[Dixielandjazz] Ellington and Strayhorn

ROBERT R. CALDER serapion at btinternet.com
Mon May 17 17:19:51 PDT 2010

David Hajdu's biography of Billy Strayhorn, called of course LUSH LIFE, makes the point that whereas Ellington picked up things as he went along -- in the sense of learning technical business -- Strayhorn had a thorough formal schooling. Ken gives an excellent example of what that means, just the ability to see quickly enough what was doing the work in a composition, and what was either doing nothing or getting in the way. 
Of course Strayhorn also knew where Ellington was coming from, and had accessed and appreciated in depth a range of music with which Ellington's had a lot of affinities. 
When Percy Grainger had got to know Ellington a bit better, he asked him why on their first meeting Ellington had seemed to frown when Grainger mentioned a very close echo to a composition by Frederick Delius in I forget which recorded work of Ellington. Grainger thought he might have offended Duke, but Duke said simply that he'd frowned because he'd never heard of Delius. 
Of course Strayhorn also had to know what Ellington was trying to do, just as in fact Ken has had to from a slightly different perspective in numerous very admirable charts he's been producing since before he founded the CJO. 


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