Sunday, November 21, 2010

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight is a composer, arranger, and musician. He composed one of the most famous jazz songs in history, while many have never heard of his name. Today's Out Spotlight is Billy Strayhorn.

Billy Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio, the fourth of nine children. Very sickly at birth and born into a poor family, he was expected the same fate as four of his siblings, that is not to survive, but luck for American music he did. His family soon moved to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was a young boy.

As a child, he was shielded from an abusive father by his mother, Lillian, who s sent her gifted son away for extended visits to family in North Carolina to escape from the abuse. It was there where his grandmother taught him to play piano. In an interview, he said that his grandmother was his primary influence during the first ten years of his life. He first became interested in music while living with her, playing hymns on her piano, and playing records on her Victrola record player.

Strayhorn was largely self-educated and so interested in intellectual pursuits that one of his childhood nicknames was “Dictionary.” Growing up, he had his own newspaper route and worked as a soda jerk and delivery boy for the local drugstore, to save up enough money to buy his own piano.

In Pittsburgh, he studied classical music for a time at the Pittsburgh Music Institute, writing a high school musical, forming a musical trio that played daily on a local radio station, and, while still in his teens, composing (with lyrics) the songs "Life Is Lonely" (later renamed "Lush Life"), "My Little Brown Book", and "Something to Live For".

On March 1, 1934, and barely five-foot-tall teenager, took center stage at the Westinghouse High School auditorium, where he was the only black musician in the 25-player orchestra and the featured soloist performing Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor." The following year, he wrote the scenes and the music and lyrics for a Cole Porter-inspired musical revue called Fantastic Rhythm. The musical played at black theaters throughout western Pennsylvania for several years, and attracting top-notch talent, including singer Billy Eckstine and pianist Errol Garner.

In 1938, at the age of 23, he met the 39-year-old Duke Ellington, who was performing in Pittsburgh's Crawford Grill. Here he first told, and then showed, the band leader how he would have arranged one of Duke's own pieces. Ellington was so impressed he invited other band members to hear Strayhorn. At the end of the visit, he arranged for Strayhorn to meet him when the band returned to New York. A few months later, Strayhorn was writing arrangements for Ellington's orchestral music and living openly as a gay man, a rare feat for an African American man during that time.

Shortly before Ellington went on his second European tour with his orchestra, from March to May 1939, Ellington announced to his sister Ruth and son Mercer Ellington, that Strayhorn "is staying with us." Through Mercer, Strayhorn met his first partner, African-American musician Aaron Bridgers. By the end of his first year in New York, however, Strayhorn had arranged a new living situation: he moved in with a musician named Aaron Bridgers. Strayhorn and Bridgers were anything but secretive about their relationship, and Strayhorn's homosexuality became well known in the black musical community.

As an out gay black man in the first half of the twentieth century, Strayhorn was unusual indeed--especially considering that no other jazzmen were openly gay. But unconcerned about appearances, Strayhorn refused to don a fa├žade of heterosexuality. He and Bridgers were together until Bridgers moved to Paris in 1947.

Over the next 29 years, Strayhorn made an inestimable contribution to American songwriting and culture—all while working without a contract. His presence allowed Ellington to increase his workload and expand his artistic palette. Strayhorn worked as a composer and collaborator, and also served as Ellington's "guarantor," assuring that the Ellington Orchestra’s music was top notch. But it took a bitter music industry battle to allow Strayhorn’s genius to emerge.

In a highly publicized dispute over composing royalties in late 1940, ASCAP, the music licensing organization, forbid its members from broadcasting any songs over the radio. One of ASCAP’S most celebrated composers, Duke Ellington needed radio broadcasts to promote record sales, which in turn paid his orchestra’s salaries. But as of January 1, 1941, Ellington’s music was banned from the air, even as he was about to broadcast live from a Los Angeles nightclub.

During a hurried cross-country train ride to join Ellington in Los Angeles, Strayhorn, not a member of ASCAP, got almost no sleep for six straight days, writing song after song after song. His prolific, engaging new work kept the Ellington Orchestra afloat for months. And when it was time for a new radio theme—Ellington’s own “Sepia Panorama” was still forbidden on the airwaves—Ellington chose Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” premiering it in early 1941.

Jazz legend Quincy Jones said of the song, “ 'Take the ‘A’ Train' was the Holy Grail. It identifies a population, it identifies a lifestyle because it’s the Harlem Renaissance. It’s unbelievable. It covers everything—and it says it all in 32 bars."

While he was helping Ellington expand the orchestra’s musical vocabulary and composing a string of hit songs, they were also were working on a pioneering musical event. Taking advantage of Strayhorn’s feel for musical theater, Ellington worked with him to co-write the groundbreaking musical, "Jump for Joy", which opened in Los Angeles in 1941. It was daring and risky for the times, the show masqueraded as a musical review and featured an all-black cast. "Jump for Joy" was, in fact, a social satire that fiercely attacked racism.

For Ellington, hiring Strayhorn launched an one of the productive recording period, and for many critics, the most significant and creative phase of Ellington's career. As Ellington described him, "Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine."

From the early 1940s on, his training in classical and long-form music became central and indispensable to the orchestra. The collaborations became longer, more complex suites and, in 1943, the first of these works, “Black, Brown and Beige,” an unprecedented 43-minute jazz work, in Carnegie Hall. Most people assume that it was Ellington who was responsible for these new innovations, but it was Strayhorn, who was, at the very least, co-composer of most the ambitious new works.

Ellington did publicly note the importance of his talent. Ellington liked to joke onstage, “Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows!” and this closer to the truth than many suspected.Not only was he the sole composer of Ellington's signature piece, “Take the ‘A’ Train,” but he also wrote other defining works, including “Passion Flower,” “Lush Life,” and “Chelsea Bridge,” and co-wrote “Satin Doll” and “Such Sweet Thunder.”

In the early 1950s, tired of playing second fiddle, Strayhorn left Ellington to pursue his own interests. Even after rejoining Ellington several years later, he concluded that his musical contributions were still not sufficiently acknowledged in public.

A man of passionate beliefs, he became a committed civil rights advocate and was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1963, he arranged and conducted the Ellington Orchestra in “King Fought the Battle of 'Bam” for the historical revue My People, dedicated to Dr. King.

His strong character left an impression on many who met him. He had a major influence on the career of Lena Horne, who wanted to marry him and considers him to have been the love of her life. Strayhorn used his classical background in guiding her singing technique. They eventually recorded songs together.

Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, which eventually caused his death in 1967. Finally succumbing in the early morning on May 31, 1967, in the company of his partner, Bill Grove and not as it was often falsely reported in the arms of Lena Horne. His ashes were scattered in the Hudson River by a gathering of his closest friends.

While in hospital, he had submitted his final composition to Ellington. "Blood Count", which was used as the first track to Ellington's memorial album for Strayhorn, "…And His Mother Called Him Bill". The record was recorded several months after Strayhorn's death. The last track of the album is a spontaneous solo version of "Lotus Blossom" performed by Ellington, who just sat at the piano and played for his friend while the band packed up after the formal end of the recording session (they can be heard in the background).

Although Billy Strayhorn’s distinguished songs, arrangements and virtuosity at the piano gave him status among musicians, few others realized what he had achieved for Ellington as his tireless co-writer and arranger. And even fewer still appreciated that this man had created some of the most important and enduring American music of the 20th century.

Something inside me changed when I saw Ellington onstage
—like I hadn’t been living life 'til then. —Billy Strayhorn

42 comments:

destiny said...

Damn, lost my very long post.


PG, please stop beating yourself up over Leadville, taylor had nothing to do with it. This was planned well in advance to promote CD and LAOD. These thing are done MONTHS un advance.

Agree that cannot tell anymore what is the ral Jake and for creating any image, and it has taken the fun out of interviews for me.

Think Jake would marry a beartd if it came with 100 perwcent guarantee of superstar status.

thank heavens said...

Think Jake would marry a beartd if it came with 100 perwcent guarantee of superstar status.


Then we have no fear of that eventuality, do we?

Jersey Tom said...

destiny said...
Damn, lost my very long post.


PG, please stop beating yourself up over Leadville, taylor had nothing to do with it. This was planned well in advance to promote CD and LAOD. These thing are done MONTHS un advance.


Keep searching for more . Keep searching for more.



I have said recently I think Jake will marry. My bet is that it has been dicussed and has never been taken off the table. If LAOD and Source Code don't go well. Look out.

aaand here we go again... said...

I know you must still be sad you weren't right about Jake marrying Reese.
Or about Jake bearding with the millions of women you predicted and taking them to his premieres.

But don't worry, I am SURE this time you're right and you will get your desired snarking material.

the real m said...

You can always tell when the trolls get desperate. Nothing left to do but call Ted a liar and names like that is really going to convince anyone that Jake is not gay. Every time they do it, Ted just reaffirms that Baby Tile exists and that Toothy and Goose are together.

Fascinating spotlight today.

I read the comments pretty quickly, but actually I think Jake has been good in the interviews at dodging the hetero implied questions. He has a movie to plug that he does not want to sabotage, so he has to be careful. The entire marketing strategy seems to be built on come see us naked, which is lame. Only a few days left to see how it goes at the box office. The fact that they are still withholding reviews is not a good omen.

Special K said...

Jake interview by one of Pittsburgh's newspapers and talks about his time there during the shoot.

Talks about Pre-filming jitters. Places he liked aroung Pittsburgh.
and being able to go out and about.

Pittsburg Post Gazette

Music Lover said...

Wow. Just a wonderful Out Spotlight today. Hooray for the musical team of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn! :)

Special K said...

Up until the mid 90's there were no biographies out there on Billy Strayhorn, despite his mark on jazz.
I think most people never realized that Duke Ellington wasn't the composer of "Take the A Train".

The story of Lena Horn saying he was the love of her life, and never to have yet he helped her become the star she became, sounds like a perfect premise for a movie on its own.

And lastly, again and again over the last three years I keep running across stories of how Rev. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King were friends and supporters of members of the GLBT community.

Selective memory said...

Every time they do it, Ted just reaffirms that Baby Tile exists and that Toothy and Goose are together.

You conveniently left out that TT is also trying to get blown in dirty alley ways while GG is breastfeeding BT in Wilmington. Such a committed couple LOL!!

Music Lover said...

I think most people never realized that Duke Ellington wasn't the composer of "Take the A Train".

I never did! :) I also love that Duke Ellington was so supportive of him, and they of each other.

The story of Lena Horn saying he was the love of her life, and never to have yet he helped her become the star she became, sounds like a perfect premise for a movie on its own.

Yes.

And lastly, again and again over the last three years I keep running across stories of how Rev. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King were friends and supporters of members of the GLBT community.

Yes again. :)

Anonymous said...
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Oops forget to use a Name said...

"Find a picture from Leadville and look what happens: The crap rains down. What joy that day and what misery now. I'm almost sorry I ever discovered Austin in that picture because it's been nothing but bad ever since."

What picture? I really want to see it. Some advice, just step away from the detective work or at least posting it. People put their guard down when they "think" no one is looking.

this one said...

Leadville picture

Jersey Tom said...

WE should never put our guard down. Although it was totally her choice I think PG wants to share with her friends what she found. I don't think anyone should hold anything back in fear that it will be used against us. That picture is not the reason things have been happening with Jake. The gym pictures of Jake, Austin and Sophia freed Jake and Austin from the fear of being photographed in public. The gym pictute said Jake is friends with Sophin. That Leadville pic did not cause Jake's PR to get all nervous. Now when we post the one we find of Jake and Austin making out then they will get a littl e nervous. I think if we keep looking hard enough we will find it.

Chica said...

Leadville picture

That's not Austin...it's the guy who ran away from Jake in the alley way

Not Blind said...

Austin may have very well been in the alleyway but that is him also in leadville.

destiny said...

Such a great song. I've seen something on Strayhorn, I don't know if it was just a bio of him, or if it was part of one of the those jazz series on PBS.

I agree with Tom 100 percent about not holding back anything. If Jake and Austin are stupid enough to want to hide and stay apart because they might be seen together, that is 100 percent their problem, not ours.

Oops forgot to use a name said...

"WE should never put our guard down."

Not you all, them.

Oops forgot to use a name said...

Thanks for posting the pic, but in all do respect that guy's build is too wide for Austin. I can't see those calves on him. However the guy on the cell phone in the parking lot reminds me of Austin's body language. And he fits more of his body type.

tv said...

Jake on CBS Morning Show Wednesday. Maybe he'll be on Good Morning America tomorrow or Tuesday

Jersey Tom said...

I was just back reading the comments on the Leadville pic. I think it was hysterical that someone asked if IHJ put up the pictue. How funny is that one.

what? said...

I don't get it Tom. Why is that so funny to you?

Seaweed said...

INCREDIBLE Out Spotlight today. To lead such an out life in his own time, and to help someone else achieve such a great degree of success. An amazing life and one to be celebrated.

Jake certainly has some pretty wild dance moves... not too sure what to think of all the Kimmel stuff but it seems like he's very much at ease with Jimmy, and Jimmy with him.

What's funny about that said...

"I think it was hysterical that someone asked if IHJ put up the pictue. How funny is that one."

I saw it on IHJ when if first came up.

Getting Jake overloaded said...

"not too sure what to think of all the Kimmel stuff but it seems like he's very much at ease with Jimmy, and Jimmy with him."

Jake was on Kimmel recently?

prairiegirl said...

PG, please stop beating yourself up over Leadville, taylor had nothing to do with it. This was planned well in advance to promote CD and LAOD. These thing are done MONTHS un advance.

Yeah, I reckon it's just a bad coincidence. But it certainly takes some of the fun out of finding Austin in that thing.

No, actually, I take that back.

When I see Austin & Sophia right now together over in L.A. playing up to the delight of their OTH fangirls, it kind of gears me up to look even harder.

I cannot wait for the day when those girls learn the truth.


Tom, I have to disagree on this marriage thing. Jake never married Reese. I think he and Austin have a commitment going - what else are the rings about?

That and the fact that Ted refers to Austin (Grey Goose) as "hubby". Distinct difference from BF.

OTOH, if interviewers like Regis keep hounding him about being single and when is he going to settle down, I don't know how Jake can keep dodging that question. Unless he goes the George Clooney route and just says "I'm never marrying."

But Jake's already blown that option because he's talked about wanting a family. lol.

He's dug that hole. That guy doesn't think ahead, does he?

prairiegirl said...

Destiny, I almost just lost my comment, too. I had one of those errors 503.

But I tell you what I did. I hit "Back" and it looked like I lost it totally. So then I hit Forward. Still lost it. Then I hit "Reload" and there it was.

Jake's not the only one who gets the "You're not married yet? When're you going to settle down?"
I think all of us single people get that.

prairiegirl said...

NG, don't leave! We have to hang in this thing together!!

♥♥♥

mr. and mrs. soapy said...

http://twitpic.com/38y1h8

the real m said...

I've lost a very long comment once or twice, though not for a long time. If it is really long and took a while to get my thoughts right, I hit copy first before publish. That way if it gets lost, all I have to do is paste it again.

A link to a review of LOAD was included on WFT2. One of the lines is "Love and Other Drugs puts Jake Gyllenhaal's toothy charm front and center". Do you think they are regular readers of Ted's column? from www.cinemablend.com

Sarah Palin said...

http://www.freerepublic.com/home.htm

destiny said...

Fooling gullible fangirls is despicable But you know what, I believe in karma. Austin and Jake are never going to have the careers they want as long as they lie and pretend to be someone they are not.

Just saw Social Network last night, Jesee Eisenberg is amazing in it. Loved him in Zombie Land too. I don't know a thing about his personal life, and it doesn't make one wit of difference.

There are so many talented actors out there competing for work, and J and A by falling into the old HW, tabloid, my relationship matters more than my talent are going to be left in the dust.

gww said...

so how long were you away from this blog after you announced with much fanfare you were leaving, 30 seconds? LOL!

LOL said...

so how long were you away from this blog after you announced with much fanfare you were leaving, 30 seconds? LOL!

PG (Agent Quote Me) was really on a covert mission, along with Agent Olay to track down the walrus that Jake is going to swim with. They mounted a tiny spycam in its nostril.

All the hoopla about leaving the blog was just psyops.

Seaweed said...

MY BAD... of course I was talking about Jimmy Fallon, that's where Jake was the other night performing and being interviewed, and those were Special's links from the previous days post that I was referring to.

I could blame it on being tired but let's face it, it's advancing years thats at fault.

Everyone have a good day!

Oh, and PG, just ignore the bullshit sniping, the usual culprits are dismayed that you deal with their crap and just move on.

Special K said...

Eonline labeled this Jake's "Love" for Anne, but what is this about Jake's hair performance?

Jake and Anne with Ben Lyons

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
no anons said...

9:17 it's gonna get deleted

the real m said...

Destiny, wasn't The Social Network great. Jessie will be robbed if he does not get an Oscar nomination for that. I wondered if Fincher made him do many takes with all that dialogue to memorize. And I will confess it got me to watch Zombieland on DVD.

I checked RT this AM and the LAOD scores dropped. Still just a handful of reviews but it looks terrible on the page.

Karma is a bitch. So is a bad marketing strategy. I fear this latest PR disaster with Taylor Swift wiped out what was left of Jake's fans just before LAOD.

Anonymous said...
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what an odd statement said...

I fear this latest PR disaster with Taylor Swift wiped out what was left of Jake's fans just before LAOD

Aren't you a Jake fan, real m? And everyone that posts here?

destiny said...

Ditto everything you said about Social Network M and ;esse, except I saw Zombieland earlier this year, really fun movie if you're into zombies.

I think most of us here are Jake fans, but we're not robots.

Maybe you should ask ]ake's ten pecenters if they are fans and like Jake, because they sure do no act like it with their failed strategies.
Actions have consequences.