Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

Portrait of Billy Strayhorn

This week on Afterglow we focus on Billy Strayhorn, the co-writer who played a very important part in The Duke Ellington Orchestra's sound.

Play Episode (Real Audio)
Billy Strayhorn Album Cover

Photo: Album Cover

Billy Strayhorn's song “Lush Life" is a classic tune about world-weary bar life that he wrote when barely out of his teens.

This week on Afterglow it’s “A Portrait of Billy Strayhorn.” For 27 years Billy Strayhorn was the crucial co-writer in one of the greatest big bands the world has ever heard—the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Although Ellington made a point of singling Strayhorn out for praise, Strayhorn spent most of his career in the shadow of his illustrious colleague.

In recent years two books—David Hadju’s biography Lush Life and Walter van de Leur’s musical study Something to Live For —have shed much light on the life, times, and art of the man who played such an important part in Duke Ellington’s sound from 1939 on.

On this edition of Afterglow we’ll hear interpretations of Strayhorn’s music by the Ellington orchestra, Bill Henderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Henderson, Joya Sherrill, Ben Webster, the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, and many others, as well as Strayhorn himself singing and playing “Lush Life,” the classic tune about world-weary bar life that he wrote when barely out of his teens.

We’ll also hear some music from a new Blue Note compilation, including Dianne Reeves’ take on “Something to Live For,” and Elvis Costello singing new words set to Strayhorn’s penultimate composition “Blood Count.”

For more information about Billy Strayhorn and this Independent Lens program, go here .

Music Heard On This Episode

Something to Live For
Dianne Reeves — Lush Life
album cover
Something to Live For
Dianne Reeves — Lush Life

Notes: New release.

album cover
My Little Brown Book
Bill Henderson — Live at the Kennedy Center
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Day Dream
Ella Fitzgerald — Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Snibor
Duke Ellington — And His Mother Called Him Bill
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Strange Feeling
Duke Ellington — Complete RCA/Victor

Notes: With Al Hibbler on vocals.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Johnny Come Lately
Joe Henderson — Lush Life: the Music of Billy Strayhorn

Notes: With Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Kissin' Bug
Joya Sherrill — Joya Sherrill Sings Duke
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Rain Check
Sonny Rollins — Work Time
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Noir Bleu
Barney Bigard — Duke Ellington: Complete RCA Victor Recordings
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Take the A Train
Ray Nance — Body and Soul
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Eighth Veil
Duke Ellington — The Collection: '46-'47 Recordings
album cover
Chelsea Bridge
Ben Webster — Music for Loving

Notes: With Billy Strayhorn on piano.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Passion Flower
Duke Ellington — Blue Rose

Notes: Instrumental from an album also featuring vocals by Rosemary Clooney.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing
Rachel/Sara Caswell

Notes: Live performance at the Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington, IN. With Luke Gillespie on piano, Jeremy Allen on bass, and Chad Catchkart on drums.

album cover
Tonk
Dutch Jazz Orchestra — Portrait of a Silk Thread
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Wounded Love
Dutch Jazz Orchestra — Portrait of a Silk Thread
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Maybe
Lena Horne — We'll Be Together Again

Notes: Song written by Billy Strayhorn for Lena Horne.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Lush Life
Billy Strayhorn — Lush Life

Notes: With Strayhorn on piano and vocals.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
U.M.M.G.
Billy Strayhorn — Lush Life
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Love Came
Billy Strayhorn — Lush Life

Notes: With Ozzie Bailey on drums.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Your Love Has Faded
Johnny Hodges — With Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count)
Elvis Costello/Joe Lovano — Lush Life

Notes: New release. Features Costello's lyrics to Strayhorn's melody

album cover
Lotus Blossom
Duke Ellington — ...And His Mother Called Him Bill
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

View all posts by this author »

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Afterglow:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Afterglow

About The Host

Search Afterglow

This Week On Night Lights

At The Jazz Corner Of The World: Live From Birdland

The entrance to the Birdland nightclub in New York City.

Birdland was known as “the jazz corner of the world,” and from 1949 to 1965 it played host to some of the greatest names on the modern jazz scene.

Read more »

Night Lights is WFIU's weekly program of classic jazz hosted by David Brent Johnson.

More from Night Lights »