety of the Ellington repertoire proved a strong musical incentive to stay in the band.

In the s critics frequently complained that the orchestra did little more than recycle predictable hits. Next, in post-civil rights America, the Ellington gloss meant that band members were finally treated with the respect their collective genius deserved: The band was also the least formally disciplined of all in the jazz world: Key soloists frequently wandered on 20 minutes after a concert had begun, and then wandered off again for a ten-minute break.

Others, notably the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, dropped asleep in mid-concert. But Ellington refused to dismiss instrumentalists who were crucial to the orchestral sound that he had been developing for such a long time, however unpredictable or bizarre their behaviour. In extremis, he would hand out loans — and bribes — to the needy and discontented. Finally, there was the famous Ellingtonian charisma and cunning: When in the post-Mills, post-war era Ellington became an increasingly honoured and venerable celebrity, radical African-Americans increasingly looked to him for public comment on the issue of race.

As Cohen shows, throughout his career the composer remained committed to a conservative world-view that emphasized the importance of education, hard work and mastery of a skill.

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All this would then be rewarded, Samuel Smiles-style, by well earned upward social mobility. Only when sufficient numbers of black Americans had followed this life-route, Ellington believed, would it be possible to build a bridge-head from which to advocate — and then politically demand — full civil rights.

According to a syndicated interview with journalist Otis N. A carefully worded response claimed that the offending sentences had been taken out of context pp. However, thereafter, Ellington chose his words carefully and frequently resorted to the trope that everything he had to say about the race issue had been best expressed in his music, and particularly in longer compositions devoted to the black condition in a predominantly white society.

When he did come home it was a great time for celebrating with the family. From that time he always asked about her and I usually had a message from her to share with him whenever he would call.

Cherish the Legacy of Billy Strayhorn - Jazz Education Network

He was such a giving person. He helped me pay my first tuition payment to the University of Pittsburgh and proudly sent me money to pay my initiation fee in a national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa. We were the most recent Strayhorn family high school graduates and Uncle Bill wanted to do something for us. He planned an all expense week-long visit with him in New York City! The best was yet to come, however because Uncle Bill had work to do. We went backstage to meet Mr.

Ellington and then enjoyed the performance from front row seats. At intermission we had to say goodbye to Mr. Ellington who had another engagement. We were saddened for a moment until we returned to our seats for the second half of the show. Much to our delight, Billy Strayhorn walked out on the stage, bowed to the audience and preceded to conduct the Ellington Orchestra for the remainder of the show.

Before meeting Duke Ellington and leaving Pittsburgh, Billy was an accomplished musician. Think for a moment. Is there any doubt that this young man will leave behind an incredible legacy or at least a legacy worth learning about, preserving or sharing?

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These shows which were not well received by many audiences perhaps because they were beyond what many had come to expect of Ellington music. The film version of the outstanding novel, Anatomy of a Murder was thought to be an even greater stretch. Ellington took on these immense projects, but soon turned over the responsibility for arranging and production of the final versions to Strayhorn. After the filming and recording of the Paris Blues soundtrack, Alan Douglas who was very involved with the Paris Blues project spoke with Strayhorn about a special recording session.

ellington strayhorn relationship trust

Many scholars, friends and longtime Strayhorn followers viewed this effort as Strayhorn finally playing his music as he intended it to be played.

Billy sensed that his health was becoming an issue. Tobacco and alcohol were not his allies. InUncle Bill asked me if I would be the executor of his estate.

His answer was strong and specific. That was to be my task.