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Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn Hardcover – January 31, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0195124484 ISBN-10: 0195124480 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195124480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195124484
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Those with a basic knowledge of jazz history know the story of Billy Strayhorn: he was Duke Ellington's humble sidekick, a brilliant composer who stood in the famous band leader's shadow for 30 years and whose real contribution to the musical form was not recognized until years after his death in 1967. And while Strayhorn's life was justly chronicled in David Hajdu's 1996 biography Lush Life, this study of the composer takes a closer look at the musician's work. Van de Leur posits that Strayhorn was not merely Ellington's alter ego but a distinctly different composer who had a direct influence on Ellington's music, changing the way it and, in turn, jazz in general was received by both critics and the general public. Weeding through over 3,000 pieces of original scores, van de Leur, an independent jazz researcher and artistic co-leader of the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, clearly delineates which elements in songs like Take the "A" Train and I Got It Bad were Ellington's and which were Strayhorn's. According to van de Leur, the two shared some qualities: an attraction to orchestral sonority, harmonic richness and formal balance. But Strayhorn's compositions were more complex, featuring intricate choruses and detailed chromaticisms. Van de Leur academically addresses the Billy Strayhorn debate (was he an independent composer or a mere apprentice and assistant?), stretching his dissection of songs over more than 10 chapters. Though by no means an expos‚ meant to decry Ellington, nor a close look at Strayhorn himself, this scholarly evaluation of Strayhorn's compositions still manages to pay homage to the visionary force behind some of the 20th century's greatest music. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Duke Ellington's place in jazz is secure, yet until now critics have failed to consider adequately the contributions of his principal collaborator, the richly talented composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn. Dutch jazz researcher van de Leur uses several recently established manuscript collections, including the Smithsonian Institution's Duke Ellington Collection at the National Museum of American History and autograph collections of both Ellington and Strayhorn scores, to show that Strayhorn's critical sensibilities shaped the Ellington orchestra much more than had been thought. Included here are highly technical analyses of some 70 extracts from the original scores, demonstrating clearly the differences in the musical styles of these two immensely talented men. Earlier efforts to separate Strayhorn from Ellington (whom van de Leur refers to as "twins") were thwarted by the necessity of relying on transcriptions, which by their nature are often flawed because of the transcribers' inability to identify all of the notes making up individual chords. Although general readers will find parts of the book impenetrably abstruse, the findings themselves are presented in plain English, and there is much here to engage the interest of casual jazz listeners. Even defensive Ellingtonians will appreciate the author's balanced angle: so extraordinary were Ellington's talents that it was even more extraordinary that he found a partner. Essential for all jazz collections. Harold V. Cordry, Baldwin, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeff B Sultanof on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There are not enough stars that can adequately rate this book. Van de Leur has given us the first truly thorough analysis of a composer of jazz (although Strayhorn was much more than a jazz composer). You do need some musical knowledge to understand what he is talking about, but his discussion and analyses of Strayhorn's music are clear, concise and well-reasoned. The appendices alone are worth the price of the book, where he lists every scrap of music currently known of Strayhorn's, where it is, when it was recorded, and what was played (in many cases, Ellington only used parts of Strayhorn's arrangements of pop tunes). The sheer amount of work it took to complete this project is startling and awe-inspriring.
For years we wondered what Strayhorn's real role was in the Ellington organization. Now we know without any doubt. Bravo Walter!!!!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading this book you will have a technical understanding of why Billy Strayhorn's music sounds so good and why Strayhorn needs to be recognized as one of the giants of American popular music. After having spent over 10 years performing in depth research and examining over 3,000 manuscripts Walter Van De Leur seperates Billy Strayhorn from Duke Ellington and analyzes how their musical styles differ. The book provides the reader with a technical dissection of a number of Strayhorn's and Ellington's music and gives, from a musicologist's point of view, the uniqueness of Strayhorn's music. Anecdotes about Strayhorn and Ellington are infrequent and instead Van De Leur provides a scholarly examination of one of the most important of American composers. However, Van De Leur can be eloquent in his examination of Strayhorn's work and this belies the love he has for his subject. Analyzing Strayhorn's Day Dream Van De Leur writes " The introspective Day Dream is less radical in its harmonic and melodic design, although chromatic chord relations again play an important role...On beat three this flat supertonic for the target proper, which now functions as the delay for the dominant E7, for A. Turning this pattern into a sequence, Strayhorn again liberates the music from its tonal gravity..." That last sentence says it all, Billy Strayhorn liberated music from its tonal gravity!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stefano Zenni on February 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is a landmark is jazz scholarship. The way van de Leur mixes few biographical details, business forces, archival reserach and music analysis helps to better understand the art of Billy Strayhorn as a personal and individual composer and arranger. With a smooth literary style, van de Leur opens to us the gates of an unknown and underrated musical genius, and help us to distinguish the true from the false, the right authorship of compositions and arrangements and the way the Strayhorn musical style changed throught the years; more, it helps to distinguish him from Duke Ellington and to better understand Ellington, too. From;these pages, Strayhorn emerges as a major composer with a distinguished musical personality.
The four appendixes are one the most useful tools in jazz reseraches appeared in last years.
This book is a reference one for any jazz researcher or learned amateur. A masterpiece in scholarship, an enlightning effort in understanding a great musician and an enjoyable reading. A must.
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