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.
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