…and His Mother Called Him Bill
When Billy Strayhorn died of cancer in 1967, Duke Ellington was devastated. His closest friend and arranger had left his life full of music and memories. As a tribute, Ellington and his orchestra almost immediately began recording a tribute to Strayhorn, using the late arranger’s own compositions and charts. The album features well-known and previously unrecorded Strayhorn tunes that showcased his range, versatility, and, above all, the quality that Ellington admired him most for: his sensitivity to all of the timbral, tonal, and color possibilities an orchestra could bring to a piece of music. There are two versions of “Lotus Blossom.” Ellington claimed it was the piece Strayhorn most liked to hear him play. The LP version is a quiet, restrained, meditative rendition played solo by Ellington, with the most subtle and yet emotional nuances he ever presented on a recording as a pianist. Finally, closing the album is a bonus track, a trio version played in a whispering tone with only baritone saxophonist Harry Carney and bassist Aaron Bell accompanying Ellington. The piece was supposedly recorded as the band was packing up to leave. For a man who issued well over 300 albums, this set is among his most profoundly felt and very finest recorded moments.