Billy Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915. Next year marks the centennial of the birth of three of America’s greatest proponents of the American Songbook: Strayhorn, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Along with everyone else who loves the standards as much as I do, we’ll be celebrating all three in great style.
Strayhorn is most often associated with Duke Ellington; they remained friends, colleagues and co-composers until Strayhorn’s death in 1967. In fact, when Strayhorn first came to New York to work with Ellington in 1939, he lived in Ellington’s house. In addition to his stature as a jazz composer, he was a gifted pianist, lyricist and arranger.
You can read more about Billy Strayhorn, including plans for his centennial next year, at billystrayhorn.com.
I’m just going to leave you today with a selection of songs written by Billy Strayhorn, most sung by Tony Bennett and a few not. All of them are worthy of your time.
First, some recordings by Tony Bennett:
And then Strayhorn’s amazing “Lush Life” from Lady Gaga on Cheek To Cheek.
Soon after Strayhorn died in 1967, Ellington and His Orchestra went into the studio and recorded an extraordinary tribute to Billy Strayhorn: And His Mother Called Him Bill. Strayhorn had always told Ellington how much he loved to hear Ellington play a song of his called “Lotus Blossom.” In this track, as the other musicians are chatting and packing up, Ellington sits at the piano and plays “Lotus Blossom.” Note how quiet it gets as everyone stops to listen. It’s one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and it’s full of love, as is the entire album.