on 17 April 2009
The contribution of arrangers (or composers)to the evolution of jazz in collaboration with many of the big names im jazz is undeniable but often understated in my opinion. Billy Strayhorn was a leading person in this field who was associated with Duke Ellington and his orchestra for 28 years as an arranger, composer, lyricist and alter ego. Their symbiotic relationship is one of the great stories of jazz although Strayhorn was an enigmatic and shy character who tended to stay under the shadow of Ellington's huge persona. David Hadju's biography of Strayhorn deftly unveils his great influence on shaping Ellington's orchestral sound and his own work as a jazz composer together with his difficult private life as a black homosexual in a music business dominated by white impressarios, radio station heads and record label controllers, including his eventual descent into alcoholism and serious illness leading to his early death at the age of only 51. I highly recommend this superb and moving book on the life of one of the most talented and influential arrangers in jazz who is often given scant attention in the standard jazz histories.