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Comment: Condition: Very good condition., Slightly yellowing pages. / Binding: Paperback / Publisher: North Point Press / Pub. Date: 1997-06-26 Attributes: Book 307pp / Illustrations: B&W Photographs Stock#: 2042678 (FBA) * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn Paperback – June 26, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition (first thus) edition (June 26, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865475121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865475120
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A 1996 nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award, this perceptive, meticulously researched biography rescues from obscurity the gifted Billy Strayhorn (1915-67), Duke Ellington's arranger and composer of many popular Ellington Orchestra tunes, including "Take the `A' Train." Worshipped by jazz aficionados as the creative power behind the Ellington throne, Strayhorn preferred to live quietly while his friend/boss took the bows. In clear prose and with careful attention to nuance, David Hajdu documents Strayhorn's contributions to the Ellington magic and delineates an attractive personality who found good in almost everyone he met.

From Publishers Weekly

Hajdu, taking his title from one of Strayhorn's youthful works, deftly chronicles the life of the gifted composer, arranger and pianist about whom little has been known until now. Strayhorn (1915-1967), often called Duke Ellington's alter ego, collaborated with the legendary bandleader for more than 25 years, yet remained in his shadow; few outside the music world realized he composed and wrote the lyrics for "Take the 'A' Train" and many other pieces often attributed to Ellington. Drawing on interviews with Strayhorn's friends, family and fellow musicians, Hajdu, an editor at Entertainment Weekly, brings his subject out of obscurity, showing him to be a complex, shy, charming genius whose extraordinary talents were recognized mainly by other musicians and members of an elite circle of black performers, artists and writers who adored him. The extent to which Ellington deliberately kept him in the background is unclear, but Strayhorn seems to have preferred this arrangement; without the need to pursue a career on his own, he could be open about his homosexuality at a time when most gay men kept their sexual orientation secret. He died tragically of cancer of the esophagus at 52. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Do you enjoy reading a well written biogratphy?
C. Upthegrove
Throughout the book, Hajdu provides lively anecdotal writing while remaining a respectful journalist and chronicler of his subject.
Timothy Schaffner
So it goes the great collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn would begin.
Kerry O. Burns

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Schaffner on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Billy Strayhorn's contribution to the work of Duke Ellington is immeasurable--at last he is given his full due in David Hajdu's perceptive and insightful portrait of this largely unsung genius of 20th century music. Hajdu's sensitive biography, derived from countless interviews with friends, family and fellow musicians, reveals Strayhorn as a complex, creative individual who preferred to stay discreetly in Ellington's shadow throughout much of his life. It also provides a telling portrait of a man who lived his life as a gay African-American musician completely out in the open during a time in this country when it was both difficult and dangerous to do so. Hajdu has given us telling portraits as well of many of Strayhorn's contemporaries such as Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance and the Duke himself who loved "Swea-Pea" (Strayhorn's nickname) as a part of himself. Not only a portrait of a creative, intellectual genius, "Lush Life" also gives us an insightful look into the world of jazz and African-american popular music that grew out of an age of racism and discrimination. The concluding chapters that chronicle Strayhorn's involvement in the civil rights movement of the early '60's and his friendships with Martin Luther King and Medgar Evans and his own battle with the throat cancer that cut his life short (at age fifty-one) are especially powerful. Throughout the book, Hajdu provides lively anecdotal writing while remaining a respectful journalist and chronicler of his subject. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in jazz history, popular culture, or purely for a portrait of an understated genius.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jazzman on October 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
This was an excellent read and it was great to see that somebody finally came out with a biography on Billy Strayhorn. So why the 3 star rating? Well, the author actually attempts to overemphasize Staryhorn's importance to the Ellington band (hard as that is to do).

The author unfortunately tries to paint a picture of Ellington as somebody that didn't appreciate Strayhorn's talent and put his name on Stayhorn's songs and basically didn't do much at all after the arrival of Strayhorn. This, of course, is a complete crock. Ellington wrote the vast majority of his most well known songs before Strayhorn even came into the picture ("Mood Indigo", "Sophisticated Lady", "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", "Rockin' In Rhythm", In A Sentimental Mood", and "Solitude" just to name a few). Are we really supposed to believe that all of a sudden Strayhorn comes and Ellington's compositional skills go down the drain and he relies on Strayhorn for everything thereafter? That's a little too much (actually way too much) to believe.

Also, if Strayhorn was truly all the brains behind the post-1940 Ellington band, then how come Ellington was still writing great works after Strayhorn's death (New Orleans Suite anyone?)? It just doesn't add up.

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were one of the greatest song writing teams of all time. Both were equally important players to the other's success after they joined together and each made his significant contributions. The author is probably a big Strayhorn fan and to make up for the lack of recognition that Strayhorn has received the author actually does a disservice to Strayhorn by overstating his importance to the Ellington band. Strayhorn accomplished so much it's just not necessary to do so.

That being said, the book is still a great source for learning about the life of Billy Strayhorn and who he was and it's great that somebody finally wrote a book on his life.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By C. Upthegrove on September 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book has a lot going for it. Do you like music, swing and jazz? Do you like intersting people? Did you live through the 30's, 40's and 50's? Do you enjoy reading about that era? Do you enjoy reading a well written biogratphy? If the answer to any of these is yes, you'll like this book, it the answer is yes to several of these questions then you'll LOVE this book. David Hajdu has done an exemplary job of documenting the life of Billy Strayhorn. I really felt like I knew the man after reading this. He has done his research and he also writes with a very smooth style that keeps you intersted. I love music and I've read bios of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, BB King, Chuck Berry, Led Zepplin, Allman Bros. on and on. This is one of the best if not the best music bio I've read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Charles Denison on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Hajdu really does a nice job of summarizing the life of a songwriter. He keeps his story moving with pacing, characters, travel, and yes, even drama! Racial prejudice, sexual prejudice, loneliness and alcoholism did nothing to stop this little man from Pittsburgh who knew he was destined to a "lush life" and wrote about it in his fantasies, such as the title song begun at age 19 in Pittsburgh.
He grew up poor, effeminate, and misunderstood; but he loved the theater, and he knew where he belonged. Off to New York where his awesome talent so impressed Duke Ellington that he was immediately hired into the organization, where he would thrive and struggle and live and write for the rest of his life. He died of cancer, after penning and arranging much of Ellington's later work.
The book tells his story with panache that would make him proud!
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