Recorded for the Columbia label in 1960 featuring jazz interpretations of “The Nutcracker” by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Ellington and Strayhorn. The album was rereleased on CD in 1990 as part of Three Suites along with Ellington’s reworking of Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” and “Suite Thursday,” his tribute to John Steinbeck. The original 1960 cover is notable for the inclusion of Strayhorn’s name and picture along with Ellington’s.
The larger part of the pieces on this fourth Strayhorn CD evolve around music Strayhorn wrote for the theater. In 1935, just out of high school, he composed a short show Fantastic Rhythm. A handful of numbers have survived, including the title song and the tune Let Nature Take Its Course. Another group of theater works stems from 1953, when Strayhorn provided music to a Federico García Lorca play titled The Love of Don Perlimplín for Belisa in Their Garden. Apart from Wounded Love—premiered by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra on Portrait of a Silk Thread—his unrecorded score includes Sprite Music, The Flowers Die of Love and Love, Love. He wrote Everything Is Copasetic! for one of the annual shows by the Copasetics, a group of tap-dance professionals who were Strayhorn friends as well as club memebers. From the early 1950s on, they staged cabaret style fundraisers that unfortunately were never recorded, with music and lyrics largely by Strayhorn. These shows were important events in New York’s black community, and played to sold-out venues.
CD #3 is the successor of the widely acclaimed Portrait of a Silk Thread: Newly Discovered Works of Billy Strayhorn, which was first released in 1995. Again, the Dutch Jazz Orchestra plays Strayhorn works that have never been recorded before. In a number of instances, these works have never been performed either. The selection includes works that Strayhorn wrote or arranged while still in Pittsburgh: So This Is Love, Remember and Valse. Strayhorn wrote these four pieces for quite different occasions. The Chopinesque Valse was a piano solo which he must have performed numerous times as the piano-playing errand boy from Pittsburgh’s Pennfield Drugs, while So This Is Love in all likelihood was intended for his first theater show, Fantastic Rhythm.
Other works evolve around the Copasetics, a group of tap-dance professionals Strayhorn presided. Their yearly revues were packed with Strayhorn originals and from these origins stem Feet on the Beat (from the 1961 Copasetics revue On the Riviera) and Swing Dance (from the 1962 Anchors Aweigh).
The larger part of Billy Strayhorn’s work for the Ellington Orchestra consisted of writing arrangements. Close to six hundred of his arrangements survive, of which literally hundreds eventually were performed or recorded by the Ellington band. Yet, Strayhorn’s inspiration seemed boundless, and still numerous arrangements had to be shelved. Strayhorn, an accomplished composer, tackled his arrangements with serious dedication. The recorded arrangements on this CD serve as a case in point. In his hands, the standards from the “American Songbook” reveal new and deeper layers, with the same overtones that resonate throughout Strayhorn’s own compositions.
The first of 4 CD’s recorded by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, This CD begins to bring into focus the prolific composing that Strayhorn did during his career. According to Walter van de Leur, author of Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, on the average Strayhorn wrote at least one piece a week during all thirty years he worked with Duke Ellington. That was more than the Ellington Orchestra could handle, especially since Duke himself composed a huge amount of material. Choices had to be made and thus many pieces fell by the wayside, never having appeared on any of Duke’s many records. Among those were probably some of the finest works Strayhorn ever wrote. Luckily, the music of Strayhorn has been preserved for future generations in hundreds of handwritten scores.
The present CD contributes to the documentation of the rich collection of unknown Strayhorn material still to be played. Eight tracks on this CD feature pieces that were never heard before. The other tracks were recorded by Ellington or Strayhorn at some point in the past, but this CD gives the original first versions, often written decades earlier than their issued counterparts.
Strayhorn classics performed by such notables as The Ray Brown Trio, Kenny Burrell, Tito Puente, Phil Woods and Jim McNeely, The Lew Tabackin Quartet and more!
This CD, takes the full contents of Strayhorn’s 1961 LP “The Peaceful Side” (along with the great cover photo from the United Artists LP), adds in the eight Ellington-Strayhorn dual piano tunes found on “Great Times! Piano Duets with Billy Strayhorn”, and finishes off the program with two more takes on Tonk and a version of Drawing Room Blues.
Billy Strayhorn is one of jazz’s most fabled figures. His myth gets a thorough exploration in the 90-minute documentary LUSH LIFE, and the soundtrack to that film is naturally filled with music by the famous composer, arranger, and pianist. Showcased here are 15 of Strayhorn’s compositions performed by contemporary jazz artists like Joe Lovano, Dianne Reeves, and Bill Charlap. Appearances by iconic piano legend Hank Jones and Elvis Costello add glitter to the all-star roster.
“After more than 20 years as an inextricable element in the musical complex that is Duke Ellington, Strayhorn emerges in these performances, recorded in Paris, as a personality in his own right. This is a lovely, low keyed set,” wrote John S. Wilson in Down Beat magazine, 1961. Most of the songs are from Strayhorn’s first decade as a composer, showing an introspective side of Billy playing from a very personal perspective.
“Although not released until 1992, 25 years after composer Billy Strayhorn’s death, this is his definitive CD. Strayhorn is heard singing Lush Life while backed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1964. These are very valuable and intriguing recordings, shedding some light on a nearly invisible genius” – Jazz commentator Scott Yanow