ONE of the great hidden figures in musical history is Billy Strayhorn, who seems to be a bit less invisible every year. When I was getting hard into jazz in the early ’90s, haunting record stores and hoarding Coltrane and Mingus records right after college, Joe Henderson’s Lush Life album came out and electrified the jazz world: One of the greatest saxophonists of the ’60s was re-emerging with a tribute to an Ellington confrere I may not have even heard of at that point,
That record, and the David Hadju biography — as well as digging into great Strayhorn numbers like Blood Count and Day Dream (so hauntingly covered by Chet Baker near the end of his life) — made clear to me and others that the Duke’s arranger (gay, introverted, modest) was a serious figure of his own.
We’re now a few decades into the Strayhorn revival, and we’re now about to get a new theater/dance piece, based on the artist’s life and work, at REDCAT/ Disney Hall. I enjoyed meeting David Rousseve, the choreographer behind Halfway To Dawn ; he comes from Louisiana Creoles,was raised mostly in Houston, broke in as an artist in the ’80s East Village, and had a lot to say about the way culture, ethnicity, and artistic scenes work.
In any case here is my Los Angeles Times piece on Strayhorn and Halfway To Dawn.