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.