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Announcing the Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee!

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

Led by Honorary Chair for the committee, jazz legend Clark Terry, the centennial honorary committee members all share a vision to contribute to 2015 being a year of celebrating the life and music of the man affectionately known as 'Swee Pea'.

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 is being 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, is working with community groups, artists, and performing arts organizations interested in creating events throughout the centennial year of 2015 which explore and expand the musical legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

Our Honorary Committee members to date (11/2014). This listing is 'in formation' and will be adding new members.

Clark Terry, Chair,  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, 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



September saw the release of "Cheek to Cheek", a Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga collaborative album featuring a powerful cover of the Strayhorn standard, "Lush Life."  Now, Gaga and Bennett cover the November edition of Downbeat Magazine, a leading jazz music media outlet in the States and U.K..

Pages before the magazine delves into the passion project that was Cheek to Cheek, Downbeat sits down with Strayhorn heir Alyce Claerbaut.  As both Strayhorn's niece and the president of Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc., Claerbaut provided a unique personal-meets-professional perspective about the legacy of her late uncle:

"Strayhorn lived in great sorrow that he was not credited as he should have been," she says at one point, referencing Duke Ellington's frequent overshadowing of Strayhorn.  "Duke had such a hold on him because he had all the publishing rights to his songs."

The November 2014 issue of Downbeat is on stands now.

Storyville releases 7 CD Strayhorn compilation!  

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 his musical contribution to jazz.

Take a look at this promo presented by Storyville Records....

Photo:Getty Images

"Cheek To Cheek" #1 on Billboard album chart first week after release 

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have crooned their way to the top of the 'Billboard' album charts. "Cheek to Cheek" sold 131,000 copies in it's first week; September 23rd thru September 28th according to Nielson SoundScan. This makes Tony Bennett, at 88, the oldest living act to score a #1 album.

Gaga is recieving rave reviews for her cover of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” as a solo effort on the CD.

“I love the way she sings,” Bennett said. “The whole world loves her.”

“He’s a legend,” Gaga added. “He’s really changed my life with this record. I’ve been singing jazz since I was 13 years old and Tony was the first person who knew that.”



North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra spreads music appreciation with Strayhorn

James Ketch, music professor and director of jazz studies at UNC, believes famed big band composer Billy Strayhorn is his secret weapon in fostering a greater appreciation for jazz. 

The North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra — NCJRO — performed the works of Strayhorn as part of the music department's William S. Newman Artists Series Saturday, September 19th.

As a jazz and big band composer, Strayhorn spent the summers of his teenage years in Hillsborough, North Carolina cultivating his talent as a young musician.

Ketch said, like Strayhorn, many members of the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra spent their formative years studying and performing music in North Carolina, particularly in the Triangle region.

Titled “Take the ‘A’ Train: Celebrating the Billy Strayhorn Centennial,” the NCJRO’s concert selection implores audiences to take interest in jazz music and the rich history it holds in America.

Ketch said he believes jazz is the soundtrack to the 20th century American story, one that parallels the ideas of democracy. He said even if the audience doesn’t have a connection to the music itself, they can still appreciate the historical significance and beauty of the music.

“If people have never heard (jazz) music, usually all they have to do is be in the room for a few minutes or they hear the sound of a big band and there’s just nothing like it,” Ketch said.

Ketch said giving students the opportunity to hear Strayhorn’s music in an academic venue both educates the community about the history of jazz and allows the music to reach a broader audience.

“Primarily the University is such a curator of the arts for our country now,” Ketch said. “It is the responsibility of the University, I think, to kind of collect this art — showcase it, invite the public to it, let them sample it and then hopefully one fan at a time find new listeners who are very excited about the music.”

“Its power and its color and its range of emotional exploration is really unparalleled. So part of it is just getting it available to people so that they can come and hear it.”  

Bruce Mayhall Headshot

Spotlight On: Strayhorn advocate Dr. Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli


Since 2006 Dr. Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli has pursued a vigorous interest in the works of the great American composer Billy Strayhorn. In 2007 he prepared and conducted a televised performance of Strayhorn's works featuring arrangements by multiple Grammy-award winner Alan Broadbent, and performances by Tony Award-winner Billy Porter, Tierney Sutton, an Ellington-sized big band  comprised of outstanding Los Angeles session players and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.  The concert was repeated in Atlanta by its gay chorus and conductor Kevin Robison with the Jazz Orchestra Atlanta in 2009 as part of the National Black Arts Festival.

Under Dr. Mayhall Rastrelli's leadership, the biography and music of Strayhorn was utilized to create an innovative school outreach by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles in the LA Unified School District. That program flourished during his tenure, and has grown to national scope since his departure, becoming one of the most significant activities of the gay chorus in Los Angeles.

Dr. Mayhall Rastrelli has been engaged by the Strayhorn heirs to repeat the LA performance in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre as the climax of the celebrations of the centennial of Strayhorn's birth in 2015. Apollo Chorus of Chicago, Windy City Gay Chorus, Joel Hall Dancers and Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra will participate in the performance.

In the spring of 2014 Dr. Mayhall Rastrelli joined the board of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation, where he will utilize his enthusiasm and knowledge of Strayhorn's music to promote the preservation and performance of his works and will support efforts to use Strayhorn's music to reach students who will benefit from the inspirational example of his life and compositions.

A visit to Dr. Mayhall Rastrelli's website includes a treasure of musical interpretation of Strayhorn works done by the Gay Men's Chorus of LA and a blog series that is well worth reading to gain insight on Billy Strayhorn that Dr. MR has extensively researched.

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Kelly Strayhorn shows growth in programming lineup 

This fall, the building that houses the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty will mark its centennial anniversary. For executive director Janera Solomon, it’s not only a time to reflect on the space’s rich history but also on how much the programming it offers has evolved.

“As recently as four years ago people had not heard of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and actually didn’t have Pittsburgh on their radar as a place for hot new works,” she says. “Now when I introduce myself people are not only familiar with the theater, they’re familiar with our programming.”

The 2014-15 season is the sixth for the “KST Presents” series, which curates works by aspiring and established dance, music and theatrical artists from Pittsburgh and beyond while striving to stay relevant to the interests of the East End’s residents. Its next events include a documentary to be screened September 10th about dance legend Carmen de Lavallade. 

Attracting this caliber of artists like Ms. de Lavallade these days is a testament to the theater’s growth, Ms. Solomon says.

“It’s really nice to be at a place where we feel a little bit grown up,” she says. “This season really includes some of the things we do best.”

Topping that list is the Kelly Strayhorn’s expanding international programming. Since the “KST Presents” series’ inception, it has presented companies and artists from nearly 20 different countries. Continuing to build the theater’s reputation as a hotbed for budding artists to develop new work through fellowships and residencies is another one of Ms. Solomon’s passions.

But the theater also strives to stay true to its community roots, especially while the identity of East Liberty shifts as new business move into the area.

“It’s important that the neighborhood continues to feel diverse and inclusive and welcoming of lots of different types of people,” Ms. Solomon says. “We want to be sure that our programming is attractive to new East Liberty as well as the old.”


On November 29th at 8pm, the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre will celebrate Billy Strayhorn with a birthday bash that will include a concert and birthday cake. For ticket information call 412-363-3000 or visit for info on all upcoming events.


Outbeat: America's First Queer Jazz Festival Announces Two Powerful Tributes To Billy Strayhorn On September 19th, 2014 In Partnership With The Philadelphia Jazz Project          

Billy Strayhorn “From Strayhorn to Cecil: Jazz Innovation in America" 3:00PM Panel Discussion @ University of the Arts' Arts Bank

                                        “Lush Life: Philadelphia Celebrates Billy Strayhorn" 8:30PM Exclusive Concert Performance @ Suzanne Roberts Theatre

Duke Ellington might be a more recognizable name than that of Billy Strayhorn, but Strayhorn's influence and genius cannot be discounted. The esteemed pianist, arranger, composer and lyricist was known for writing jazz classic's for Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, with credits on monumental standards such as “Lush Life," “Chelsea Bridge," and “Take the A Train," as well as multiple others. Having met Ellington in 1938, Strayhorn (who was 23 at the time) became one his main musical influences and collaborators - even leading Ellington to state, “Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows." He brought a sense of cohesiveness to Duke Ellington's playing as well as his own style and sound to the band.

However, Strayhorn's acclaim did not come without some struggle. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Strayhorn's mother moved the family to Pittsburgh while dealing with the alcoholic nature of his father. The pianist's mother and grandparents raised him, and they would become his main source of musical inspiration. This eventually led him to begin compositions of his own. Originally, Strayhorn wanted to write classical compositions but soon realized that the prejudices at the time would not allow him to enter a genre primarily dominated by white musicians. He gave up on classical dreams but not soon after joined Duke Ellington for one of the most prolific collaborations in jazz. Strayhorn, over his 29-year-musical career, was not only known for his pioneering works but also for his forward thinking on human rights. Strayhorn was openly gay during a time when race and sexual orientation in America were highly delicate political and social subjects. Strayhorn's experiences and courage laid the groundwork for future LGBT artists in the jazz community to be out and proud of their identity.

“From Strayhorn to Cecil: Jazz Innovation in America" is a noteworthy roundtable discussion designed to delve further into the lasting and remarkable influence that both Billy Strayhorn and Cecil Taylor
have had on modern music, particularly throughout America's less tolerant days. The panel will feature David Hajdu (Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn), John Szwed (Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra), Philadelphia pianist and Pew Fellow Orrin Evans, and will be moderated by JazzTimes' John Murph. It will take place on Friday, September 19th at 3:00pm at University of the Arts Bank. Admission will be free for this event.

“Lush Life: Philadelphia Celebrates Billy Strayhorn," produced by the Philadelphia Jazz Project in collaboration with OutBeat organizers, will honor the musical pioneer. Featuring a group of diverse, multi-dimensional musicians, vocalists and poets from the Philadelphia area, the event will embody exactly what Strayhorn stood for throughout his musical career and personal life. The event will include performances from big bands, a cappella groups, solo acts and ensemble groups as they recreate some of the most important compositions known to jazz, in honor of Strayhorn. The arrangements, prepared by bassist and composer Keith DeStefano, will feature not only Strayhorn's brilliant works but also many other original compositions that his work influenced such as pieces by Thelonious Monk
and Charles Mingus. Additional pieces throughout the night will include a piano duet featuring Dena Underwood and Andy Khan, and dueling piano performances; trumpeter Terell Stafford and saxophonist Tim Warfield in a quintet setting; a solo piano performance with Raymond A. King; a trio a cappella poetry suite; and much more. The event will be held on September 19th at 8:30pm at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Tickets are $25 for General Admission and $35 for VIP.




Ella Fitzgerald Photo from the official Ella Fitzgerald Facebook page

Ella Fitzgerald Facebook Page Honors 47th Anniversary of Billy Strayhorn's passing.

On May 31st, 2014, the Ella Fitzgerald Facebook page created a wonderful post in memory of Billy Strayhorn. Selected Strayhorn songs were highlighted.  Also, a long list of very nice comments were left by visitors to the site. Please go to our media gallery/video section to hear Ella's classic rendention of 'Something to Live For'. Special thanks to the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation for the great work they do and helping to keep the memory of Billy Strayhorn alive.

In 1957, Billy Strayhorn and Ella Fitzgerald worked together on a project teaming her with the Duke Ellington Orchestra called, 'Ella Fitzgerald sings the Duke Ellington Songbook'. Several of the songs were arranged by Strayhorn.

Visit Ella to read more about Ella and her Foundation. 

Jazz stars, with Strayhorn on the horizon!

A concert by some of Pittsburgh's jazz stars provided an early kickoff to the celebration of Pittsburgh native Billy Strayhorn's centennial birthday in 2015.

The 10th-annual Jazz on the Hillside was celebrated June 27th, 2014 on the lawn at the Schenley Heights Community Development Multi-Purpose Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The concert featured Al Dowe and Etta Cox, the Roger Barbour Quartet and the Tubby Daniels Quartet. Radio stalwart and Pittsburgh Jazz Society founder Tony Mowod was the host for the evening.

Tickets benefited after-school tutorial, summer-enrichment and track-and-field programs as well as parent-support groups in Pittsburgh's inner city. The Schenley Heights Community Development Partnership has been a mainstay in the Hill district community of Pittsburgh for over 20 years. SHCDP provides a number of programs that enable children to have a safe place to go and to grow. 

Foundation News!! The Billy Strayhorn Foundation, Inc. ("BSF") makes its official debut with this summer 2013 newsletter. Click on our link below.







Smithsonian Jazz Appreciation Month 2014

The official poster for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Jazz Appreciation Month 2014, features the Joseph Holston screen print “Jazz.” Created and printed in 1990 by Holston, the print is his tribute to American jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane.

Initiated by the Smithsonian in 2001, Jazz Appreciation Month (or JAM) is intended to draw public attention to the glories of jazz as both an historical and a living treasure. The idea is to encourage musicians, concert halls, schools, colleges, museums, libraries, and public broadcasters to offer special programs on jazz every April.

Holston’s print “Jazz” is one of three of his prints included in the exhibition “Convergence: Jazz, Film, Dance and the Visual Arts” which opened at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, and is now on view at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, through April 27, 2014.

                          From the Archives...

2007 Talk of the Nation NPR interview with author David Hadju, filmaker Rob Levi and Strayhorn family member Alyce Claerbaut previewing the "Lush Life" documentary. Click the link below.

Billy Strayhorn: Jazz Composer Gets His Due


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