Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s creative alter-ego, continues to connect with old audiences and find new ones. His music is for everyone, but it is no surprise
that Strayhorn’s story and songs move the gay community, in which he has become a symbol and icon. The Gay Mens Chorus of Los Angeles paid tribute to Strayhorn last year near the fortieth anniversary of his death on May 31, 1967. Video of that ninety-minute production is now streaming in full on the internet. The chorus sings Strayhorn’s music with the swing and nuance it deserves.
Alan Broadbaent wrote the choral arrangements and the big band charts, led the band and played piano on some pieces. The rhythm section is Broadbent’s trio with bassist Putter Smith and drummer Clayton Cameron. Saxophonists Gary Foster and Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Steve Hofsteter are among the band members. The guest vocalist, enthusiastically received by the audience, is Tierney Sutton. Among the highlights, despite the distractions of strange pseudo-Fosse choreography, is the trio’s exploration of Strayhorn’s “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” Jazz listeners will also appreciate Broadbent’s piano accompaniment and arrangement of “Lush Life” for Billy Porter, who narrates the evening and is an effective singer of Strayhorn’s songs. Click here to go to the Gay Mens Chorus of Los Angeles site, then click on the May 5, 2007 video at the bottom of the screen. Once it is running, double click on the picture to make it full screen. Do this when you have a spare hour and a half to enjoy it.
Here is a rare and much shorter video of Strayhorn performing his most famous composition with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
For part of a documentary about Strayhorn, and Ellington’s reaction to his death, go here. If you wish to fully explore Strayhorn’s life and career, read Lush Life, the biography by David Hajdu. Not long after Strayhorn died, Ellington and his band recorded this heartfelt tribute. The CD of Strayhorn compositions is one of the best albums of Ellington’s later career.