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The latest release from Detroit's Planet D Nonet is a tribute to one of the 20th Century's jazz and swing greats.

Detroit’s Planet D Nonet, a vibrant little-big band with an expansive repertoire, explores the full-breadth of the terrain on “A Salute to Strayhorn" (Detroit Music Factory). The CD includes Strayhorn masterpieces such as “Smada” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” classic collaborations with Ellington like “Such Sweet Thunder” and a few more popular songs like “My Little Brown Book”, “Satin Doll” and “Just a-Sittin’ and a-Rockin’”.

Led together by drummer RJ Spangler and trumpeter James O’Donnell, the band plays this music with affection, balancing the spirit of the past with the pop of the present tense.

Composer-arranger Billy Strayhorn (1915-67) was a major figure in American music, best known during his life and for decades after his death as Duke Ellington’s collaborator. But in the last 20 years, thanks to pioneering biographical and musicological scholarship and recordings from a variety of sources, Strayhorn’s reputation has finally managed to escape Ellington’s shadow.

Chicago celebrates Strayhorn !

Frank Caruso (pictured above) is a Chicago jazz legend. He has played piano professionally since he was 12 years old. Frank has been a featured performer at the White House, as well as playing there on several occasions. As a contributing writer to the Chicago Jazz Magazine, Frank wrote this article paying homage to the memory of Billy Strayhorn in the month of his 101st birthday. You can read his thoughts on Strayhorn by clicking below:

http://www.chicagojazz.com/conceptual-jazz-billy-strayhorn

Michael Covert, Michole Briana White, Frank Lawson, and Keverlie Herron in When Jazz Had the Blues at the Matrix Theatre. (Photo by Ed Krieger)
Michael Covert, Michole Briana White, Frank Lawson, and Keverlie Herron in When Jazz Had the Blues at the Matrix Theatre. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

When Jazz Had the Blues 

Reviewed by Neal Weaver 
Matrix Theatre 
Through December 18 

RECOMMENDED* 

Pianist/composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn (Frank Lawson) grew up in a family dominated by his alcoholic, abusive father.  His first love was classical music, but he was black and gay, and in the 1930s and 40s gay was emphatically frowned upon, and the classical music establishment was almost entirely white. So he turned instead to the world of jazz. Early on in his career, he met up with Duke Ellington (Boise Holmes), who would become his father figure, mentor, and — in a sense — his nemesis. Ellington hired him as a member of the Duke Ellington Band and turned his composition “Take the A Train” into their signature number. Strayhorn was paid handsomely for his work, but Ellington claimed authorship or co-authorship of his songs and arrangements. So Strayhorn found his light hidden under the Ellington bushel.

Carole Eglash-Kosoff’s musical biography, now receiving its premiere production at the Matrix Theatre, depicts Strayhorn’s first encounters with Ellington and his long struggle to achieve recognition in his own right. We see his meeting with singer Lena Horne (Michole Brianna White), with whom he began a long platonic love affair, and his very emotionally intimate relationship with his first male lover, Aaron Bridgers (Gilbert Glen Brown).

This is not a juke-box musical in the usual sense of the word. There is little or no new musical material here; all the numbers are songs associated with Strayhorn, Ellington and Horne. Horne’s songs include “The Man I Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Bill,” from the musical Showboat. Other songs include “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing,” and “It’s Not What You Do But the Way You Do It.” 

Director John Henry Davis has assembled a top-notch cast. Lawson has the difficult task of playing a self-effacing man while also mustering the charisma necessary for the lead in a musical, and he pretty much pulls it off. Holmes is effective in the double role of Strayhorn’s father and Ellington, his spiritual father.  White is not very like Lena Horne, with her cool, restrained dignity, but she’s a terrific performer in her own right. Brown achieves a real gravitas as Strayhorn’s lover, and performs his songs with style and brio. And the fine ensemble provides strong support, with special praise for Katherine Washington, Brad Light and Keverlie Herron.

Musical director and key-boardist Rahn Coleman provides the expert arrangements, and Cassie Crump created the exuberant dances. Michael Mullen furnished the glamorous beaded gowns. 

The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through December 18. (323) 960-7776 or www.plays411.com/jazzblues. Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

 

SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE KICKS OFF SUMMER TOUR PERFORMING STRAYHORN'S ‘'A’ TRAIN’

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble kicked off their August Summer tour starting in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. The ten-city tour took them across the U.S., culminating in a performance at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl on August 21st. As part of the program line-up, the ensemble performed an original arrangement of the classic Billy Strayhorn song “Take The ‘A’ Train”.

The ensemble debuted their innovative cover of the jazz standard last year in celebration of Strayhorn’s centennial at a benefit concert supporting the Silk Road project. Yo-Yo Ma has enjoyed a prolific career as both a soloist performing with orchestras around the world and a recording artist. His 90+ albums have received 18 Grammy Awards. 


*Pictured Above: Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. President and Billy Strayhorn's niece Alyce Claerbaut (holding a copy of 'Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life') met Yo-Yo Ma backstage following the August 16th performance at Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

LUSH LIFE: CELEBRATING BILLY STRAYHORN

Jazz at Lincoln Center concluded its 2015-2016 season by celebrating the centenary birth year of American music icon Billy Strayhorn. The June 10th and June 11th concerts featured the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and guest vocalist and pianist Johnny O'Neal.

Both shows were a huge hit. Adding to the festivities, a large contingent of Strayhorn family members made the NYC trip to enjoy this wonderful tribute.

*Strayhorn family members pictured above with Wynton Marsalis (center) are: Rosa Strayhorn, Kenny Strayhorn, John Strayhorn, Alyce Claerbaut, Michele Strayhorn and Lisa Tempro.

 

New York Celebrates Billy Strayhorn’s Centennial With Special ‘A Train’ Ride

All aboard the A Train! Sunday November 29th, 2015, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrated the centennial of jazz great Billy Strayhorn with a series of performances — including a surprise pop-up concert on the subway that inspired Strayhorn’s most famous composition, “Take the A Train.”

The MTA unearthed an era-appropriate subway train to run on the A line for the occasion. The train’s passengers were serenaded by the Donald Malloy Quartet and the Evan Sherman Entourage playing a medley of Strayhorn compositions, including "Take the A Train". 

“We celebrate the centennial of Mr. Strayhorn by saluting one of the most meaningful compositions in the jazz canon, as we also salute our public transit system,” Wynton Marsalis, the trumpeter and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said in a statement.

The celebration is a collaboration between Jazz at Lincoln Center, MTA Music and the New York Transit Museum. Mr. Marsalis played “Take the A Train” on the subway in 1999 during the centennial of Duke Ellington, Strayhorn’s frequent collaborator.

Concerts celebrating Strayhorn followed on Sunday evening at 7:30 and 9:30pm at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Gale A. Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, presented an official proclamation November 29th as “Billy Strayhorn Day.” 

Litchfield Jazz Camp Honors 2 Students with Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award.

The Litchfield Jazz Camp, in collaboration with the Billy Strayhorn Foundation, named two of its promising 2016 summer camp participants co-winners of the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award. 

This years recipients are pianist Alejandra Williams and bassist Julian Weisman. Alejandra has attended the Litchfield Jazz Camp for 6 straight summers. Julian has attended the camp the last 4 summers. Both are 17 years old with bright musical futures. Litchfield Jazz Camp music director Don Braden says that Alejandra and Julian "both exemplify the best ideals of dedication, skill, positive attitude and supportiveness. We are very proud of both of them!". 

Special thanks to Litchfield Jazz Camp founder and Executive Director Vita Muir, Music Director Don Braden and Operations Director Albert Rivera for all they do to enhance the lives of youth through jazz education and performance.

ABOUT LITCHFIELD JAZZ CAMP:

Founded in 1997, Litchfield Jazz Camp now serves 70-150 residential and day students each week for 1 to 4 week sessions on the campus of Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. Run by Litchfield Performing Arts, a charitable organization dedicated to changing lives through music, the Camp's philosophy is simple. They start with a faculty of amazing and inspiring jazz musicians. To that they add eager music students in a non-competitive program. Litchfield Jazz Camp embraces all learners - students 12 years to adult, beginners, intermediate and advanced players, students with learning disabilities, and others. That is how the collaborative, supportive and fun atmosphere at Litchfield Jazz Camp is created.

About the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award:

Established in 2008 by Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., the award recognizes students, teachers and institutions that display through performance and instruction a strong passion for playing, studying and perpetuating jazz.

  

 

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LUSH LIFE BIOGRAPHY CELEBRATES 20 YEAR ANNIVERSARY

David Hajdu's ground breaking biography of Billy Strayhorn celebrates 20 years since its July 1996 release. The book served as a catalyst towards a revival of interest in Billy Strayhorn's musical legacy and his life from the perspective of many who interacted with him in both his personal and professional orbits over his 51 year life span.

Conducting more than 3,000 hours of conversations and interviews over 11 years, as well as an exhaustive study of Strayhorn's personal papers, music and artifacts, Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn is acknowledged as a jazz classic.

Some of the honors the book has received include:

*Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

*Received the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Award.

*Named A Book to Remember by the New York Public.

*Ranked by the New York Times as one of the 100 best non fiction books of all time.

Still available in print, the great Lena Horne said this about the book;

"Lush Life is a book as beautiful and intelligent as its subject. David Hajdu has bought all my dear memories of Billy Strayhorn to life".

Since 2015, David Hajdu has been the music critic for the NATION magazine. A professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, his latest book, 'Love for Sale: Pop Music in America' will be available October, 2016.  

  


 

 

Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life

The New Strayhorn book is out !!


Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, is a stunning collection of essays, photographs, and ephemera celebrating Billy Strayhorn, one of the most significant yet under appreciated contributors to 20th century American music. Released in commemoration of Strayhorn's Centennial, this luxurious coffee table book offers intimate details of the composers life from musicians, scholars, and Strayhorn's closest relatives. Perhaps best known for his 28 year collaborative role as Duke Ellingtons "writing and arranging companion", Strayhorn has emerged in recent years as an even more meritorious force in shaping the jazz canon. "Strayhorn" delves into every stage of Billy's career, beginning with his abusive upbringing and early success to later partnerships with Lena Horne and the Copasetics. Rich with insights, the book covers topics such as his music, family, intellectual pursuits, involvement with civil rights and open homosexuality. Featuring contributions from Strayhorn biographer David Hadju, film director Robert Levi, music scholar Walter van de Leur, as well as lush photography and rare memorabilia like hand written scores, this is a book to be treasured by jazz aficionados and music lovers everywhere. Enthralling and visually captivating, "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life" lauds a beloved jazz legend and captures a prodigious legacy that will influence generations to come.

Click your choice of these online suppliers to order your copy of "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life" NOW!!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books a Million

Indie Bound

Agate Publishing

 

 


Honoring our Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee for a fantastic centennial year!

Bringing together luminaries from entertainment, education and performing arts, the Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee brought together an impressive list of individuals with a wide array of accomplishments expanding beyond jazz.

The Honorary Chair for the committee was (in memorium), jazz legend Clark Terry. The centennial honorary committee members all shared a vision to contribute to 2015 being a year of celebrating the life and music of the man affectionately known as 'Swee Pea'. To say the least, that vision was accomplished.

To all Honorary Committee Members, THANK YOU for your time and talent to perpetuate the continuing growing legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

The 2015 centennial vision was spearheaded by the Billy Strayhorn Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to celebrate the music and life of composer, arranger, pianist Billy Strayhorn and to develop an appreciation of his music among all people. The Billy Strayhorn Foundation supports this purpose through live music performance, lectures, and symposia.  

The Strayhorn Centennial Honorary Committee, a project of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation, worked with community groups, artists, and performing arts organizations interested in creating events throughout the centennial year of 2015 which explored and expanded the musical legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

Our 2015 Honorary Committee members were;  

Clark Terry, Chair (In Memorium),  National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, educator and highly acclaimed trumpet player and member the great bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Ann Hampton Callaway, Grammy nominated jazz vocalist

Tammy McCann, jazz vocalist, recording artist, music teacher/coach

Mark George, President/CEO Music Institute of Chicago

David Hajdu, award winning Strayhorn biographer

Walter van de Leur, Pd.D., award winning Strayhorn biographer/musicologist

Rob Levi, Emmy/Peabody winning Strayhorn filmmaker/documentarian

John Clayton, Grammy winning co-founder of the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band

Donald Harrison, award winning jazz saxophone player and composer

Ramsey Lewis, Grammy winning jazz pianist and recording artist

Terell Stafford, acclaimed trumpet player and Chair of Jazz Studies- Temple University

Kevin Mahogany, acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist

R. Susan Motely, music promoter

Carol Adams, Former President/CEO DuSable Museum of African American History

Herb Jordan, music publisher/writer

Charles McPherson, acclaimed jazz alto saxophone player, recording artist and composer

The Duke Ellington Society of Washington D. C.

Allan Harris, acclaimed jazz vocalist and composer

Alex Webb, MA, Music Department Buckinghamshire New University, United Kingdom

The Duke Ellington Society of Toronto, Canada (TDES 40)

The Duke Ellington Society of the United Kingdom (DESUK)

Vernard Gray, producer, Be Mo Jazz/East River Jazz Project, Washington D.C-Baltimore

Filarmonica Laudamo Messina. Messina, Sicily

Bill Dobbins, Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media. Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Robin Bell-Stevens, Executive Director and CEO, Jazzmobile Inc.

Randy Weston, Jazz Pianist and Composer



  

 

Billy Strayhorn honored with Legacy Project Walk of Fame Plaque

The Legacy Project, the world's only Outdoor LGBT museum walk, hdld an outdoor ceremony celebrating the induction of bronze memorials commemorating Leonard Bernstein, Josephine Baker, Rudolf Nureyev and Billy Strayhorn. Chicago's Award-Winning "Legacy Walk" museum streetscape honors the month of October — "LGBT History Month" — and National Coming-Out Day. The event took place Saturday, October 10th, at 3245 North Halsted Avenue in Chicago. 

"The Legacy Walk is the world's only outdoor LGBT museum walk. It is dedicated to raising awareness of LGBT contributions to world history and culture as a means to counter the ignorance which fuels anti-gay bullying. "We are delighted to add these five remarkable plaques to those for Jane Addams, Byard Rustin, Alan Turing and so many others… an extremely moving tribute to an aspect of shared human history that most people aren't aware exists," said Legacy Project Executive Director Victor Salvo. "We hope it will lead to conversations about the importance of inclusiveness, especially for LGBTQ youth who are most often forced to grow up without ever learning anything positive about historically significant people like themselves.

 

 


This superb box set celebrating the work of William Thomas Strayhorn echoes the basic paradox of this extraordinary jazz musician’s life and career.

The richness and diversity of the music it contains will delight the most obsessive Strayhorn aficionado; at the same time it offers a thrilling introduction to the man many know only as someone who once played in Duke Ellington’s band and wrote “Take The “A” Train.

The 7 CDs contain material presenting 62 of Strayhorn’s compositions, not only focusing on his work outside of the Ellington orchestra, but also presenting him in Duke’s company.

Billy Strayhorn, the man whose musical abilities could have made him a star in his own right, labored in the shadow of a world-famous benefactor. This collection of his recordings puts him firmly in the spotlight for once, revealing beyond doubt the true scale of the debt owed to him by Duke Ellington in particular and jazz in general.


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