Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature some of the jazz greats who hail from this region we call Westsylvania. (It can’t be fundraising all the time!)
“Take the A Train” is the Duke Ellington song everyone knows. But not everyone knows that it wasn’t written by Duke. In this video he introduces the man who wrote it: a Pittsburgher by the name of Billy Strayhorn.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Strayhorn went to Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh. And it was in Pittsburgh that he met Ellington in 1938, starting a collaboration that would last the rest of his life.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame lists 172 compositions by Billy Strayhorn, many co-written with Ellington, and almost all performed by Ellington’s band.
Here are two more by Strayhorn. First off, “Chelsea Bridge,” as played by tenor saxophonist Ben Webster (who also played on Ellington’s original recording of the song):
And here’s “Lush Life,” probably the song most associated with Strayhorn (he wrote it when he was just 16!). This version is sung by Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane on sax:
While “Lush Life” has been played by everyone from Chet Baker to Queen Latifah it isn’t an easy one to sing or play. Check out this recording by Blossom Dearie which she introduces by saying it took her “11 years” to learn the song. Frank Sinatra tried it once, but didn’t finish the take.
(And OK, while I said it can’t be fundraising all time, it won’t hurt to mention that we have a fundraiser going on Kickstarter right now. Your donation would help make the Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival, which will celebrate the jazz traditions of our region, a reality.)