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Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhornby David Hajdu
This is a biography of the brilliant jazz composer and collaborator with Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, who created such classics as Lush Life and Take the A Train, as well as Boo Dah, a piece impossible to sit still to. Strayhorn's life was a fascinating combination of brilliance, self-destruction, and incredible friendship.
Synopses & Reviews
Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) was one of the most accomplished composers in the history of American music, the creator of a body of work that includes such standards as "Take the 'A' Train", "Lush Life", and "Something to Live For". Yet all his life Strayhorn was overshadowed by another great composer: his employer, friend, and collaborator, Duke Ellington, with whom he worked as the Ellington Orchestra's ace songwriter and arranger. Lush Life, David Hajdu's sensitive and moving biography of Strayhorn, is a corrective to decades of patchwork scholarship and journalism about this giant of jazz. It is also a vibrant, absorbing account of the "lush life" led by Strayhorn and other jazz musicians in Harlem and Paris. A musical prodigy who began a career as a composer while still a teenager in Pittsburgh, Strayhorn came to New York City at Duke Ellington's invitation in 1939; soon afterward he wrote "'A' Train", which became the signature song of the Ellington Orchestra, one of the most popular jazz bands in the country. For the next three decades, Strayhorn labored under a complex agreement whereby Ellington thrived in the role of public artist to Strayhorn's private one, often taking the bows for Strayhorn's work. Strayhorn was alternately relieved to be kept out of the limelight and frustrated about it. In Harlem and in the cafe society downtown, the small, shy black composer carried himself with singular style and grace as one of the few jazzmen to be openly homosexual. His compositions and elegant arrangements made him a hero to other musicians, but when he died at age fifty-two, his life cut short by alcohol abuse and cancer, few people fully understood the vital role he played in theEllington Orchestra's development into a vehicle for some of the greatest, most ambitious American music of this century.
Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award
Billy Strayhorn (1915-67) was one of the greatest composers in the history of American music, the creator of a body of work that includes such standards as "Take the 'A' Train." Yet all his life Strayhorn was overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Duke Ellington, with whom he worked for three decades as the Ellington Orchestra's ace songwriter and arranger. A "definitive" corrective (USA Today) to decades of patchwork scholarship and journalism about this giant of jazz, Lush Life is a vibrant and absorbing account of the "lush life" Strayhorn and other jazz musicians led in Harlem and Paris. While composing some of the most gorgeous American music of this century, Strayhorn labored under a complex agreement whereby Ellington took the bows for his work; until his life was tragically cut short by cancer and alcohol abuse, the small, shy black composer carried himself with singular style and grace as one of the few jazzmen to be openly homosexual. Lush Life has sparked an enthusiastic revival of interest in Billy Strayhorn's work. It is already acknowledged as a jazz classic.
About the Author
David Hajdu, who works as an editor with Entertainment Weekly in New York City, has written about music for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Village Voice, among other publications.
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