Every other year, Professor Ansyn Banks with the University of Louisville Jazz Studies program teaches a class on Duke Ellington, centered around the 1993 book by John Hasse-‘Duke Ellington: Beyond Category’. U of L alum and Jazz Education Coordinator for the Billy Strayhorn Foundation Galen Demus comes in to give some added history to the life and musical legacy of arranger, composer, lyricist and pianist Billy Strayhorn. The presentation/discussion adds insight for the grad students regarding Strayhorn’s musical journey before meeting Ellington, their 28 year collaboration producing some of the greatest jazz music of the 20th century, and the various orbits that Strayhorn existed in outside of the Ellington Orchestra. Appreciation goes to Professor Banks and the Jazz Studies students who make the hour long presentation a great time with questions and their thoughts about one of the great eras and personalities in jazz.
Jazz virtuoso bassist and bandleader Marlon Martinez, in collaboration with the prestigious Colburn School, presented an amazing concert titled “Ever Up and Onward”: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn on March 27th at the schools Zipper Hall, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Marlon’s big band, The Marlonius Jazz Orchestra, combined great renditions of Strayhorn classics like ‘Take the “A” Train’ and “Raincheck”, as well as lesser known but equally beautiful tunes like ‘Overture to a Jam Session’ and ‘Hello’. Also on the program was a filmed work, choreographed by Colburn Dance Dean and Amplify artist Silas Farley. The ballet was set to significant recordings of piano pieces by Strayhorn, “Valse”, “Sprite Music” and “Strange Feeling”.
We spoke to Marlon and asked for his insight on the tribute: “I studied at the Colburn Conservatory of Music for 6 years (2009-2015) as a classical student, like everyone else in the Conservatory. There was a point in time where doing a Billy Strayhorn big band tribute at Colburn would be a novelty or something hard to fulfill. Performing a jazz residency for the entire school was not a priority for Colburn during the time I was at the Conservatory. With the changing times and shifting attitudes towards equal representation, Colburn School initiated the Amplify Series in 2021, celebrating artists of color with weeklong residencies involving performance, interviews, clinics and panel discussions. I was Blessed with the opportunity to bring my love for Billy Strayhorn to Colburn and share his passionate music with the Colburn community and viewers abroad.”
You can check out the tribute concert on YouTube: Search “Marlon Martinez”.
Photo: Courtesy of the Colburn School